Friends and lovers

Why is it that our friends are so much more likely to stay in our life than our lovers? We fall in love with people because they are special, because we feel connected to them on a powerful and intimate level. So you would think that, even if a romantic relationship doesn’t work out, these qualities would still make them valuable parts of our lives. But it so rarely seems to work out that way.

Is it just because we tend to expect too much of our lovers, and then are disappointed when they fail to be as perfect as we dreamed they were? Because so much of what we saw in them was given an unreal rosy glow by the hormonal intoxication of falling in love? Because we want to be their “number one” and can’t bear to be displaced from that top spot?

Of course it’s possible to stay friends with ex-lovers, and sometimes the friendship can work better than the original relationship. I’ve never not wanted to be friends with my ex-partners. But my most recent ex’s complete refusal to communicate makes friendship not only impossible but almost certainly undersirable even if he changed his mind:  stability and willingness to communicate are some of the main things I look for in a friend!

It’s strange – I remember thinking, at an early stage in my relationship with this ex, that of course there was no way to be sure we would always love each other or be the right partner for each other. But I wasn’t worried because of the strength of our communication made me confident we’d always be able to talk, always be able to be friends, and decide together what was best for us. The fact that I was completely wrong about this is one of the most painful aspects of our break-up. 

I don’t really know why he cut off so abruptly. It wasn’t something he’d done in previous relationships, so I suspect it must be the “personal development” course he went on. Indeed the course seems to have led him to cut off from all his old friends, in a way I can’t believe is healthy. Interestingly I was speaking to a friend of mine last night, who described how an old friend of his had gone on a “personal development” course and as a result completely cut herself off from all her friends – for reasons scarily similar to those my ex gave. If these courses were genuinely promoting “personal development” then they should deepen the relationships in your life, rather than ending them. Of course you may be in the wrong relationship and need to move on, but you should be able to do that in an open and mature way if necessary. And it certainly should not lead you to cut off friendships that have sustained you for years.

Anyway, all this does make me realise just how amazingly valuable and precious my friends are. People I’ve known for years now, who’ve seen me grow and change, and have shared their stories with me. People who it makes me smile just to think of. People who don’t put me on a pedestal, or expect too much of me. People – both men and women – who have comforted me when I have wept, without feeling threatened or uncomfortable. People who have told me truths, sometimes painful ones, that I needed to hear, without making me feel bad about myself. People who will almost certainly still be there as lovers come and go.

Of course my lovers have been my friends too, while we’ve been together. But there seems to be something about a romantic relationship which means that the end of the romance damages the friendship, often beyond repair. I think if I could work out more about why, it would be an excellent basis for finding a loving relationship with the lasting stability of a friendship. I think it largely comes down to unrealistic expectations, and unrealistic perceptions of who the other person is – we try to make them fit our dreams, and then are broken-hearted when they don’t match up to the illusion we had.

At the end of the day I don’t need a lover, however much I might want one. But I’d be very lost without my friends….

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2 responses to “Friends and lovers

  1. There may be something to be said for the ‘old times’ when gentlemen callers came to pay their respects and a chaperone was there to make sure nothing too daring happened. I think such a system imposed a longer time scale for people to meet and somewhat curbed the hormonal dance – at least to the degree of appropriate seemingness. Not that I am a prude and believe people shouldn’t have sex before marriage, but I somehow fathom that were it not so easy as it is nowadays to get physically close to someone – with or without sex, for hormones are easily transmitted at a reasonable distance – we would less easily get intoxicated by desire, which does seem to blind us to a lot of our prospective partner’s shortcomings. I do believe that ‘being in love’ is a physical and mental condition that robs you of clear judgement. It’s intoxicating, yes, but is that a fit state to judge real compatibility? Desire makes the world be peopled. That’s its job. But real love, which obviously includes respect and care for the loved one are what make it possible for a relationship not only to last, but to become fulfilling for both parties involved.

    I’ve recently seen a few couples who got to know each other over the internet for ages before actually meeting or between very infrequent get togethers become very solid items. Perhaps this has something to do with the “being out of hormones’ reach” thing I posited. It means you can take the time to unveil yourself to the other without having the actual pressure of having to seem sexy and desireable right off. Of course it can’t work if there isn’t a minimum of physical compatibility, but I think a meeting of the minds is more important.

    I was so fortunate as to become friends with my husband before the idea of a relationship ever crossed our minds… for the very good reason that he was then already in a relationship and I saw no reason to butt in. Not for two years at least, during which time I had also had and ended a relationship of my own. Eventually we both saw that we were far more compatible for so many reasons than we would ever be with anyone else (things were not very easy between him and his girlfriend), so we finally got together, much to the happiness of all (his ex-girlfriend eventually thanked us because she realised how unhappy she was in the relationship though she wouldn’t admit it to herself at the time because she was in love with him and felt dependent on him).

    Could this be the answer to your riddle, Lirone? Become friends first, away from the tide of hormones, before trying out for a partnership? What do other people think, I wonder?

  2. Pingback: Songs to heal a broken heart - friendship « Words that sing

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