There is a societal myth that tells us that the most connected, affectionate love can only be gotten from romantic love. From the time we are small children, we are told fairy tales about a princess seeking her prince, and that once this is accomplished there is a happily ever after. This myth persists despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I’ve had friendships that lasted way longer than any romantic entanglements did. This includes my 17-year long marriage.

I’ve had a friend I have known since I was 18 and she was 17. Even though we now live in different provinces, the friendship endures. The same cannot be said for my romantic interests. It seems to me that the divorce statistics of South Africa, where every one in three marriages fails, are reflective of the fact that one is more likely able to hang on to a friendship than to romantic  love.

When people speak of soulmates the idea always is that your soulmate is someone who is also your lover. In terms of society, when someone says they are friends with someone, the position always is seen as a demotion, the whole she wants to be “just” friends. People take friendship as a cheaper, second prize alternative to being lovers. There is a whole culture of trying to escape the “friendzone” even though we all know from personal experience, that on the whole, friendship has more longevity than romantic love. So maybe our soulmate is not a lover but a friend.

Recently a cousin  of mine went to relationship counselling with her best friend of 9 years. This was the first time I’d ever considered the thought that friendship is something to be so valued that when it breaks, people seek to fix it, instead of looking for better friends. My cousin and her friend went to relationship counselling for months, they managed to talk through their issues and are now more connected than ever. They both have spouses and they admit that they are each others soulmates. That while husbands can be replaced, they would feel more bereft if their friendship were to ever end.

I was greatly fascinated by this notion that does not centre romantic connections but instead looks to other more long lasting forms of love in friendship. When a guy asks a girl out and she prefers to keep the relationship at friendship, there is always a bruised ego and the thought that friendship means less connection but that is often not the case, sometimes the best result is gaining a friend instead of a lover. People who have wide, connected friendship circles tend to do better emotionally than people who focus all of their love and attention towards a romantic love. Maybe we should raise children who believe that seeking a soulmate has to be a wider search than looking within romantic love.

Having firm, cemented friendships is not only good for the people in romantic relationships but it takes the pressure off the romantic love so that you don’t have to bare all the obligations of being the emotional support system.

A couple of months ago my 24-year-old niece got married. In this wedding, two speakers, one after the other, told the bride that from now on her husband needs to be her best friend. They warned her against staying friends with unmarried people, they told her that in order for her to stay married she should only be friends with other people who are married. I found that advice odd because I cannot imagine starting a friendship with someone only on the basis that they are also married. When my niece had a chance to speak, she told all of us that she was going to retain all of her unmarried friends and that their presence in her life helped shape the woman that she is. She mentioned that it would be a betrayal to stop being friends with people who had thrown her a bridal shower just because they weren’t married yet. She went on to mention that her husband was a secure man and that he looked at her friendships not as a threat, but as a support structure.

Friends are important, friends are the family we choose. They are people who volunteer to be in our lives, they are not obligated by family blood ties or romantic lust. Friends just want to be around us because they see us one day, point to us, and think “that is my human”. We should value friendships more and treat them with the same seriousness as lovers or family.

Is love enough to keep a relationship together? Read one writer’s opinion here.

Tell us: Do you agree that friends can be soulmates? Why or why not?