An examination of Friendship, Love and Loneliness

I dedicate this to anyone who has recently fallen in love, has been in love,  or wants to be in love. After all in Western society love is the purest most sublime experience. We situate love before values such as justice, solidarity ,human  rights, kindness and respect, says Mari Luz Esteban, a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of the Basque county.    Couples are placed at the top of the hierarchy . We are made to believe love is the best and only option through which we can find people. And monogamy is sold as the ideal form of romantic love- it is “natural” and “authentic”.
Recently I was struck by the response of one of  my client’s to a break up. It was a long distance relationship, which naturally inclines itself  to idealisation. Spending 3 weeks together made her aware of the differences they hold in their values: She values history/justice, culture/empathy and understanding of difference,  and intimate time together exploring these passions. Her partner values shopping , television and sleeping. She came alive as she realised that romantic love is not superior to engaging with these passions  on her own – or with a like minded friend.
Consider the power love has over you :
* As a woman do you feel there is equity in your love? In other words, do you feel as if you have the right to initiate the first date, sex, saying “I love you”, “Will you be my partner?”
* Do you base your notions of love on romantic fiction ?
* As a woman , do you depend on love to give you dignity?
* As a man , do you depend on love to give you sex/control?
* Do you feel jealousy is an integral part of love? A value of love?
* Do you feel love gives you social success ?
* Do you feel love gives you economic success?
Passionate love is put above any other relationship. Women are encouraged to be independent and successful – until love appears. Yet men never loose their status- have you too noticed this ?? Women need to marry to  change their status.
I say let’s undress love and show it for what it is : a fiction, a romantic fiction . I say let’s prioritise human rights above love. Let’s claim the intransitivity of love. Let us claim those spaces in between love.. times when we feel out of love, bored, lonely, disappointed, and  disenfranchised. And please, oh please, let us cancel the centrality of the couple.
I appeal to you to reclaim friendship.  And social and family support. Reclaim these as relationships of affection. See them as valid and as pure as romantic love.
Right now think about your friendships. And whilst doing that, compare your attitudes, expectations and  behaviours around friendships and romantic relationships.
At the recent  3rd  Non Monogamies and Contemporary Intimacies Conference I attended in Barcelona , I was so taken with the work of Dutch journalist,  Selma Franssen.    She believes that friendships increasingly survive love relationships. She sees people prioritising them over romantic relationships. Some people choose to live their lives around friendships. Their friends become their families.  I say, perhaps friendship, not romantic love,  can be the solution to  the epidemic of loneliness.
She investigated these ideas and came up with these findings:
The building blocks of friendship are consistency. and vulnerability.  And to create these friendships one needs 200 hours to move from acquaintance to friendship.
Yet there are challenges to this:
  1. Longer working days : we work more than less; have Increased stress levels and increased competition  hence  less trust of  each  other;
  2. We have less time for  contemplation and  less time to cultivate interests as work gets in the way
  3. Different work hours from friends
  4. The homebody culture- 10 years’ worth of the American Time Use Surveys conducted annually by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that millennials spent 70 percent more time at home than the general population They are.spending more money on food delivery than they are in restaurants and talking about self-care in terms of the products it involves.
  5. Provider  services and communicating with others all day, leaves you tired.. especially if your job is boring
  6. Staying in has become the new going out . Businesses have spotted this – they deliver anything 
  7. Changes in how we present ourselves online :  we enhance and curate our appearance . This encourages perfection and hides vulnerability. When face to face with friends, it is harder to be real and vulnerable. 
  8. Phubbing : snubbing someone that you are with , to look at your phone. As your phone is  always present, it keeps you from sharing deeper emotions and thoughts with In Real Life friends   
  9. Recognition of friendship lags behind legally . 

In summary, friendship is a  key source of happiness. It has multiple health benefits especially as you grow older .  According to the Mayo Clinic , these include ; 

  • Increase your sense of belonging and purpose
  • Boost your happiness and reduce your stress
  • Improve your self-confidence and self-worth
  • Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
  • Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise

Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.

In summary, it appears that love sucks, loneliness is the darkness behind your front door and friends are your salvation . Make time for friends. Prioritize these relationships as significantly as you do romantic relationships. It may well be the best investment of 200 hours you can make.

Contact me for further information about Friends, Love and Loneliness.

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