I recently told a dear friend that I felt like “my friends are the loves of my life.” She confided that she has always felt the same way. It struck me that that was no coincidence. As we increasingly experience an era where there are more people who never marry, more people who are divorced, or more people who are not particularly religious (even in the south/bible belt)…there is less social pressure to be defined by your relationship status.
Challenging the Culture
While I admire the commitment and personal development that marriage requires, I truly love the form of relationships where I am not pushing to change someone’s ways or identity. As a therapist, I see a lot of this in the relational work I’ve done with others. We are undoubtedly challenged to work through our unresolved issues in committed relationships. This can happen in friendships as well. However, in my experience it is a lot less contentious and far more accepting in friendships. I am not suggesting that people don’t experience this in romantic love…just that I haven’t and I don’t long for it. I don’t long for the imagined perfect mate with whom I will connect and how my life will be enhanced. I have found that I am far happier as a result of accepting my life as it is, whether I have a committed romantic love relationship or not.
Saying ” I love you” to Friends
Instead, I look at my friendships and I find every type of human being. My friends are at various stages of life and they span from 10 years younger than me to 25-30 years older than me. It was in college that my friend Dana taught me to say “I love you.” After we were friends for a while, she would say “I love you” when we got off of the phone. At first it took me aback, I didn’t come from a family that said “I love you” very often. I asked her about it and she told me about loss in her teen years. Both the death of her grandmother and the near death of her younger sister in a very serious boating accident. Dana taught me how we never know how much time we have with those we love and how she chooses to express love to her friends.
Friendship and Social Support
Some people are cynical about friendship. Yet we know that social support is a great buffer against loneliness and depression. It does not mean that people with close friends are immune to mental health problems. However, we know that isolation is not good for people emotionally or physically. I am truly grateful for my close friends and my more peripheral friends. The people I talk to nearly every day and the ones I speak to far less. I am grateful to be known and to know them.
Applying Love Languages in Friendships
Recently I have taken to asking my friends their Love Languages. This is so that I can express gratitude toward them in the ways that work for them. Some friends are gift people; others acts of service or quality time. Still others prefer words of affirmation. Some prefer physical touch. In friendship, how I speak to those love languages can vary from…just hanging out all day to re-gifting gifts that are given to me. It may look like doing a favor as an act of service or expressing how much they mean to me. It can look like hugs hello and goodbye. It could be a gift certificate for massage.
I know many people who are seeking a romantic life partner are not interested in thinking of the phrase “love of my life” the way that I think of it. However, I think it is time to expand our understanding of the importance of friendship.
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