Love and friendship – are they really different?

Once more, Valentine’s day has passed and we have exchanged little somethings and sweetnesses with our darling(s) or savored the bitterness of not having nobody with whom to share the date. One way or another, the occasion gives us food for thought about relationships. What is it that makes someone so dear to us that we can call them “my dear”? What is the boundary between romantic love and friendship that allows us to pour our hearts to the one(s) in one category and not to those in the other? What is the true meaning of a partnership and why is it so important to our lives?

Well, I evidently hold no definite answer to these questions, but would like to share my views on them and which I consider to be the differences between love and friendship. And the plural I use to talk about relationships is no accident as I feel love does not necessarily have to be lived in singular form, or monogamy, but rather in the arrangement that most suits all parties involved, which can be different to that.

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One first factor to take into account is the social construction around romantic love. Were we not living in a world where there is a general agreement that life in a partnership is socially and legally ideal, this would not weigh so much on us and we would not care so much about ours and other’s civil status.

But the models of relationships we see in our family and neighborhood, in movies, books advertisements shape our expectations and wishes. And though it has been positively changing in recent years, with an increasing acceptance and visibility of different ways of life, most of our surroundings still point to life as a couple as the goal and culmination of our existence, the ideal scenario for anyone’s happiness.

Secondly, the human resources we need to nurture any relationship are limited. Time is the most obvious of them. Being present for someone, listening about their day, doing a massage, getting to know their family, watching a silly rom-com or helping with their decisions takes time and energy. And the more intimate a relationship gets, the more we expose ourselves and the deeper we dive into the universe of (an)other, the more investment we need to make on that. That’s why we have more colleagues than friends, and more friends than “dearest(s)”.

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In that regard, the difference between a friend and a beloved one is a simple matter of allocating priority, choosing to build a shared future with, given the limited extent of our time and space – or possibility, given, for instance, the continent where you live. Life in our world, specially as we get older, is about “either… or”. We must choose because it gets more and more difficult to conciliate, to “have it all”. We must concrete some possibilities, concentrate efforts on them in spite of some others. We cannot intertwine our lives with many people at once, otherwise we would be tied up in such a manner, trying to fit them all, that we would not go anywhere. Our time, space, energy, intimacy must be most dedicated to those we can make projects with, whose life path wishes to and can walk alongside ours.

Lastly, and to me that’s core, relationships are about influence and compatibility. Your friends and loved ones are people who give you the opportunity to live what you yourself cannot be. If you’re a translator, you can’t experiment life as a firefighter, but having a friend who is one brings that into your life, and influences how you behave, what you think and express, who you are. A beloved one, in this sense, is simply the biggest influence on your life. That sounds intimidating, right? But it shouldn’t really. It is just logic that the one(s) you share most with are the one(s) who influence(s) you more. Therefore, it should be someone(s) you look up to, with the qualities and values and views you consider important and who help(s) you be the best you can be. Apart from, of course, simply being someone(s) who make(s) your life more joyful!

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And where does compatibility enter into that equation? Well, in our model of relationship, which involves physical proximity as well as companionship in the most difficult arrangement of the world which is cohabiting, that alignment of values is simply not enough. Many relationships do not work not out of lack of it, but because living together is really tough. Sharing the most part of your time and space, the little joys and struggles of everyday life while sharing a place is not easy. A good deal of practical understanding is necessary too, such as temperament, biological clock, organization, eating, disposition to adapt. For instance, you might adore someone to the highest of your capacity, but if you’re a minimalist and (s)he is an incorrigible collector, and both are not disposed to live with such difference every single day, then that will be difficult to work out.

To sum up, I sincerely believe there is no great abyss between a good friend and a romantic partner. The boundaries that define which is which are 1) the consideration the society of our moment and place in history gives them and 2) the place we choose to give them in our present and future, the priority we give them considering our emotional and practical resources.

So my advice for next year is, send little somethings and sweet words to all those who bring more joy into your life and are there for you and understand what your silences say. That’s really all love and care is about.

Vitoria dos Santos Acerbi

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