This is our truth, tell us yours
This post has its origins in two things; the ongoing dialogue here, and on its predecessor blog, about Erich Fromm and the meaning of love, and an internal monologue I was writing as a prelude to a blog about the difference between Twitter and Facebook.
We call people friends on Facebook because acquaintance has too many letters to fit on a drop down menu. We follow people on Twitter because we’re interested to know what they might say or do. That difference is huge, and sums up the difference between the two platforms. Of course, there are those, especially those with existing media platforms, who mistake a Twitter following as evidence of their leadership abilities or qualities, when in fact we follow them with the same concern and care we follow the annual round robin letter from a tiresome relative – so that we know what’s going on, not because we admire them.
We call people friends on Facebook because ‘person without whom my life would be diminished’ doesn’t fit on the modern relationship radar. Lots of things don’t. Want an example? Somewhere in the past I was in a messy relationship where the two of us were also having sex with a third, sometimes as a threesome, and, sometimes to the detriment of the relationship, as pairs. Trying to explain this to a curious outsider I revolted against the suggestion that I was the third person’s lover, or that he was mine. He was just someone I fucked. It had started as part of the main relationship, and he was just a useful adjunct to that relationship. I didn’t even like him, let alone love him. If he had not been in my life, we would have had to find a different way of having a third in that relationship, but he wasn’t the first and he needn’t have been the last. How to explain that to someone for whom sex and making love were the same?
This blog only exists because, over a period of time that goes unacknowledged lest we both take fright and run away from the very idea of a long term relationship, Jem and I have listened to each other, supported each other, enjoyed each other’s company, shared each other’s achievements and disappointments. If we were rich, or literary, we’d make a great movie. We’re not; we’re working class survivors trying to learn to live with the weight of our experiences and a degree of commitment to some values that matter to us.
One of those values, as you’d expect from a philosophical woman and a pedantic man, is an insistence on precision in language. We define love in our own ways, Jem from a christian tradition, myself from a humanist and socialist tradition that includes Erich Fromm. Perhaps it’s time to approach the definition of friendship in the same way.
If you are a friend without benefits, what kind of friend are you? If being a friend doesn’t benefit you, what does that mean? I gave up being in love years ago, instead concentrating on trying to live with love for others, to make love a way of being a better person. By extension, if my friendship does not benefit my friends, what kind of friendship is it?
Erich Fromm said about love that it isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice. Friendship, similarly, is not a matter of proximity but performance, and, if performed with concern for the other, it also benefits ourselves.
In the last few months, when I have been personally challenged, Jem has been a friend to me, listening, questioning, challenging and providing insights that are rich with her wisdom. And she remains the most sexually stimulating person I have ever encountered. I hope that she understands the benefits I have derived from her friendship. Perhaps a part of my growing, new definition of friendship is the faithfulness of her commitment to being that friend who can challenge and counsel me. If I can be a friend like that to her and others, it will be worth the effort, and I will enjoy the benefits of being a friend.