‘Maybe we can be each other’s soul mates’ – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
Last summer, Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert announced that she was divorcing her second husband for no other than her best friend, Rayya Elias.
‘She’s my best friend, yes,’ Gilbert wrote on September 8, in a Facebook post announcing the news, ‘but it’s always been bigger than that. She’s my role model, my traveling companion, my most reliable source of light, my fortitude, my most trusted confidante. In short, she is my PERSON.’*
As I hit 25, Gilbert’s words resonate. What I’m talking about isn’t fluid sexuality, although I have no doubt that Gilbert and Elias’ story will inspire some sort of lesbian A Walk To Remember film. It is a realisation that, however platonic, my best friends mean so much more to me than any heterosexual relationship ever has to date.
Along with my wonderful family, they are my ‘most reliable source of light’. They are the people I want to have dinner with at the end of a long day at work. They are the people I can book a holiday with in May 2017, without sleepless nights worrying about those ugly unspokens: What if we’re not together? What if they meet someone else?
They are the people who, when I went through an unpleasant break-up a couple of months ago, kept me sane, put up with my – in all frankness – melodrama, and offered important guidance. Not just the textbook ‘He wasn’t good enough for you’, but compassionate yet pragmatic advice informed by a decade of spilling our hearts out to each other. Unexpectedly, I got a reality check. Why fight for a ludicrous train crash of a relationship, if I was already surrounded by people who genuinely cared about me?
Love is love is love – to take and give back, from wherever it comes. While some of my peers may be engaged (or even married) to wonderful people, the fact that I’m nowhere near that stage of my life – nor ready for it – doesn’t make me feel ‘unlucky in love’.
And yet it’s all too easy to forget that love, from whatever source, is valuable. Why, for instance, do we make such a big deal of longevity in our romantic relationships (#anniversarydatenight), but not in friendship?
Facebook, at least, has cottoned on; it was only thanks to Mark Zuckerberg that I realised it was my five year ‘friendship anniversary’ last week with one of my closest friends from university – and yet I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it. My best friends have already known a side of me that – for better or for worse – no partner ever will.
We spend our dating life trying to censor fundamental parts of our personalities in an attempt to be loved – and yet throughout early adulthood we take for granted that, after a night of Bacardi-fuelled vomiting and crying, our friends will still want to meet for brunch the next morning.
Romantic partners may become, legally, the family we choose – but in every other sense, friends are the family we choose first. The people we choose to share our innermost self with, without the security of knowing we’re related to them. The people with whom we’ll never have to play ‘hard to get’, or disguise our real feelings. The people we’ll need if, actually, ‘happy ever after’ isn’t all it promises to be.
For long periods of life – perhaps, in some cases, the whole of it – friendship will be both more successful and more significant than our romantic relationships. Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, we may not choose to form a romantic attachment to our friends – but that doesn’t mean that platonic friendship is any less valid, nor less worthy of appreciation.
*There’s a poignant back story: Elias is suffering from pancreatic and liver cancer, and it was this life-threatening disease which prompted Gilbert to realise the true nature of her love for her. Ever true to the Eat Pray Love philosophy, she defied conventionality and followed her heart.