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Forget Relationships – This Valentine’s Day is All About Friends


While some meet their soulmate by the age of 30, I’ve met a small handful of them. And although we may never have a night of sexual passion, they offer me much of the same emotional intimacy and day-to-day closeness that a romantic partner would. Recently, I read anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s book, Friends: Understanding The Power of Our Most Important Relationships – and discovered there’s even scientific justification for prioritising your friendships, as the more friends you have the less susceptible you are to disease, and the longer you’ll live. I was also inspired by the term “romantic friendship” which I recently saw used in an essay, “The Joy Of Romantic Friendships”, written by author Chante Joseph for Angelica Malin’s Unattached anthology. It’s a term to describe friendships which are deeply emotional, yet without a sexual connection. “We need to start finding intimacy and romance in our platonic friendships; there is so much that can fuel us when we no longer attach all forms of intimacy to romantic relationships,” Joseph wrote.

So why did it take me so long to get here? Part of it, I think, is a lack of cultural reference points for romantic friendship as a central relationship, because it’s hard to value what you can’t see reflected elsewhere. So often we see the ‘best friend’ as a supporting character in a film, filling in as needed for plot exposition, but less so as the constant support system, or indeed the primary relationship. Think about it: can you name one platonic “best friend” character in a film?

Then there’s a lack of vocabulary: words and phrases that normalise friendship. They’ve existed in the past: for instance, terms like “Boston Marriage” emerged in New England in the late 19th/early 20th century to describe a cultural phenomenon of two female friends cohabiting. Going further back, the ancient Greeks had the word “philia” to describe friendship (which, fun fact, they actually considered more important than romantic love). Yet, in our present-day context there are few shorthand words or phrases that really capture the intensity of our strongest friendships. Even the word ‘friend’ has a flimsiness to it – encompassing everyone from the 1,438 friends on the Facebook account you last checked in 2018, to the person you’ve seen every week since you were four years old (that’s why many languages have multiple words for “friend” – Indonesian, for instance, has five).

But things are changing. In recent years, contemporary culture has put friendship on the pedestal it deserves. Think of the bond between Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy – “You’re my person”. Then there’s the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, which unequivocally has friendship as its central theme. Sure, the OG version paved the way for romantic friendships with the immortal line, “Maybe we can be each other’s soulmates”. But, with And Just Like That, showrunners transformed the iconic dating comedy into a love letter to friendship. As Rabbi Jen put it to Miranda and Carrie in the finale, “What’s really important is the relationship between you…I can hear how strong your bond is.” Then there was the oddly poignant texting back and forth between Carrie and absent Samantha – the “Will they, won’t they” we never saw coming (and not just because of that dramatic Kim Cattrall departure). It’s also reflected in the trend away from dating-only apps towards hybrid versions which offer both friendship and romance (like Bumble BFF) or even friend-specific connection apps like the new Locals.org.

Once upon a time, I fell into the trap of amatonormativity, a term coined by sociologist Elizabeth Brake to describe the belief that a central, monogamous romantic relationship is the most important relationship of your life, and should be valued above all others. This Valentine’s Day, I know I don’t have to choose one kind of love over the other. While some might fear that investing so much in friendship might prevent them from finding (and staying with) The One, I’d argue otherwise. The more kinds of love you can have in your life, the better. I know mine is richer for it.

Besides, on a polarising day which, let’s face it, puts unhelpful pressure on couples as well as single people, my friendships give me perspective. Simply having them in my life means that, even when dating, I don’t expect to get everything from one romantic partner – which, as we all know, can prove relationship kryptonite. I won’t be hoping that one day my friends will surprise me with a diamond, or want to have children together. Our lasting friendships remind me of the virtues of a slow-burning, gentle love. Dictated simply by what you are to one another in this moment, rather than a confetti-speckled vision of what could be. Renewed time and time again, even without the ties of a legal obligation or a shared mortgage. Sustained by the small words and gestures you exchange all year round. And what could be more romantic than that?

Francesca Specter is the author of Alonement: How To Be Alone & Absolutely Own It.



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