I am an introvert and a loner, to a certain degree. You might have mouthed a “damn” under your breath as you were reading that intro because what a combo, right! But it’s not nearly as bad as many might imagine, despite the several stereotypes and negative connotations associated with these terms.
It simply means I like minimal contact with people as much as possible and prefer to be alone majority of the time. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love spending quality time with people I love and care about. I love the intimacy we share; random hugs, reassuring forehead or cheek kisses, hand-holding, watching shows or playing games together, going out or eating out together etc. As long as it’s not in large groups or as the cool kids call it, a squad.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of platonic relationships, also called friendships. I came across this quote; “Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.” – Epicurus.
And, I cannot agree more. Think about how fascinating the whole idea is; you meet a stranger, you engage in conversations with them, and they become a big part of your world. They get to know the real you and genuinely love you, flaws and all. They make time to spend with you, even if it’s to do absolutely nothing spectacular together. They show up for you in your lowest and highest moments in life. You know for sure that you can trust them with the raw parts of yourself that you don’t even understand nor want to show or share with others.
They acknowledge your whole existence, see you for who you are, validate your feelings and become your sounding board. They are the ones you get to create happy, joyful and sometimes cringe worthy moments with. They know your secrets and most embarrassing experiences. They celebrate your wins with you because they know your journey and the challenges you faced along the way in the pursuit of your dreams.
Friendships often weather the storms that romantic or even family relationships struggle to get past. The experience of being loved by someone with whom you have no blood ties is sincere in a myriad of ways, even without making the comparison to other relationship types. Bringing me to the term; “blood is thicker than water”, which I must embarrassingly admit, I have for many years, misconstrued to mean that family bonds matter more than non-blood bonds you’ve created. That is, until recently, when I learned that the entire phrase is; “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
It means that the bonds you make by choice are more important than bonds you have with people you’re bound to by the water of the womb. When you don’t come from a tight-knit family, like me outside of my immediate family, you might find this meaning a compelling and cathartic antidote to feelings of disconnect with blood ties. It tells you that you have family in the people you surround yourself with, even if you’re not related to them by blood.
I believe in this deeply because the people I surround myself with are more family than my extended family, and I don’t take that for granted. While cultivating and sustaining strong bonds with friends requires consistent work, it doesn’t mean that it has to be hard. Plus no friendships are the same, which means it’s a personalised experience that you develop with a specific individual. According to who they are as individuals, who you are when together, the core beliefs and values you both share that drive how you show up and navigate the world.
That, to me, is the most beautiful thing ever. Many studies have revealed that friendships are good for our well-being. One study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found a definitive link between social relationships and physical well-being. “We studied the interplay between social relationships, behavioral factors and physiological dysregulation that, over time, lead to chronic diseases of aging. Our analysis makes it clear that doctors, clinicians, and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives.” said Yang Claire Yang, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
It is truly mentally and emotionally rewarding to know that you mean so much to people who mean so much to you while being completely yourself. You’re not performing some put-togetherness that’s often required in many aspects of our lives, such as in professional working spaces.
I know this because friendships have enriched my life in several different ways. I am encouraged to participate in activities I normally wouldn’t. I am inspired to develop healthy behaviours and provided with cues when I adopt unhealthy ones. I am motivated to step outside my comfort zone to test my capabilities and learn new things. I am guided through unfamiliar territories. My hand is held throughout the processes of confidence building, and overall, personal development and growth. My journey towards becoming the best version of myself is a lot smoother because I have people who are genuinely willing to walk with me throughout the journey and I with them.
Because the power of healthy and strong friendship bonds lies in the reciprocated acts and behaviours. It’s important to be cognizant of this fact; one-sided friendships will not yield the same results as that of a mutual exchange.
Read one writer’s opinion about the healing power of connection here
Do you agree that friendships can sometimes be more rewarding than other relationships? Why or why not?