Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty: A Friendship is a memoir about her friend and fellow writer, Lucy Grealy. Patchett’s piece is striking for many reasons, one being that people don’t really write about adult friendships. Some of the most popular genres include coming–of–age, romance, fantasy, etc.; All of these rely on friendships, but none center friendships. Even stories that seem to be about friendships at first (think Harry Potter) end in a romance.
This phenomenon extends beyond literature, too. People tend to prioritize relationships outside of their friendships—that’s why you get tropes like the “girl who gets a boyfriend, so you never see her.” Perhaps we are looking at adult (or as much of an adult as college students at Penn can be) friendships wrong.
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship is so raw and unapologetically real, maybe to an extent that feels too intimate. We learn of Grealy’s deepest insecurities, her flaws, Patchett’s self–efficacy. The audience is pulled into a deeply intimate friendship and allowed a transparent view. But does it feel too naked only because we lack these deep, profound relationships with our platonic friends that make us who we are?
Julie Beck claims in an article for The Atlantic that “In the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom.” Beck further explains that friendship is the one relationship that is both voluntary and lacks a formal structure: “You wouldn’t go months without speaking with or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.”
Adulthood is lonely. Adulthood is marked by more time alone. You’re not constantly surrounded by people like your family, classmates, teammates, like you were as a child. And finding people with similar values gets harder as you grow because you aren’t forced to become friends by virtue of being constantly surrounded by them.
Research has consistently demonstrated how important friendships are to our well–being. A study by Pezirkianidis et al. found that not only does “friendship quality significantly [associate] with wellbeing,” but also that “friendship quality at the age of 30 predicts wellbeing at the age of 50.” That is, friendships are extremely important for one’s well–being, both in the present, and in the long term. And people would generally agree.
Catherine Pearson, in an article for The New York Times, then asks how many friends is enough friends. After some research, she concludes that there is a fine balance between quality and quantity. But a key indicator is whether you feel lonely, so “‘If you feel like your identity has sort of shrunk, or you’re not feeling quite like yourself, that might indicate you need different types of friends.’” Diversity seems to be key here. But perhaps meaningful, genuine relationships matter more.
It doesn’t quite matter how many people you have to go out with on a given night, or how many people in your contacts you’re willing to text to grab lunch with. And as we grow into adulthood, the childhood friendships marked by playing the same games start to become more complex. Suddenly the complexities of these relationships mean that sometimes college life can feel lonelier than childhood.
Posts on social media platforms such as Sidechat demonstrate this well. Under the veil of anonymity, multiple posters have admitted that they are lonely, with some asking for advice on how to meet new friends. Comments under these posts are generally filled with people who say that they relate, but that it will get better.
And it will. As you learn to handle the complexities of adult friendships, friendships take on another meaning. In college, you have to make an active effort to make and keep friends, so you can be judicious about who you choose to surround yourself with.
Loneliness might not be a choice, but there are many things that students at Penn are prone to doing that are not conducive to combating loneliness. Perhaps we ought to foster a spirit contrary to networking: people and your relationships to them should not require a cost other than their presence and love.
And maybe we ought to start romanticizing our friendships once again. Patchett’s piece memorializes Grealy and their friendship. Grealy will always live on through Patchett in a way that only a friend can memorialize. Adult friendships are rarer to come by than childhood ones, but they are fulfilling in a way that childhood ones aren’t.