For 30 years I’ve failed to find ‘the one’ – or they’ve failed to find me. Almost every TV show, film, song and piece of marketing tells me that this is what I need to be looking for. I’m led to believe that to find this one person will be the ultimate, and highest experience of love, fulfilment and joy. I’m told that when do finally find the one love of my life I will achieve full relational contentment. Trouble is, I hate feeling like an under-achiever so I’m left with no choice but to throw a into these disneyfied works. Here it is: what if we’re allowed more than one love of our life at any one time?! What if it’s possible, or even only possible, to find full relational contentment outside of a monogamous romantic relationship?
Now, don’t get worried, this isn’t a shock blog-post about polygamy. Instead it is a celebration of one of the greatest, yet most easily dismissed loves of all: Friendship (with a capital F). C.S. Lewis has suggested that there are four categories of love: Affection (mainly parental), Eros (romantic), Charity (helping our fellow man) and Friendship. Out of all these loves, Friendship is the underdog. Our adult emotional health is normally attributed to the love we did/didn’t receive from parents, we champion those that sacrifice themselves for good causes and their fellow man and I’m sure you don’t need me to explain how our culture holds Eros up on a major pedestal.
Unlike Baby, poor old Friendship has been put in the corner. BUT British culture loves an underdog, so perhaps it’s time we started to pay more attention to Friendship. C.S.Lewis says that the reason we don’t value Friendship as much as other loves is that a) few experience it and that b) it is the least natural of the loves. Friendship is not necessary to humanity – Eros takes care of procreation, Affection covers nurture and Charity societal care. However, in friendship there is nothing that obligates you to one another beyond choice. Biology, legal commitments, vows before God or work/moral obligations don’t apply here. As C.S (yes, we’re on first initial terms), says: “Friendship isn’t necessary to survival, but gives value to survival”. To be loved by another human being simply out of choice, and to love in return is one of the most greatest experiences available to humanity (even Ewan Macgregor in Moulin Rouge thinks so).
Having spent my whole adult life as a single person, Friendship is the love that I know best and I have been incredibly fortunate to have been given some truly wonderful friends who have taught me much about this love. In aid of transparency, I have also spent the whole of my adult life living with a desire to be married and I hope one day to experience this so don’t worry, I’m not on an anti-marriage rant. But the marriages that I most admire and would hope to emulate one day happen to be ones where they would say that the foundation of their marriage is friendship. Jesus said ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’. Not ‘Greater love has no one than this, that they find someone they want to marry’ (or even ‘that they love their kids’). So I want to devote the rest of this post to some of the things that we are made to think we have to wait for marriage, romance or [insert your thing here] to experience, but that we can actually authentically find in Friendship:
Commitment & security
I have a handful of friends who I know are committed to me and our friendship. We haven’t said vows, we haven’t signed legal documents but in absence of any form of official obligation, there is commitment. We are committed to seeking the best for each other, to encouraging one another, to challenging one another and to caring for one another. This commitment might be evident through verbal declarations, actions, affection, the simple passage of time or the quality of friendship not being hampered by physical separation. The product of this commitment is security – the knowledge that no matter what, I will have people to walk through the ups and downs of life with for as long as I am on this earth.
C.S Lewis said “friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” We often describe romantic partners as each others’ ‘soul-mates’ and as humans we can long for this kind of connection. But the bible tells a story of two friends called Jonathan and David, and its says that ‘the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul’. True, deep heart connection with another human being can happen within Friendship.
For better, for worse
True Friendship is an all-season thing, it remains unchanging through the ups and downs of life. Whether better or worse refers to to physical, emotional or circumstantial ups and downs, Friendship weathers the storms. One of my biggest challenges as a single person is the feeling that I am the only one who will have to walk through whatever life throws at me. I will have to face life’s challenges alone. However recent events have caused me to realise the untruth of this. Over the last 6 months I have suffered from some (mild but still horrid) mental illness and have also made some fairly life-changing decisions. My world has been turned upside down in more ways than one. But never once was I left to face any of this on my own. I might, at times, have felt alone, but this was more the product of my emotional state than my circumstance. I had friends (and family) faithfully and repeatedly talking with me, speaking truth to me, praying for me, comforting me, crying with me and carrying me through a time that I couldn’t have come out the other side of alone. It didn’t matter that a lot of the time we had to have the same conversations, or that I wasn’t as able to care for them as I would have liked, or that I wasn’t a lot of fun to be with – I was loved unconditionally and wasn’t left to face anything alone.
“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” Another corker from C.S.
The greatest joy of my greatest friendships is honesty. In true friendship, whether through intentional disclosure or failing to keep up any facade, one can share their deepest desires, secrets, hopes, weaknesses and failings with someone else and at worst discover they are STILL loved, and at best hear the response ‘What? You too?!’. True Friendship also speaks with utter honestly for the benefit of the hearer. It has been the brave honesty of great friends that has caused me to make life-bringing decisions when I may otherwise have continued into greater danger.
‘You complete me’…one of the most misguided phrases to ever be said by one human being to another, but a frequently heard one in many a wedding speech that causes many in the room to reach for a premature but calming swig of champagne. The implication that one can’t be fully themselves, or ‘whole’ until they meet their other half is cripplingly dangerous. We are all ‘whole’ people. We were made ‘whole’, but we all need a little help to be our true selves. True friendship enables us to be the best version of our selves. It finds, draws out, encourages and champions the characteristics, personality traits, skills, talents and calling that truly reflects who we were designed to be. It rubs off the rough edges and the things that get in the way of us being our best and true selves. It removes the rubble and reveals the ‘whole’ of us that is already there.
Family & home
I am fortunate enough to have a fabulous family, which provides me with a security and source of unconditional love that I do not take for granted. But I don’t live with or near them-I can’t just pop round any time I want or need to. I have friends who do not have a biological family that they can rely on either practically or emotionally. As friends who come from a variety of backgrounds, we have made each other our families. We spend holidays together, we care for one another when we are ill, we give lifts to the airport, we are just ‘at home’ with one another. Sisters from other misters and brothers from other mothers can be just as familial and ‘for life’ (if not more so for some people) than blood relatives.
An end to loneliness
One of my top-two fears in life is loneliness. It can be easy to think that a partner will solve this problem. But the reality is that loneliness is not a unique experience for single and unhappily married people. We can all feel lonely at times, it’s just part of the human condition and living in an imperfect world. But there is a difference between occasional feelings of loneliness which the majority of us experience and true, isolated loneliness. The former is a lack of company at a particular moment in time, the latter is a state in which someone is completely segregated and set apart from others. It is the product of not experiencing true Friendship as described above. When we don’t feel like anyone is committed to us, understands us, champions us and knows and loves us for who we are, then we really can experience loneliness. But the good news is that Friendship can be an antidote to those things. Because Friendship doesn’t have to be exclusive like a marriage, or biologically defined like a parent, it means that those looking for Friendship have a wide pool to choose from. It’s completely normal to have a Friendship with someone who has a Friendship with someone else. It also means that you don’t have to seek just one person to provide all of your relational needs for you – again, you can draw from a wider pool.
I have 613 Facebook friends. I invited 35 female friends to my 30th birthday party. These figures may seem enviably high to you or they may seem pitifully small. Either way, like most people I have a reasonable number friends and even more friendly acquaintances. Depending on how I’m feeling these numbers can become a source of emotional security or insecurity and I know I’m not alone in this. However I am content to only have a handful of Friends (with a capital F). It simply wouldn’t be possible for every single one of my friends to offer me the type of Friendship described above, and for me to offer it in return. As human beings we have a limited capacity and that’s ok. As an extrovert, I need lots of friends because I enjoy social variety and being with people a lot of the time. But I don’t need lots of Friends. In true Friendship it is quality over quantity that matters. My challenge to myself is to value the quality these relationships over the quantity of social engagements I can fill my diary with.
You might be reading this and experiencing genuine loneliness. Perhaps you have never experienced the type of Friendship described here. Perhaps people who you have considered as friends have actually just been hurtful, self serving and uncaring in their relationship with you. Perhaps you have lots of friends, but not any Friends. If that’s you then I want you to know that my intention with this post is not to painfully highlight what you’re missing, but instead to encourage you that true Friendship really does exist and you can find it – sometimes in the most unexpected of people. Some of my Friends are similar to me in age and stage but some are really not. That’s the beauty of Friendship- it transcends the boundaries that determine most other relationships. If you haven’t found it yet, be brave and keep looking, you never know who else might be on the look out. Don’t look for the people in your circle that seem the most cool, popular, funny, attractive etc, instead, look to for the people who display the qualities of Friendship in their character – honesty, commitment, care etc. Of course you have to actually enjoy their company, but we’re searching for gold here, not the fake stuff that looks great but then leaves your skin stained an ugly blue-green. C.S Lewis says that we will often picture lovers as face to face, but pictures friends as side by side – they are both looking at something else. About searching for Friendship, he says ‘friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travellers’.
To be clear, even within the best friendship there will be occasions where you let each other down or hurt each other, that’s part of being human and it doesn’t mean the Friendship is forfeit. It just means that, if you commit to dealing with it, you get to explore even deeper the principles of honesty, commitment and ‘for better for worse’. It’s how Friendships help us towards wholeness by exposing our less than loveable traits and loving us anyway whilst showing us how we were made to be instead.
As a Christian, it would be remiss of me to not mention one Friend in particular who perfectly fulfils and supplies all of the above. He is Friend who, even if all other Friends let me down, hurt or abandon me, has promised never to. He is a Friend who knows me inside and out and invites me to make my home with Him. He is a Friend from whom I have definitely received more than I could ever give. His name is Jesus and because of his Friendship I will never be lonely, un-championed, un-loved or un-known. Jesus is even more extroverted than me, but unlike me has a limitless capacity for Friendship. Let me know if you want an introduction.
No matter the source, if you’ve found Friendship hold onto it. Prize it, celebrate it, nurture it, share it. Don’t dismiss it as a secondary love to other things. Don’t look your Friendship gift-horse in the mouth, because Friendship really is the most precious gift. I may die having been single my whole life. But I will die satisfied knowing that I have found more than ‘the one’, I have found (and will hopefully keep finding) ‘the ones’. So here’s to Friendship, and to finding fellow travellers to journey with.