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According To Aristotle, We Need ‘Utility’, ‘Pleasure’ & ‘Good’ Friends

Not every friend is meant to check all of our boxes. And we should be OK with that.

What About Your Friends?

One time, while sitting in a marriage life coaching session with a couple, I heard the wife say something that, I knew if she didn't adjust her way of thinking, her marriage was headed for some real long-term trouble. What she said was this—"I don't see why my husband needs to have other friends. He's got me and when you get married, your spouse should be your everything."

Y'all, the only being who should be your everything is the Lord Himself. If you feel that way about anyone (or thing) else, not only are you setting yourself up to make someone an idol in your life (and idolatry is never good), but you are also headed towards becoming super disappointed, if not straight-up bitter. Human beings are flawed. Flawed people do things that hurt us sometimes, even if it's unintentionally. Yeah, no one should be your everything. Ever.

My segue from this point is when I read an article about what the late Greek philosopher Aristotle once said about friendship, it reminded me of that counseling session. I'd venture to say that one of the reasons why some people fall out when it comes to their friendships is because one (or both) of the individuals end up doing the same thing that wife did; they expected their friend to be an "everything person" when they very well may have only needed to fill one particular role. According to Aristotle, the role needed to be utility, pleasure or good.

What in the world was he talking about? Bear with me a bit and I'll try and break it all down as best as I can.

Utility: A Useful or Advantageous Factor or Feature

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A utility friend. If you just looked at this based on the definition of utility, it could seem like it's someone you are using, someone is using you or both. But actually, that isn't the case at all. One definition of friend is "a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter" and when I think of a utility friend, what comes to mind is something like a friendship I have with a certain guy here in Nashville.

We're buddies. We meet up for lunch or dinner sometimes. He has shared some of his personal life with me and I have done the same with him. But a huge part of our dynamic consists of helping one another out professionally. We're both in media, so when he needs some info or assistance, I'm as good as there; same thing for me on his end. Because no one is giving more than the other, it's not a "user" situation. But if someone were to ask me to categorize what we are, I'd have to say that we're pretty close professional friends (more than personal friends), and that's the way it's been for years.

Matter of fact, in the close to two decades of us knowing one another, I don't think we've had one argument. I believe it's that way because yes, we like and respect each other, but we've also got a clear and mutual understanding of what this is—and what it isn't.

Aristotle says that business partners, colleagues, and schoolmates are examples of utility friends. I personally feel that in order to be truly productive in life, we all need some of these. Professional allies who are no more, no less.

Pleasure: Amusement, Recreation or Enjoyment

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One of my girlfriends has a friend who is hil-a-ri-ous. She's fun. She's funny. Yet other than being sorors, they don't have much in common at all—not their value system, not their religious views, not their relational status—not much of anything, period. Still, whenever this friend of hers calls, she answers (which is not what my friend does for everyone), and when her friend comes into town, my friend will drop whatever it is that she's doing, just to hang out with her girl. Why? Because this is her "pleasure friend".

I totally get it too. Something that doesn't get as many props is it deserves is seeking out joy and enjoyment. That's why, when life presents people to you who can make you laugh until your stomach hurts, who are down to do things just for the sheer fun of it, and can make you see life in a brighter light whenever they are around, they indeed do serve a significant purpose in your life.

Aristotle calls these friends the folks you share hobbies or common interests with. They may not be the ones you reach out to when you break up with your man, but they are always the ones you call when you want to check out a new movie or museum.

These are the friends where things don't have to go "deep". With them, it's all about taking things easy or going on a thrill ride. It's not that serious, and that is totally OK. You both like hanging out just for hanging out's sake. And neither of you see anything wrong with that.

Good: Morally Excellent; Virtuous; Righteous; Pious

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When it comes to your good friends, the article that I referred to earlier defines them as being "friendships based upon respect, appreciation for each other's qualities, and a strong will to aid and assist the other person because one recognizes their greatness." Along these lines, something that I found to be interesting about what the author said about the first two kinds of friendships is that they oftentimes are easily broken because they don't tend to carry us much weight in our lives. While I don't necessarily agree with that completely, what I do believe is the expectation of a utility or pleasure friend isn't nearly as high as a good friend.

Now, as far as what the word "good" means. I know when a lot of people think of the definitions of good that I provided, they automatically think they mean that someone believes they are better than someone else. Or, that being friends with someone like that is difficult and boring; in my personal experiences, that is not the case at all. The friends in my life who are morally excellent or pious (having a reverence for God), they are the friends who hold me accountable, keep me responsible and value the word "friendship" in a way that those other two types of friends typically do not.

They are loyal, sincere and steadfast. They are the through thick and thin homies. They are also the call-you-out-on-your-ish people too. You can directly attribute personal growth and evolution with these kinds of friends. In many ways, they are more than friends; they are family.

The reason why I thought it was a good idea to share this is because, hopefully, it can help to take some of the confusion away or guilt off if there are folks in your life who you want around, but not in an all-purpose sort of way.

Professional (utility) friends. Pleasure friends. Principled (good) friends. We need all three and, the good news is all three traits don't have to be in everyone you know. Because no one has to be—or should be—your everything. This includes when it comes to your friendships.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

Good Friends Are Hard To Find! Here's How To Show Yours You Appreciate Them

The 5 Must-Have Friends Everyone Needs

6 Signs A New 'Friend' Is Nothing But An Opportunist

The Truth About Maintaining Friendships As An Adult

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