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  • Natalie Garcia
    Natalie Garcia

    Friendship Paradox: Examining Sympathy, Reciprocity and Nature's Fulness

    Throughout history, relationships between people have served as the basis of a great deal of insightful discussion and contemplation. From Aristotle's discourse on friendship to modern day musings on romantic relationships and the connection between family members, much has been said on the subject. One area that warrants particular attention is that of the friendship paradox; this examines the complicated relationship between friendship and romantic love and how it interacts with concepts such as sympathy, reciprocity and satisfying the fulness of our nature. To explore this more fully, let us turn to one of the greatest English poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

    Coleridge wrote extensively about friendship and romantic love, probing the deeper implications of both from different viewpoints. He recognized that friendship does not necessarily require the same depth of affection of a romantic relationship, but rather, an individual can feel deeply for another person without feeling any attraction or desiring a closer bond. Sympathy, then, is something that can exist between two people without love or romance being involved. At the same time, Coleridge observed that a truly intimate friendship requires a bond that is strong and mutual, marked by both giving and taking. And yet, where there is a deep connection, hope and the potential for reciprocity, there may ultimately be the desire to form a romantic bond that runs even deeper.

    The paradox, then, lies in the fact that even though we might long for a close friend who is willing to give and take, someone who sympathizes with our plight and understands our desires, we still fear the possible danger of unrequited love should feelings change over time. Even if two people sympathize with each other and share unique aspects of themselves, in the back of their minds lurks the possibility that true intimacy brings with it the risk of pain, disappointment, and betrayal. Coleridge knew this only too well, and strove to warn us against it in his works.

    As a result, Coleridge believed that the best way to develop a relationship with another was to focus on "satisfying the fulness of [our] nature", in other words, to make clear what one wants out of the relationship in ways that benefit both parties without neglecting the needs of either. As he reminded us in his poem, “Frost at Midnight”, the act of giving requires thought and reflection - we must mindfully consider what kinds of actions will be mutually beneficial, and think before we act so that we can avoid the bitterness that results from expectations unmet or wishes unequally shared.

    In Coleridge's view, true friendship is based in part on empathy and understanding; this cannot be forced into existence, but rather must grow naturally over time through faithfulness and communication. In order to reduce the risk of failure, we must learn to love ourselves first, and also be prepared for the possibility that love and friendship may not come to fruition. Coleridge understood this, and stated that it is not worth risking our emotional health and safety on a whim. Instead, we must move forward with our hearts open, with an acknowledgment of the risks and an understanding that our relationships may not all end in happy harmony.

    Coleridge's thoughts on the friendship paradox remind us that there is no easy solution to the question of friendship and the risk of failed romance. We must be mindful of our own feelings, seek out those we can trust, and take the time to nurture our relationships. With lots of patience, understanding and a willingness to forgive, perhaps, if we are lucky, we can find the kind of love and friendship that fulfills our needs without destroying our peace of mind.

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