I remember myself a long time ago, listening with rapt attention as my new roommate reflected on the nature of friendships. She was wise and worldly, an older woman of 23 or so. I figured she’d learned a few things about life and love.
Friendships are essential for a good life, she’d said, but they can come and they can go. People drift apart, or maybe there’s some kind of betrayal or fight, or maybe somebody dies. Better to rely on family members; what are they going to do, disown you?
Words like these pop up out of the back of my head sometimes, as if they were waiting for just the right moment to appear. The timing is auspicious, because it coincides with Valentine’s Day -- that celebration of love and attachment -- and the recent loss of an old friend.
Relationships with our friends don’t immediately come to mind on this
holiday, at least not usually. Generally it’s a day to have a little
fun. (And the little kids do this the most reliably and cheerfully,
exchanging those cartoon cards and heart-shaped candies from the dime store.)
But the big focus is on romance, and it’s the closest we come to a day
that celebrates eroticism. The erotic, after all, is what
brings those old adversaries (men and women) together to complete themselves and to transcend themselves and to get working on the next generation. It’s mysterious and powerful, and holidays are frequently about things that are mysterious and powerful.
Valentine’s Day also celebrates the profound connections people have
to each other. It feels like really bad news sometimes, but here’s
the truth: humans are joined at the hip. The only way out is
to be a
detached and emotionally efficient sort, but then that causes problems of its own, like tamping your heart down.
What I want to know is, what about the friends, the platonic friends? We are very attached to some of them. These are the people we look to for perspective and balance and inspiration and moral support – and plain old good company – but there are no blood ties, no legal ties. We choose them and they choose us. Everybody is free to come and go. These are relationships with beginnings, middles, and ends.
And that means they’re finite, just like your own life is finite. These folks are borrowed. There is nothing to do once you’ve realized this except treat them as very valuable, worth your greatest respect and most honest effort. You appreciate who and what they are while they’re in your life. And then when it’s time to let go, assuming you didn’t go first – you let go, grateful for what they've given you.
Basically, there are two things friends have in common with lovers and family members, at least in good relationships. The first is that you love them. You really, really do. You adore them, and you trust them The second is that these people you love and adore and trust can _disappear,_ sometimes even in the twinkling of an eye. And you don’t have any control over it, none at all.
But let’s keep this secret from those little kids with their cards and heart-shaped candies, OK? It can only warp them to learn it so young, and they’ll be grownups soon enough.