Have you ever used the phrase, "we're just friends"? or perhaps you reframed a relationship recently and "decided to just be friends"? or maybe someone you were with observed two people you know with each other as Partners, and you responded with "oh no. They're just friends".
I know I've said all of those phrases and more, and this is something I am working on removing from my vocabulary, because to me, the phrasing connotes a relationship that is somehow less than others (like partners, spouses, and intimates).
I'm here to suggest something to you - and to remind myself of it too - Friendship can be one of the deepest, most meaningful commitments you and I can make to another.
Friend is a very VERY big word.
My grandmother used to tell me that I would be one of the luckiest people in the world if I could count my true friends on just one hand, and I believe her words to be true.
In my world view, a Friend is someone with whom I share mutual love and respect and whose personhood I cherish so much, the exterior construct of our relationship is secondary our commitment to Knowing each other. These are relationships in which there is a give and take of support offered and accepted in many forms (time, resources, holding space, moving, etc.).
Not all platonic relationships are friendships in my perspective. I mean, I'm platonic with my biological family, and I wouldn’t call all of them my Friends. I would also suggest that romantic love and friendship can co-mingle beautifully and successfully. Of the couples I know who have been together over 40 years, all have talked with me about the quality of their friendship having a great deal to do with the success of their marriages.
For me, Friendship is the deepest commitment I make, because it comes with the promise that, no matter how our relationship is structured (lovers, play partners, co-workers, collaborators,etc.) I will show up for you again and again. I will hold a mirror for you and ask for the same. I will be inconvenienced for you - and not ask for payback or hold a grudge.
I will do my damnedest to see you as the YOU who you are and not the you who I wish you to be. (This is something to which I aspire always, though the less I’m around a person the more difficult I find the practice to be)
Am I friends with my romantic partners? This is something for which I strive, and it is the thing that has empowered me to transform romantic relationships into platonic relationships with minimal 'collateral damage', so yes. I would say that I hold an intention towards friendship in romance.
Here are some questions about friends to get some thoughts rolling - these are the kinds of questions I ask myself about people I am considering calling Friends.....
Who in your life is safe enough for you to be around when you're at the bottom of your barrel - when your life is blowing up - when you look like crap, have bad breath, and are wearing ill-fitting clothing?
Who in your life saw something you posted on a social network and reached out to you to lend a hand (even and especially if you didn't ask for it)?
Who in your life can you call for 'sanity checks' if someone criticizes your behavior or calls into question parts of your character and will tell you the truth as they see it - even if it's not what you want to hear?
To whom do you listen?
Who in your life is truly happy for your successes and not threatened by your brilliance, your beauty, or your talents?
Who challenges you to be bigger and better day by day?
Who asks you how you're doing and sincerely wants to know the answer?
Who can you not see for a year or more, and with whom you can get into a room, and it's like no time has passed?
Who doesn't really care how famous you are (or are not)?
With whom can you cry?
Who trusts you with their car keys? House keys? Pets?
Who are the people around whom your heart sings?
Whom do you Trust?
Who would show up for your intervention?
Who knows you?
With whom can you disagree and not have that threaten the foundation of your relationship?
You can turn all of these around as well - to see the people in your life towards whom you are offering friendship.
If your relationships aren't fulfilling, perhaps you could change how you are in them? Try it - you might surprise yourself.
So the next time you and I use minimizing language like "just friends" for such powerful and empowering relationship contexts, maybe we could stop a moment and consider the power of our words.
Just some food for thought on a sunny Thursday morning in Pittsburgh.