Outside of romantic love, friendship is the most important aspect of a person's life. To men, friendship is as important as erotic love - which is why a wife's first goal is separating her husband from his lifelong friends. Yet we don't spend much time thinking about friendship. We think about what we want from people, but that's not thinking about friendship. That's thinking about strategy and manipulation.
Friendship is mentioned 198 times in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, but people are more likely to quote from The Prince. If you want to understand why people are bad friends, Google this should-be-famous quotation: "For friendship is a partnership, and as a man is to himself, so is he to his friend." No one seems to be interested in that type of thinking. Now start Googling any of Machiavelli's quotes.
Mark Bennett, while noting a useful heuristic for friendship, asks the wrong question of friendship, namely: "Who are your friends?" He continues:
A true friend is one who, when he finds out you are in trouble, will drop what he is doing and do what he can to help. Want to know how many genuine friends you have? Get charged with a serious crime.Who tracks you down when you’ve disappeared into the maw of the criminal justice system? Who visits you in jail, just to talk? Who puts money in your inmate trust account? Who bails you out? Who picks you up in the middle of the night when you get out? Who returns your lawyer’s calls? Who drags you to rehab? Who gives you rides to and from court? Who keeps you company when you’re there?
The better question is: "To whom am I a friend?" It's a subtle shift in perspective, but it's an important shift to make. Here is Aristotle:
It is found difficult, too, to rejoice and to grieve in an intimate way with many people, for it may likely happen that one has at once to be happy with one friend and to mourn with another. Presumably, then,it is well not to seek to have as many friends as possible, but as many as are enough for the purpose of living together; for it would seem actually impossible to be a great friend to many people. This is why one cannot love several people; love is ideally a sort of excess of friendship, and that canonly be felt towards one person; therefore great friendship too can only be felt towards a few people.
To be a great friend puts the action where it should be - on ourselves. When's the last time you go out of bed at 3 in the morning to bail a friend out of jail? Loan a friend a grand? Or to jump start a car? Or to listen to someone bitch about stupid shit?
Friendship requires elevating the other person - your friends. When I have money, my friends have money. It's really that simple. Friendship is a sort of voluntary socialism. Of course there will always be the occasional mooch, but one can get an STD from having sex. Does this mean you stop having sex - or that you start being careful? So, too, it is with friends.
Who are you a friend to? If you wouldn't come pick me up at 3 a.m. when my car broke down, you're not my friend. Why waste time and energy pretending we're friends? We're not, and that's cool, and friendship is so great that you should devote your time to someone who is actually a friend.
Many things in life are best understood in Eastern sayings. He who doesn't worry about who his friends are, has the most rewarding friendships. He who worries about his friends is he who has no friends.
To our Western minds, this seems contradictory. Someone could "refute" the aphorisms by nothing that friendships must be nurtured like a garden. Such "refutations" miss the truth. The seeds of friendship must be planted in yourself.
When you start thinking about what you can do for other people, something contradictory happens: People start thinking about what they can do for you. There are varies theories explaining this. Perhaps we've been cultural conditioned to follow the reciprocity principle. Perhaps the wrongly-attacked Law of Attraction is true: Goodness attracts goodness, and so your good deeds are rewarded by good deeds.
We are not what we say or think, but are what we do. We become what we do. If we do good things for people, even if we begin as sons of bitches, we change. This change leads to the Sun Effect: We become the type of person others are draw to.
One need not prove the cause to note the effect. The person who is a friend to others has friends.
And so if it's true that, "True friends are few and far between," there is no mystery.
Friends are hard to find because you are not a friend.