March 2015 Print

Friendship and True Love in Adolescence--Christian Attitudes and Choices

by Fr. Jean-Pierre Boubée

Introduction and Overview

It is self-evident that we are called upon to have numerous relations with many other persons, ties with family and friends, professional relations, and those arising from the apostolate. The Greek philosophers observed that “social relations,” what Aristotle calls the City, constitute the essential fabric of man’s happiness, and this he bases on friendship. Even more important: the society you will have, your relations, your friendships, will be the vectors of your salvation or of your betrayals. Finally, among friendships, the most crucial one is that of marriage. It is “the great affair.” But marriage, elevated by a sacrament, concludes in charity.

General Notions

Love and Friendship: much confusion. The trampoline of the cerebral confusion is the word love. Between love and charity, the modern Church has created an inextricable tangle.

At the opposite end, the man of the street, brutalized by carnal materialism, cannot imagine a love or friendship without sexual connotation or at the very least some personal sensual or sentimental satisfaction.

(a) Love is a fundamental notion. It is a movement of the appetite, of desire, from the instincts of the senses to the highest functions of the spirit (from chocolate ice cream to God). There are eleven passions and all of them in one way or another are related to love. Among the passions you have, for example, hatred, desire, fear, confidence... And all of these passions relate in some way to love. I like chocolate, so I desire it, and when I’m offered some I enjoy it. I don’t like snakes, so I shun them and when I chance upon one I’m afraid... And so all eleven passions are related in one way or another to love.

In human beings, the attraction, the motion toward a good goes beyond the passions, the lower movements of the soul, and finds its expression in the will, a spiritual faculty. Human love should always end by being nobler.

Love that is supernatural in its origin and in its object is called charity. The most perfect love of neighbor is of this order: to love another as oneself for the love of God.

Things that are “lovable” and hence good are of several kinds: the useful are not loved for themselves but as a means to something else; the pleasant are things sought for the sake of self-satisfaction; those that are called befitting, or upright and honorable, because they are desired for their own sake.


(b) Friendship, according to Aristotle and St. Thomas, is founded on mutual benevolence or reciprocal kindness. It is only possible because of a certain likeness (So, not with gold fish). It requires reciprocity, or else it is not friendship. True friendship entails mutual enrichment.

The same reasons for loving are to be found in friendship:

– Utility (and sometimes futility, which is the useful for us in its worldly aspect).

– Pleasure. The sensible aspect being the most immediate and most apparent to youth, they will more readily choose their friends among persons of pleasant appearance, or be moved by a more sensual desire. This is ordinarily what inexperienced youth in discovering the vigor of their feelings call “love.”

–Virtue (Ethics, VIII). Why speak of friendships founded on virtue? Because by it man does well and becomes good. This is what constitutes virtue. “Virtuous” friendship will have this twofold effect. (In passing, observe that here is a criterion by which to tell if a friendship between children or love between prospective marriage partners is good.) N.B. There are two elements for consideration in friendship: the choice of friends and the quality of friends one meets, for instance, by volunteering in good causes.

The first two types of friendship are less close because they lead more easily to mere concupiscence, to a love sought principally for the advantages it brings. These two kinds of friendship are fragile, being linked to the good or the pleasure one expects from one’s friend: The first type is frequent among the elderly, the second among young people, Aristotle observes. A couple of remarks: Love is not always reciprocal, so it can cause suffering. It can outlast the difficulties of a friendship.

APPLICATION. In friendship, there is not only love, there is also reciprocity. One can love someone without being loved: there is love indeed, but not friendship. In friendship there is mutual giving. The friends put what they have in common. In every friendship there is a communication of goods, or sharing, but the nature of what is shared remains to be seen. If the goods are false and illusory, the friendship is vain; if they are real goods, the friendship is true. The more excellent the goods shared, the more excellent the friendship.

If, for example, I place at my girlfriend’s disposition the CDs I listen to, but it is not good music, then far from lifting up my girlfriend to the good, I lead her astray. This is not a good friendship. If, on the contrary, I offer my girlfriend a good book for wholesome relaxation, I show thereby that my friendship is good.

Hence the questions you should ask yourself: What about my girlfriend attracts me most? and what do I try to contribute to her? If it is because she is from a rich family and she is worldly, then my friendship is not good.

Virtue ought to be appreciated more than wealth. If I like someone because he is rich, my friendship is based on material goods; therefore it is not based on something solid. It is flighty, it is frivolous. In considering our girlfriends, we should ask ourselves: What am I looking for in my girlfriend’s company? What do I desire? Is it simply self-centered satisfaction or is it the true good of my friend?


(a) Philosophical reasons. By nature, man is sociable. He cannot attain his last end without society. Were he cast alone into existence, he would perish physically; he would be unable to speak, unable to make use of what is specific to him: his reason. This simple observation of reality coupled with common sense led Aristotle to consider that the finality of man, his happiness, will not be reached except in the exercise of virtue in living with others. And he devotes two books of his Ethics just to the consideration of friendship.


(b) Theological reasons. These have been excellently summarized by the Reverend Tanquerey in his admirable Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology (1930), in which he liberally quotes St. Francis de Sales:

“585. 1. In God’s initial plan, creatures were designed to raise us up to God by reminding us that He is the Author and the Exemplary Cause of all things. Since the Fall, however, creatures so attract us that if we are not on our guard they will turn us away from God, or at least retard our progress towards Him. We must then react against this tendency, and by the spirit of faith and of sacrifice make use of persons and things as means to reach God.

“586. 2. Among the relations we have with others, there are those that are willed by God, such as those born of family ties or imposed by our duties of state. These relations must be maintained and supernaturalized. One is not relieved from duties imposed by the natural law because one aspires to perfection; on the contrary, one is thereby obliged to fulfill them in a more perfect manner. These relations must, however, be supernaturalized by being directed toward our last end, God. The best way to accomplish this is to look upon those with whom we come in contact as the children of God; our brethren in Christ; respecting and loving them because they possess qualities which are the reflection of the divine perfections, and because they are destined to share in God’s life and in His glory. In this way, it is God Whom we esteem and love in them.

“587. 3. There are, on the other hand, relations which are dangerous or bad, which tend to lead us into sin either by stirring up within us the spirit of the world or by creating in us an inordinate attachment to creatures by reason of the sensible or sensuous pleasure we find in their company. It is our duty to flee from such occasions as far as we can, and, if it be impossible to avoid them, it is incumbent upon us to remove them morally (to make the danger remote) by fortifying our will against the disordered attachment to such persons. To act otherwise is to hazard our sanctification and our salvation, for ‘he that loveth danger, shall perish in it’ (Eccles. 3:27). The greater our desire for perfection, the more must we flee from dangerous occasions, as we shall explain later when speaking of faith, charity and the other virtues.

“588. 4. Lastly, there are relations which in themselves are neither good nor bad. They are merely indifferent. Such are visits, conversations, recreations. These may by reason of circumstance and motive be rendered useful or harmful. A soul striving after perfection will by purity of intention and by a spirit of moderation turn all such relations into good. First of all, we must seek those only which are truly conducive to the glory of God, the welfare of souls, or to the relaxation which health of body and mind requires. Then, in the enjoyment of these we must exercise prudence and reserve, and thus conform all our relations to the order willed by God. Hence, we must not indulge in long, idle conversations which constitute a loss of time and an occasion of fostering pride and lessening brotherly love, nor must we give ourselves to protracted and violent amusements, that fatigue the body and depress the spirit. In short, let us ever keep before us the standard laid down by St. Paul: ‘All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him’ (Col. 3:17).”

The Friendships of Youth

In life, one should not be sparing in friendship. If the first love of our heart goes to parents and then family, the circle will necessarily grow. One needs to find nearby a heart always open and ready to listen to us, a heart inclined to help us, a heart happy to share our joys and our sorrows.

There’s no need to be Catholic to need friends, but religion will perfect our friendships. The blood of our Lord, far from extinguishing friendship, will purify it by transfiguring it. Without the outlook of faith, friendship is often mixed with selfishness and self-love. By the Lord’s action in us detaching us from ourselves, we are enabled to establish strong bonds with those whom we love.

Just take a look at Introduction to the Devout Life. In it, there are no fewer than six chapters on the subject: “Evil and Frivolous Friendship,” “On Frivolous Attachments,” “Of Real Friendship,” “Of the Difference between True and False Friendship,” “Remedies against Evil Friendship,” and “Further Advice concerning Intimacies.”

Friendships participate in various aspects of our personality: Depending on their cause and aim, friendships can be natural, necessary, or selected. Among these, to mention a few, there are those between parents and children, childhood playmates, peers at school and as adults, coworkers and colleagues in a group or club, between boys and girls, and between spouses.

Friendship between the soul and God is a case apart.

Masculinity and Femininity in Friendship

While friendship “in principle” does not have a sexual connotation, the reality of psychological differences between the sexes cannot be overlooked: From the cradle, the attentive eye perceives the differences in their ways of engaging the order of social relations, and these differences only increase with age. We perceive similarities, but also differences of feeling and of manner of interacting with others. These differences have been intended by the Creator for the sake of complementarity, and end by exerting a force of attraction. Consequently, you cannot act as if this psychological development doesn’t exist. It means that the closer one draws to adulthood, the less should this reality be treated lightly. Even in adulthood, one should never play with the fire of passion.

Good and Evil Friendships

The following paragraphs are taken from the Very Reverend Adolphe Tanquerey’s Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology (1930):

“We shall explain its nature and its value.

“595. A) Its Nature.

“a) Friendship being an interchange, a mutual communication between two persons, it receives its character chiefly from the variety of the communications themselves and from the diversity of the things communicated. This is very well explained by St. Francis de Sales: ‘The more exquisite the virtues are; which shall be the matter of your communications, the...more perfect shall your friendship also be. If this communication be in the sciences, the friendship is very commendable; but still more so if it be in the moral virtues in prudence, discretion, fortitude and justice. But should your reciprocal communications relate to charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, good God, how precious will this friendship be! It will be excellent, because it comes from God; excellent, because it tends to God; excellent, because its very bond is God; excellent, because it shall last eternally in God. Oh how good it is to love on earth as they love in heaven: to learn to cherish each other in this world, as we shall do eternally in the next’ (Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt. 3, Ch. 19).

“In general, then, true friendship is an intercourse between two souls with the purpose of procuring each other’s good. It stays within the limits of moral goodness if the good mutually shared belongs to the natural order. Supernatural friendship, however, stands on a far superior plane. It is the intimate intercourse of two souls who love each other in God and for God with a view of aiding each other to attain the perfection of that divine life which they possess....The ultimate end of this friendship is God’s glory, the proximate end their own spiritual progress, and the bond of union between the two friends is Our Lord....

“596. b) Thus, supernatural friendship instead of being passionate, all-absorbing, exclusive after the manner of sentimental friendship, is marked by calm reserve and mutual trust. It is a calm, self-possessed affection precisely because it is rooted in the love of God and shares in His virtue. For the same reason it is unwavering; it grows, unlike the love that is founded on passions and which tends to grow cool. With it goes a prudent reserve. Instead of seeking familiarities and endearments like sentimental friendship, it is full of respect and reserve, for it seeks nothing but spiritual good. This reserve does not exclude confidence. Because there is mutual esteem and because one sees in the other a reflection of the divine perfections, there arises a strong mutual trust. This leads to an intimate intercourse since each longs to share in the spiritual qualities of the other, thus establishing an exchange of thoughts, of views, and a communication of holy desires for perfection. Because such friends desire each other’s perfection they do not fear to point out their respective defects and to offer mutual help for their correction. This mutual confidence excludes all suspicion and uneasiness and does not allow the friendship to become all-absorbing or exclusive. One does not take it amiss that one’s friend should have other friends, but one is rather glad of it for his sake and the sake of others.

B) The value of such friendship is evident. a) It has been praised by the Holy Ghost. ‘A faithful friend is a strong defence: and he that hath found him hath found a treasure....A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality’ (Ecclus. 6:14-16). Our Lord Himself has given us an example in His friendship for St. John, who was known as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (Jn. 13:23)....

“598. b) True friendship has three important advantages, especially for the priest in the ministry:

1) A friend is a protection for virtue, a strong defence.

2) A friend is also a sympathetic counsellor to whom we willingly bring our doubts and offer our difficulties in order that he may help us to reach a solution.

3) Lastly, a friend is a comforter, who will listen with sympathy to the story of our sorrows, and who will find in his heart words of comfort and encouragement.

“Assuredly, care must be taken that such friendships do not interfere with the charity due to all, that they be supernatural....


“We shall speak of its nature and dangers, and of the remedies to be applied.

“600. A) Its Nature.

“a) False friendship has for its foundation external or shallow qualities, and for its purpose the enjoyment of the sight and charms of its object. Hence, fundamentally it is but a sort of masked egotism, since one loves the other because of the pleasure he finds in his company. Undoubtedly, he is ready to be of service to him, but this again in view of the pleasure he experiences in drawing the other closer to himself.

“b) St. Francis de Sales distinguishes three types of false friendships: carnal friendship in which one seeks voluptuous pleasure; sentimental friendship, based mainly on the appeal outward qualities make to the emotions, ‘such as the pleasure to behold a beautiful person, to hear a sweet voice, to touch, and, the like’; foolish friendship, which has no ‘other foundation than those empty accomplishments styled by shallow minds virtues and perfections, such as graceful dancing, clever playing, delightful singing, fashionable dressing, smiling glances, a pleasing appearance, etc.’

601. c) These various kinds of friendship generally begin with adolescence and are born of the instinctive need we feel of loving and being loved; often they are a kind of deviation of sexual love [or at least they are indicative of the development of this faculty and its attendant sensibility]. In the world such friendships arise between young men and women and go by the name of ‘fond-love.’ In cloistered communities they exist between persons of the same sex and are styled: particular friendships....

“602. d) The characteristics whereby sentimental friendships may be recognized are gathered from their origin, development, effects.

1. Their origin is sudden and vehement because they proceed from a natural and instinctive sense of sympathy. They rest upon exterior and showy qualities. They are attended by strong and, at times, passionate feelings.

2. Their development is fostered by conversations at times insignificant, but affectionate, at others, fond and dangerous.

3. These friendships are impetuous, all-absorbing, and exclusive; the illusion that such affection will last forever is often brusquely destroyed by separation and the forming of new attachments.

“603. B) The dangers of such friendships are apparent.

“a) They constitute one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual progress. God Who does not want a divided heart begins by making interior reproaches to the soul and, if it hearkens not to His voice, He gradually withdraws, leaving the soul without light and inward consolations. In proportion as the attachments grow, the spirit of recollection is lost, peace of soul vanishes, as well as relish for spiritual exercises and love of work.

“b) Hence a great loss of time. The absorbing thought of the friend hinders both mind and heart from devoting themselves to piety and to serious work.

“c) All this ends in dissatisfaction and discouragement; sentimentality gains control over the will, which loses its strength and languishes.

“d) It is at this point that dangers threatening purity arise. One would wish, indeed, not to trespass the bounds of propriety, yet fancying that friendship confers certain rights, one indulges in familiarities of a more and more questionable character. Now the descent is swift, and he who risks the danger will end by perishing in it.

“604. C) The remedies against such friendships are:

“a) To resist them in their beginnings. It is all the easier then, for the heart is not yet deeply attached. A few energetic efforts succeed, especially if one has the courage to mention the matter to one’s director and to accuse oneself of the least failings in that regard: If one waits too long, the process of disentangling the heart will prove far more difficult.

“b) To root out these affections successfully, radical measures must be taken: ‘You must cut them, break them, tear them; amuse not yourself in unravelling these criminal friendships; you must tear and rend them asunder.’ So it is not enough to renounce intercourse with one to whom we are thus attached, but we must not even deliberately think of him; and should it be impossible to avoid all association with him, we shall on these occasions show courtesy and charity, but never indulge in any confidences or bestow any special marks of affection.

“c) The better to insure success, positive means must be used. Let one’s activities be wholly devoted to the fulfillment of the duties of state, and when, in spite of all, the object of such affections presents itself unsought to the mind, this should be made the occasion of eliciting acts of love toward God: ‘One is my beloved, One is my troth forever.’ We thereby profit by temptation itself to increase within us the love of Him Who alone is worthy to possess our hearts.


“605. At times it happens that there is in our friendships a mixture of the sentimental with the morally good and the supernatural. One truly desires the supernatural good of a friend and at the same time craves the joy of his company and his words, sorrowing overmuch at his absence. This is well described by St. Francis de Sales: ‘They begin with virtuous love, with which, if not attended to with the utmost discretion, fond love will begin to mingle itself, then sensual love, and afterwards carnal love; yea, there is even danger in spiritual love, if we are not extremely on our guard; though in this it is more difficult to be imposed upon because its purity and whiteness makes the spots and stains which Satan seeks to mingle with it more apparent and therefore when he takes this in hand he does it more subtilely, and endeavors to introduce impurities by almost insensible degrees’ (Devout Life, Ch. XX).

“606. Here again we must watch over the heart and take effective means so as not to be carried as it were insensibly down this dangerous grade.

“a) If it is the good element that predominates, one may continue such a friendship whilst purifying it. For this, one must first of all forego what would foster sentiment, like frequent and affectionate conversations, familiarity, etc. From time to time one must deny oneself meetings otherwise in order, and be willing to shorten conversations that cease to be useful. In this way one gains control of sentiment and wards off danger.

“b) If the element of sentiment predominates, one must for a considerable period of time renounce any special relations with the said friend beyond the strictly necessary, and when one must meet him one should abstain from speaking in terms of affection. Sentiment is thus allowed to cool; one waits for a renewal of relations until calm is restored to the soul. The renewed association then takes on a different character. Should it be otherwise, it must be severed forever.

“c) In any case the results of our examination must be put to profit so that they may redound to a further strengthening of our love for Jesus Christ. We must protest that we want to love only in Him and for Him, and we should read frequently Chapters VII and VIII of the second book of the Following of Christ. It is thus that temptations will become for us a source of victory.”

In conclusion, we may notice that these authors on the spiritual life never entertain any illusions about absolute purity, and they constantly dread the loss of spiritual perfection. Why is this? The soul is not ready. It is still undergoing the apprenticeship of its sentimental education, and then the torrent is unleashed before the dikes have been built.

Friendships Leading to Marriage

It is apparent that a particular friendship between two young people of the opposite sex, barely out of high school, should not be countenanced. Such friendships can instantaneously turn romantic, with all the problematic consequences, despite whatever reassurances the parties involved might proffer. Yet there does come a time when it is appropriate to start thinking of marriage. It goes without saying that one ought to be sufficiently master of one’s vessel so as to be able to control precocious sentiments and feelings and to know when one may deploy them. But life is never that simple.

You are no longer at the stage of pure, platonic childhood friendship.

Sometimes, a lack of vigilance in adolescence may have led you to go beyond the bounds of simple prudence. In the disorders of youth, rare are the cases that lead to marriage, especially in a chaste, balanced way. Such relations are not really part of the natural process of growing up. They are seriously detrimental to the apprenticeship of self-mastery and comprehension of and submission to the divine plan. Chastity, of heart at least, does not really find in them its normal course.

Later on, it may have happened that by underestimating original sin you engaged in high-risk behaviors: SMS, vacations, partying, etc. The signs of passion? He or she only talks about one person; an excessively strong desire to go somewhere. If the partner gets sick, the anxiety felt is not normal for that age group, etc.

With Marriage in Mind

As for everything else, the readiness is all. What they are preparing themselves for:

The woman receives in order to bear fruit: she needs patience... She should develop a taste for all the arts that are the flower of the civilization that it will be her duty to inculcate in the hearts of her future children....

“Keep girlhood’s native sincerity. But the feelings welling up are generally more secret and obscure. Thus it is within her inmost self that the young lady must learn to purify her feelings; while some inward obscurity is natural, nonetheless she ought to learn to clarify and sort out her sentiments. She should prepare herself more for motherhood than for drawing attention. She should have a care for her interior in order better to give of the riches of her femininity, the transmission of the best things of life, those which are conducive to the spiritual life.” [F. Charmot, L’amour humain, p. 169.]

The man gives himself: he needs to learn to be decisive. The young man, whose eyes are more naturally susceptible to concupiscence, must learn self-mastery, but he must also clarify, purify, and order his sensibility, senses, feelings, passions, and intentions. His will is more exposed than a girl’s and the transparency of his intentions makes them easier to discern. His goal: energy, self-mastery, helpfulness, kindness.

“Discipline of the will. Avoidance of sins of impurity is not enough. Staying in the state of grace is a duty that only calls for action in times of peril. A duty for all is not a method of education for the young. Young men need to acquire a virtue superior to simple passive resistance against serious temptations. We might compare those who avoid mortal sin to passers-by in the street and those who are in training to be mountain climbers. The first take themselves in hand only when they stumble; accidents happen against their will. The others are pushing themselves to overcome one by one steep blocks of stone. They are striving to reach the peak inaccessible to the crowd. This peak is self-mastery. Young men ought to attain not only purity in fact, but the very rule and dominion of the soul over the senses. Before marriage the hierarchy of their powers ought to be definitively established in them; spirit must be sovereign.” [Ibid., p. 27.]

For both of them: There comes a time when the sense of life reaches its fullness. It is in the image of Christ; it is gift; it is love.

Sometimes, by waiting too long marriage is postponed indefinitely. Then, with added maturity, one comes to fear it because it seems that one no longer loves anyone as passionately as one thinks one ought to. One part of love is the desire of another’s good, which is an achievement of a lifetime, a response to a sort of vocation.

Marriage: The sentimental education of youth will only be achieved when marriage appears in their eyes as an ideal toward which they ought to orient all the powers of their youth.

A Loftier Love

The most beautiful success of love is a vocation. By way of conclusion I’ll close with a line from Father de Chivré explaining it: “[A vocation] is the privilege of moral nobility and courageous energy, for to love is to live like God...all the while being a poor human being. The greatest audacity of love is to bring down to earth a divine manner of life.”