We enter into this world by way of our parents, who provide us (in most cases) with our first example of a romantic relationship. From this point on, we learn about how their dynamic works, and also about how it doesn't.
While various friendships form the foundation of intimate relationships during our youth, adolescence and young adulthood are when we become more focused on the importance of sexuality and romantic relationships.
This is developmentally appropriate, but too often we become too focused on romantic and sexual connection once we realize it's importance. If it's our only focus, we lose sight of the richness of how bonded, loved and appreciated we can feel in the context of friendship.
Up until my early 20s, I was someone who cherished my close friendships. I met my first best friend Katie in nursery school and we remained besties until I moved away in the second grade. From that point forward, I continuously maintained a small but tight group of friends with whom I shared a close bond with.
But when I entered my first romantic relationship that subsequently turned into marriage at 21, I thought that romance precluded the need for friendship.
By my mid-20s, however, I found myself craving the kind of connection I had developed in my childhood and teenage friendships — the emotionally vulnerable conversations, the sex talk, the ruminating over certain subjects that are riveting to friendships but are a dreadful bore to our spouses and partners.
It was upon meeting my now best friend on the first day of graduate school that I realized how much I had longed for the bond of a best friendship. Now, even when life gets busy, I make an effort to cherish and maintain my close friendships — to let my friends know I'm thinking about them and to make time to spend with them.
Here are five reasons why friendships are so important to our being:
1. Great friends are basically soul mates.
It only takes a minute or two after meeting the person or people with whom you will become close friends to realize that they might just be "platonic soul mates." When you experience that emotional connection, it feels almost immediate, like a destined, mutual understanding. Even with very few words exchanged (or many words exchanged!), that connection runs deep and is sustainably passionate in a way that romantic desire tends not to be. Cherish that feeling of soul connection, but also know that it won't go away.
2. Friendships require nurturing.
Even upon finding a friend of soul-mate stature, and taking time to cultivate this bond in the early years, friendships require continual nurturing, dedication, and attention — even in the face of busyness. And it is perhaps especially in the face of busyness where we need our best friends, because they help center us, they help soothe us, they help remind us what this busyness is all really for.
This process of nurturing is integral to personal growth; unlike romantic relationships, friendships aren't typically dynamics where we "lose ourselves," but rather where we find ourselves — through introspection, emotional generosity and vulnerability.
3. Friendships help you become your best self.
For me, friendships — especially with other women — have allowed me to explore who I am and where I want to go in life. Within the friendships that I have cultivated as an adult, I have learned to better express myself, to feel confident in who I am and to avoid settling for less than I deserve in my life. Further, friendships have instilled in me the importance of not falling prey to codependency in romantic relationships — something many of us are susceptible to, especially when it comes to love.
4. Good friends force us to recalibrate and help us through our most trying times.
They invite us to be vulnerable when we need to, to be supportive when we're needed and to learn what it means to function interdependently in a relationship dynamic. These are all qualities that we develop in the friendship, but that we can then apply to our romantic relationships.
5. We have the liberty to choose the kind of friendships that suit our needs.
At the end of the day, we have our lovers, our family, and our friends. Sometimes it feels like we can't choose our lovers — because in many cases chemical attractions bonds us together — and our family is our blood. But our friends are the one kind of relationship that allow us profound deliberation.
Friends can be found anywhere, but good friends — soul mate friends — those are worth holding onto, watering and fertilizing, and caring for an eternity.