With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought I might write something that was in some way relevant to the theme of love, especially romantic love. Personally, I barely even notice V. Day’s coming and going. But the fact is that for a lot of people, especially the youth, it does mean something and I respect that. If they’re in a relationship, it’s a day to celebrate their love. If they’re not, it can become an annoying reminder of their single status. This is why, on holidays, a lot of young single people want to hang out with other single friends. It’s a way to shield themselves from the feelings of lack or loneliness.
Friends are one of the most important cornerstones in the lives of most human beings. Being the highly social creatures that we are, for most of us, our frequent interactions with our friends serve a variety of important purposes and are as essential a component of our daily routines as eating and sleeping. It is therefore a given to say that we cherish and value our friends.
But it’s also clear that there is a clear distinction between friends and lovers. Notwithstanding the frequent instances where friends become lovers and vice versa, and the vagueness that sometimes exists during these transitions, for most people in most cases a friend is one thing and a lover something entirely other. Just as it should be.
Now, here is something that most of us, if we’re honest, would probably admit. As important as our friends are to us, if we are feeling very lonely and longing for a lover, the companionship of our friends can stave off, temporarily, the sharpest pangs of loneliness, but they usually cannot fill the emptiness entirely. When the get-together ends and we go home, that sense of emptiness that we distracted ourselves from returns.
Or the other scenario is when we are freshly caught in the throes of infatuation or of being in love. Admit it: when in this state, if given a choice you would much rather be with your lover, or potential lover, than your friends. (Obviously, if you’ve already been with someone for a long time, then naturally there will be times when you’d much rather prefer to be with your friends than her/him.)
The reason for this is very natural, understandable and normal. As pleasurable as being with friends is, it usually does not provide the same kind of intensity and depth of powerful emotion that romantic love can – that rush of dopamine, phenethylamine and other love-related brain chemicals as only romantic love and physical intimacy, especially in the early stages, can trigger.
Except during those early stages, we, like junkies, always crave that rush. When it wears off in our current relationship, we start feeling attracted to other people. When we’re not in a relationship at all, we crave it more than anything else.
Other than by having the actual thing, there seems to be no way to completely satisfy that craving. I admit that. But the problem is that this craving leaves most people feeling like they are lacking or missing something, like they will never be happy or complete without it, and that, I believe, can be overcome. You don’t have to repress the craving but neither do you have to subconsciously feel like your friends are a poor substitute for the greater intensity and fulfillment of a romantic relationship.
There are many ways to do this, some of which involve solitude and some of which involve the people around us. The ways of solitude are unrealistic for many, so today I thought I’d share one very simple way that anyone can do that involves our friends. If done with enough sincerity and intensity, it can bring you great fulfillment such that you do not need to let the craving for romantic love leave you feeling empty and barren.
It is this. I take my existing friendships – with men or women, it doesn’t matter as long as it is platonic – and I try to probe deeper into it, to unravel new layers, to uncover depths that before were only felt unconsciously or not registered at all.
A single human being contains the entire universe. But many friendships, out of comfort, familiarity and habit, only scratch the surface. There are still worlds within your friends that you have not explored. Even those whom you might consider, on the surface, to be “simple” people, when you go deeper, reveal layers of complexity.
And so when I am sitting across a friend, I like to try and focus my entire being on her. I pretend she is the center of my world. There is nothing else. She is IT.
What this enables me to do is essentially listen to her with high focus and concentration. Let’s face it: Most of the time, when we’re with people, especially those we’re familiar and comfortable with, about half the time our minds are wandering. When they are talking, we might be listening, but we are not really listening. And then when we answer or talk back, it’s as if we’re talking for the sake of talking. We are not really speaking to that person in the truest, deepest sense.
What are my friend’s deepest desires, wishes and fears? I don’t even have to ask those questions blatantly. He is constantly telling me in other ways. I just have to pay attention.
Do you know what it feels like to be listened to as if you were the single most important person in the world? It is a feeling like no other. And if you can make people feel this way, they will cherish and honor you. And from the soil of this mutual cherishing springs forth deep, deep fulfillment. You go away from the dinner or gathering not just having been entertained or kept company, but with even a sense of having achieved something very important. I know this might sound kind of crazy to some, but it’s true, at least for me because I am one who believes that some of our greatest achievements are the hidden ones that nobody notices.
Make no mistake: This has nothing to do with romance, intimacy or eroticism. I can do this just as easily with a man as I can with a woman, and even if it’s a woman it is a completely separate expression from romantic expression. It is not a common expression, however, because as a society it is as if we’ve become accustomed to everyone being scatter-brained and only half-present. This is also especially tricky to do amongst male friends, because guys, while they love hanging out, drinking beer, joking around and talking about girls together, freak out if suddenly there is sincere, heartfelt expression between themselves. It pushes their homophobic buttons. They don’t realize that their minds are confusing completely different issues.
And so I do believe that common sense is necessary. There are varying levels of focus and intensity that different people can take, and you have to do this on a case-by-case basis. Some of your friends, those whom you’ve either known the longest or are the closes to, may be comfortable with your intense focus on them. They may even come to rely on it, to find familiar comfort in it, because you are giving them something that few others (perhaps even their own lovers or family) do. Others might be weirded out by it. It is up to you to use your keen perception and practical judgement in each situation.
What prevents deeper fulfillment in our everyday mundane relationships is that we usually keep them at a surface level such that we subconsciously assume that emotionally intimacy and depth is something that can or should only be experienced in our romantic or family relationships. When great emotional depths and intensity are reached with our friends, it is often accidental or circumstantial, depending on some specific incident or occurrence. This is why so many of us rely on our romantic relationships for that deeper fulfillment.
But this limits the potential of our everyday mundane lives. I am saying that you can, if you want, intentionally increase both the intensity and frequency of emotional connection with your friends such that not being in a romantic relationship isn’t felt like such a gaping hole that you’ve got to fill as soon as possible.
This doesn’t take care of the desire for physical intimacy, which is a real and legitimate need, but it does go a long way towards fulfilling you emotionally.
A single essay just cannot do this topic justice. I can only say this: I honestly believe that my practice of this has been one of the most important elements of any success that I’ve had in both my personal and business relationships (for this practice goes beyond the realm of friendship and can and should be used in work and business, too, though that’s for another day).