Niamh Devereux on prioritising your friendships first and foremost in life.
For a recent STELLAR article, I wrote about the lost art of diary-keeping, which inspired me to trawl through the reams of old journals I had kept since I was a young teen. What struck me, apart from all the misguided melodrama about school and parents-ruining-my-life, was how life seemed to revolve around fellas. With every few pages came a new crush, and when nothing transpired with the flavour of the month, I was crushed. When I ended up falling in love with my first serious boyfriend, each diary entry centred around him, peppered with ridiculous phrases like, “I can’t imagine life without him.” It was almost as though I was blinded to everything, and everyone, else around me and could only see him.
Truthfully, it was only before I reached my mid 20s that I fully recognised this ill-judged behaviour. I left a toxic relationship, and realised that I’d only been reaching out to friends when I needed them, which I vowed to never let happen again. I promised myself that no matter what the circumstances in my life, I would always prioritise my friendships, because the problem is that sometimes, we don’t.
Us humans can view romantic love as the end goal, as the ‘this will fix all my problems’, as the key to life’s joy, and in turn, don’t acknowledge or value the importance of the enduring platonic relationships we have – the pals that are forever there. The ones who we may think, “Oh, I’ll text them back later” and ultimately put on the backburner. Writer Ella Risbridger sums it up:
The word ‘friend’ has to cover all manner of sins. It’s the same word for someone you’ve just met as for someone who has known you your whole life; it’s the same word for somebody you kind of like as for somebody without whom you feel like you might die. We just don’t have the vocab because, culturally speaking, we don’t really believe that friendship matters.
She continues: “‘We’re just friends,’ we say, of someone we love dearly, but aren’t sleeping with. ‘Just friends, nothing more,’ as if friendship were a sort of place on the road to monogamous sex-on-tap. Because we’re obsessed with couples, with The One.”
Why is this, though? Why do we go through life with this mindset, that our existence is all about gearing up to meet our ‘lobster’? Is it because we’re conditioned from an early age, with all the movies of heroines getting their happy ending, Pretty Woman-style? Have we all been brainwashed through soppy love songs on the radio to make us think that we’re not complete unless we have a ‘boo’?
Or perhaps it’s the fact that platonic relationships are just that – non-intimate. The fact is that in a romantic relationship, with its sexual nature and all the other elements that are exclusive to that kind of love, the bond is, well, naturally different. With a couple, lives seem to become much more deeply netted together, and there’s undoubtably a unique kind of closeness. There’s also the factor of commitment, how those in a couple have chosen to commit to one another day after day, whereas friendship can be a much more unspoken, abstract, messy thing.
However, for whatever reason we seem to value romantic love more as a society, it doesn’t make it okay. And lest we forget the unique aspects of friendship – and more specifically female friendship – that make them the bedrock of many of our lives. Although I’m in a very happy relationship, no bond I ever share with a man will match the ones I share with the women in my life, and that’s just an unapologetic fact.
There’s the bond I have with my sister, who happens to be one of my greatest friends, who bellows out the Mamma Mia 2 soundtrack with me, embraces my weirdest traits, and stirs a deep, protective, unquashable love within me. There’s my work wife, who will join me for countless trips to the kitchen for coffee pitstops, as we share our office/life frustrations, quote Father Ted to each other and describe what we had for dinner the night before in explicit detail.
And there are my friends from ‘down home’, two in particular, who have been there from the beginning, for every heartbreak, disappointment, fall-out and so many blissfully happy memories in between, forging an incredibly special connection of in-jokes, snort-filled laughter, personal catchphrases and nicknames along the way.
We know each other so well by this stage that being with them feels like second nature; it is when I am at both my most vulnerable and comfortable, simultaneously. And what a freeing feeling that is. We also should acknowledge what our friendships have taught us, the subconscious values that they have instilled in us; what it is like to explore with another human, how to resolve conflict, and how to love somebody even though you might not get on with each other all of the time.
Fans of Dolly Alderton, author of ‘Everything I Know About Love’, will know that she is a strong champion of honouring our platonic relationships, with her book ultimately being a tribute to her cherished friends. Commenting on this, she said:
Friendships, particularly with women, need to be treated with the same sanctity and respect and time and love and care as your romantic relationships. I don’t understand this notion that that it is somehow too intense, that somehow that there is a supremacy of emotions in life and that your boyfriend trumps everything else. That you can miss anything that’s important in your friend’s life if your boyfriend wants to hang out with you.
“Or that if you are sharing something really important – work-wise for example – then you have to celebrate with your partner and not your friends. All these small things have really broken my heart as a friend and I refuse to do it as life goes on. The more that I refuse to do it, and my friends refuse to do it, the more filled with friendship my life becomes.” This is something we should all refuse to do, really.
And yet when I reached out to Bobbi Banks, a Relationship Coach and Neuroscientist, for more insight, she tells me that when she asked her followers on Instagram whether we should prioritise our platonic relationships, only 30% said yes. What are her thoughts on this, I ask?
Healthy platonic relationships can represent some of life’s best and longest friendships. They provide unfiltered honesty, offering us a fresh perspective, and meeting our supportive needs. I find that people often make the mistake of giving their whole self to a romantic relationship and forget to nurture and preserve their support system in the process.
Bottom line, this is what it comes down to. Our friends are not there to just pick us up when we’re down, only to be forgotten about when Prince Charming comes along. Perhaps we should start seeing our platonic relationships as the real love affairs of our lives; then we’ll maybe give them the appreciation they deserve.