Why friendships should be valued as highly as romantic relationships
Friendships can be just as fulfilling and important as romantic relationships
I am 23 years old and I haven't really dated anyone. And I don't particularly care to at this point in my life. By society's standards, that's a little weird. The pressure to date and try to fall in love is quite high. Many people don't feel that their lives are complete without a successful romantic venture. However, I feel satisfied with my life the way it is right now. Why should I spend my time searching for "the one" when I already have many successful and rewarding relationships in my life?
I am very close with my best friend. We share everything. She's basically like the sister I never had (even though I have two younger ones). This relationship in contrast to sitting down and chatting with essentially a stranger on a date makes potential romantic partnerships not too appealing. And I'm not alone.
Many studies and polls have found that both men and women find their close friendships more rewarding than their romantic entanglements. Young men find their "bromances" more satisfying than dating. And women often depend on their "girlfriends" for emotional support and guidance. In 1960, nearly 50 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 were married. Today, that number is at 20 percent. As marriage is put off until later in life (or never even achieved at all), it becomes more likely that people will find more emotional fulfillment and support from deep and close friendships in the time that they are single. This is certainly true in my case. But I can't imagine leaving my best friend behind just because one of us gets married.
I've had my best friend in my life for almost 10 years, ever since high school. Aside from my family, she has been the most constant and reliable presence in my life. I have two sisters who are three and four years younger than me. Not too much of an age difference, but just enough to where I couldn't connect with them easily. My best friend became the sister I never had. I could rely on her for anything. I could rant to her about the pressure I felt to make straight A's. And I felt a little less stressed when I was done. I offered the same thing to her when she had a bad grade or a nasty break up. We bonded quickly during high school and have been inseparable since. I have no idea what my life would be like without her. Just like Meredith describes her friendship with Christina in Grey's Anatomy, she's my person. The one person in my life I can always turn to.
In the decades before, someone's most important person during their 20s and 30s would be their spouse. That still does happen. One of my good friends from high school married young. But it's no longer the norm. And in place of spouses, both men and women have found emotional satisfaction in close friendships. There's nothing wrong with this. It's just different from the past.
But there are still judgements to be made. I've been looked down on by friends in college for only hanging out with one person regularly, instead of joining a large group of people. But I was never into the party scene so it made more sense to spend time with the one person who knows me the best rather than hang around five people who don't know me at all.
But still, there is no one single person (friend or lover) who can offer you everything in terms of emotional support and stability. It's just unattainable. Being dependent on one person for your happiness is just not healthy — platonic or romantic. A study from Michigan State University found that friendships lead to more happiness and health later in life, even more than familial relationships. As people aged, friendships were more indicative of happiness. Having strong friendships for support later in life can even improve health. Yet, I've heard several of my family members and friends say that most, if not all, of their emotional problems will be solved when they find "the one." The one true love that can be their spouse and best friend. Someone who can satisfy them in every way.
This idea is just not realistic. There is no way one single person can be all you need for emotional support. It sounds nice, but it's a fairytale. While my best friend is the one person I can turn to no matter what, I don't depend on her for everything. My family also provides a lot of emotional stability for me. I can turn to my mom when I'm down or my dad when I want a laugh or a deep existential conversation. These relationships also matter to me. Just as a significant other will, once I find the right person. But if I never do, I still have a strong emotional support network I can lean on.
So maybe the goal of finding your soulmate in your spouse is a bit too high. Maybe we should be diversifying our relationship portfolios rather than cashing in on one stock. Leaning on friends or just one best friend for support can help achieve this balance.
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