When we think of love we usually think of it in the romantic sense and we associate love with romance because we have not been accustomed to other forms of love. Think about it; love songs are always about two people who are romantically involved, either loving each other forever or hurting one another. Romance flicks centre on one person falling madly in love with another. Novels about love feature characters who must navigate the complexities of romance so they can live happily ever after. It is the way we have been conditioned to see love in our lives. So you can imagine my shock and confusion when I realised that not only do I love my friend but I am in love with them. This realisation did not make sense to me because: “how can one be in love with a friend? That’s a recipe for disaster.” But when I finally opened myself up to that idea I learnt that there are many other forms of love.
First, let me start by saying I’ve never felt like I lacked love. I come from a loving family and I never felt the need to look for love besides romantic love. The search for romantic love, by the way, was fuelled by the idea that one must find love and marriage to be fulfilled but once I realised that wasn’t necessarily true I stopped actively searching and have been stress-free since. Back to friendship, I’ve known my different groups of friends for eight to 15 years depending on which friend group I’m talking about. And in the years that I have been in these friendships I have experienced a love so pure and of course, at first I did not think it was love, I just thought my friends and I were compatible. But in the past two years or so I have come to realise that what I have is love.
Defining love in friendship
The Ancient Greeks had many words for love, which enabled them to clearly differentiate between the loves one was experiencing. Philia sometimes referred to as the highest form of love, is one of seven forms of love based on the classical readings of Aristotle and Plato. It refers to love in friendship and is rooted in affection which runs deep in friendships. Other forms of love include Eros which is romantic love, Agape which is selfless love, Storge which is the love of family, and others. When I finally gave the love I had for my friend a name I was able to fully embrace it and learn valuable lessons from it.
Lesson 1: Love and Fear cannot co-exist.
There are two places where I am my most authentic self: when I am at home and when I am with my friends. Home is easy because it is where I have been all my life so I don’t feel like I have something to hide when I am there. I am my fearless self with my friends because of how they have loved me and continue to love me. I do not feel afraid to be myself when I am with them and as a result, I am free. Where fear retracts love releases, it affirms, it asserts and I feel all of this when I am with my friends. When I am with my friends I am not afraid to express myself and to reveal the parts of myself which I feel are too dark to share and that is because love exists in its purest form in my friendships.
Lesson 2: Philia taught me how to love elsewhere
Revered feminist author bell hooks wrote: “Friendship is the place which a great majority of us have our first glimpse of redemptive love and caring community. Learning to love in friendships empowers us in ways that enable us to bring this love to other interactions with family or with romantic bonds.” This quote helped to put into words what I was experiencing with the love I found in friendship. The chapter about Community in her book “All About Love” is my favourite because it is one of the things which made me realise that I love my friends. And this particular quote rings true to me because it is through friendship that I learnt to handle conflicts while extending grace. It’s where I learnt how to forgive, how to give of myself completely, and most importantly how to be myself. Through loving and being loved in friendship I learnt how to love myself properly. I learned how to extend grace to my family whom I already love dearly. I learned how to be authentic in romantic relationships and how to love a partner entirely.
Lesson 3: Friendship is the hill I will die on.
After experiencing all the love and joy that comes with having friends I can gladly and proudly say that I cannot imagine my life without friends. I remember one of my friends saying indoda (a man) is the hill she will die on, meaning she could not see herself living without romance in her life and I laughed. I thought about her statement for a very long time and asked myself what it was that I could not live without and the answer was simple: friendship. Making friends for me is hard and I believe I hit the lottery when I found the women and some men who I call my friends. I also believe that the bonds we form outside of our family are important because unlike our families we choose them and they play a big role in shaping who we are outside the family setting.
Let’s give friendship a chance
We hold friendship to a much harsher regard than we do with romantic relationships and not because we value friendship more but because we see it as secondary to romance. We are much stricter with our friends than we are with our romantic partners. But I think there is so much that friendship can teach us about how to navigate the world and how to interact with others so we should give it a better chance. This valentine’s day I want to celebrate my friends and thank them for embracing and loving me but more importantly for providing a space where I am loved, safe, and free to be myself. Here’s to my girl friends.