This is prompted by something that happened to me recently, but it’s not so much about that as it is about how I feel about relationships in general.
Many years ago I had a very dear friend, C. We met at a church retreat; she was in an acting group which did a show for us one night. We got to talking, and really clicked. We started emailing daily, and having long conversations on the phone. We shared music. We even flew to each other’s cities to visit each other. We weren’t dating; we just felt totally comfortable when we were talking together.
Early on in our relationship I asked C not to fall in love with me, because I was really trying to develop healthy friendships and I had had trouble before with friendships getting complicated by romantic feelings. Not surprisingly she found this a profoundly egotistical request. Nonetheless, somewhere along the line she did exactly what I had asked her not to do. One day she wrote me saying that her feelings for me were too strong, and that it was too painful to keep talking to me when I didn’t reciprocate, and so she needed some time away from our relationship.
Some months later, after some friends of hers had been in an accident, she had a change of heart and realized that life is too short not to stay in contact with the people we love. But the damage was done; the relationship was never the same again. Today it has been over five years since I last heard from her.
This pattern has repeated itself often in my life, in one form or another. I never again had anyone so explicitly tell me I love you and that is why I cannot see you any more; but other friendships have suffered due to the introduction of stronger-than-friendly feelings. I’ve also watched this dynamic play itself out in friend’s lives.
When C told me she needed time away from our friendship I let her go. And in general, that has been my response – to let go. In fact, I let go way too easily. Friends fade from my life, and instead of keeping in touch I just allow it to happen without lifting a finger, and then one day I realize that it’s been years since I spoke with them, and very few of the people around me have been there longer than five years.
In the past few years I’ve been coming to the realization of just how bad a habit this is, how unfair it is to them and to me, and I’ve been coming to treasure my friendships a lot more. I’ve been making more of an effort to maintain the friendships I still have, and to cultivate new ones.
And here’s what I’ve come to realize: all relationships exist in a state of flux. We get this idea in our heads that every relationship has a natural “steady-state”, but that’s a myth. In fact, every relationship in our lives is constantly in motion. Friends grow closer together or further apart. Friendships deepen, or become more surface-level. Interests converge and diverge. People fall in love, and out of love, and back in love again. Crushes bloom and fade. Disagreements burst out in white heat and then cool. Jealous tensions form. People hang out in different crowds and find new facets of themselves. And, of course, people get older and with that comes change as well.
What’s more, sometimes relationships are ambiguous. Often feelings don’t fall between the neat lines we draw between different kinds of love. Sometimes I feel intense dislike for people I love, and sometimes I develop intellectual crushes on new friends, and there are times I would happily kiss a strictly platonic friend full on the lips. Some of Benjamin Franklin’s longest and dearest friendships were with women with whom he flirted brazenly, but never actually consummated a romantic relationship, and with whom he traded heartfelt correspondence even as they got married, had children, and grew old. We have a natural urge to establish just exactly Where We Stand at all times, but feelings are not always so easy to pin down.
And these relationships – changing, ambiguous, frustrating – are precious, each one irreplaceable. Life is too short to let them go easily; that’s what I’m coming to understand. We can’t just call the game due to inclement emotions.
So I’m determined, now, to hang on to the friendships I have, whatever form they come in. I’m going to keep making time for the people who are in my life. I’m going to look around at some of the relationships I’ve let fall by the wayside and see if, just maybe, they can be revived. I’m going to try to remember to seek reconciliation when I have a conflict, rather than stand on wounded pride. I’m going to show love and attention as the spirit is moved to all the people I care about, without worrying too hard about “giving the wrong impression”. And if I ever find myself falling for someone who is supposed to be “just a friend”, I’m not going to beat myself up about it, but instead just try to enjoy the feeling for what it is.
I’d rather die having made an affectionate fool of myself than having been dignifiedly lonely.
I often find it unforunate that the term “love” is so all encompassing, because the “love” you describe, as felt by that friend, is nothing of the sort. It is impossible to love someone so much that one can’t be around them without “having” them, because love does not seek to posess. That’s chemical infatuation, pure and simple. If she truly loved you, she would have simply been content to have you in your life and contribute to your happiness.
I’ve told friends that I love them in the past, but reciprocation, even when valid is often difficult because in modern society the phrase loosely translates to “I (want to/enjoy) fucking you”.
I find the most purity in strictly enforced gray areas.
Gray areas are underrated, and I say this as a system-builder who prefers to categorize the hell out of life.
Incidentally, I initially read that as “strictly enforced gay areas”, It was kind of funny.
I think this is a wonderful thing. I hope it works wonders in your life.
One of the things I’ve been contemplating deeply since my spiritual life began to take this clear form of devotion to Love is the concept of the romantic friendship– something that has always existed, but that it seems has become particularly maimed in modern society (ironic, when we’ve made so much progress in so many other ways) by paranoia about homosexuality and very limited, black-and-white ideas about romance, sexual love, infidelity, and “appropriate” behavior between friends, The closest thing that society acknowledges to a romantic friendship is the “girl crush”, and when men are depicted as having a classic romantic friendship– like Frodo and Sam– all we can see is suppressed homosexuality.
I think it’s a concept that needs to be better understood and allowed back into daily life, for our health, for our sanity, and for our joy.
I think the mistake of our social conditioning is that “true love” has only one path to follow (sex, marriage, nesting)– or maybe more to the point, that love always *must* have a path, that it’s a means to an end (of being in an exclusive relationship) and not something worth experiencing just for the pleasure of blissful absorption in a marvelous human being.
Thanks. It’s nice to know people who really do understand.
I’m quite happily married, and that bond actually frees me up to just relax and be friendly.
You’re right; people are complex, and occasionally a whiff of perfume might send the thoughts reeling.
However, and perhaps it’s just age, I can enjoy just a bit of tension for its own sake, without guilt or need to pursue it.
Re: Excellent post
You know, that’s a very telling observation. I’ve felt the same way at times.
Thanks, I needed to hear that today.
May I ask why?
“I’d rather die having made an affectionate fool of myself than having been dignifiedly lonely.”
Words to live by my friend.
Your part about relationships always being in flux struck a chord… it reminded me of how I see relationships…
relationships are like trees.. When they start, they are like saplings and they can often grow very fast.. but they are fragile.. When people take time to work on them.. it’s like fertilizing the tree and watering it and helping it grow stronger.. and they usually do grow stronger…
fights, breaches of trust, and the like, however, are like ripping off leaves or cutting off branches…
and a relationship develops like a tree would develop with such actions.. if there is much fighting and distrust, then the relationship grows stunted and twisted and unhealthily.. and sometimes it just hangs on there in a twisted horrible form.. rather than just dying outright…
Other times, people take axes to their relationships.. and sever them completely… I’ve known people who lacked the ability to forgive even minor breaches of trust and I know at the end of their life, they’re gonna look back at the field of stumps and wonder why they’re alone…
What you have described doesn’t seem like chopping down, but rather, just sort of like leaving the tree without water and/or food and the relationship often withers–even if it doesn’t necessarily always die–over time..
In any case.. I’m sure if you want to go back and water these trees.. a number of them will come back to life.. and I think your sentiment is a good one.. We only live once.. so we may as well make these trips around the sun good ones..
Re: excellent post…
Thankfully, friendships are often like trees in that life can lurk deep in the center when they have been to all appearances dead for a long time.
‘And here’s what I’ve come to realize: all relationships exist in a state of flux. We get this idea in our heads that every relationship has a natural “steady-state”, but that’s a myth. In fact, every relationship in our lives is constantly in motion. Friends grow closer together or further apart. Friendships deepen, or become more surface-level. Interests converge and diverge. People fall in love, and out of love, and back in love again. Crushes bloom and fade. Disagreements burst out in white heat and then cool. Jealous tensions form. People hang out in different crowds and find new facets of themselves. And, of course, people get older and with that comes change as well.”
You’ve learned much.
I found this out too, but I realized that I really WANTED to have romance with someone who was arleady a friend. I realized this in college. During highschool, friends and potentials were in different categories.
Then I realized: a friendship can be completely changed in just one movement.
ME? That’s how I like it. Not everyone does. But I need that close friendship in a good romantic relationship, else I find I can’t respect the guy.
To extend that, I also don’t do what your friend did.
If feelings aren’t recipricated, or cant be, I’m fine with that. I accept it, and I keep a fantastic friend. Too bad not everyone can do that.
I hope you and she can reconcile.
I have had some difficulty, because of my single-minded focus on developing friendships first, in bringing romance into a friendship. As I was relating to my shrink the other day, I never actually dated my wife.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on this, bringing romance into an already existing friendship.
You still need to come over and help me kill a bunch of beers.
I know, I know. I keep trying to coordinate with Stacey. What are you doing Thursday night?
I think Thursday night is free.
Of note, it’s fine if it’s just us guys as well as Kimberley no longer drinks alcohol.
Thursday night isn’t free for me but since I can’t drink I guess it doesn’t matter much. *shrug*
Thank you so much for that. It brought to a close everything that has been running through my mind lately and connected it to my heart. I’ve learned so much about myself these last few days and am excited to carry that with me and do things a little different in my relationships now.
Wow, I just now ran into this comment. I miss you too. What are you up to?
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