3 Reasons to Celebrate the Love of Friends
I’d honestly forgotten that Valentine’s Day was coming up until a few days ago when I went to the store and saw all the Valentine’s candy. Now, I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who wants to celebrate a romantic relationship, but I have to admit, the extreme focus on romantic love gets a bit old for me.
If this is the case for you as well, I have a suggestion. Why not celebrate friendships for Valentine’s Day?
I’ve been thinking about this since I started reading Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends by Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D. I haven’t finished it yet, but the book has many wonderful examples of how friends enrich our lives – and among other things, they can even impact how we eat.
With that in mind, here are three reasons to consider celebrating friendships on February 14 – or any other day.
A shame-free zone
One of the first stories Franco shared in the book was about an eating issue faced by a young woman named Selina. But this wasn’t about diets or allergies or eating disorders (or not exactly).
Rather, Selina was in the strange position of having told everyone she had celiac disease – even though she didn’t.
This happened because Selina’s father was sure something was medically wrong with her, and if he could figure out what it was, he could save her from dying the way his infant son had died before Selina was born. Selina, tired of being poked and prodded, latched onto celiac as an explanation for what was wrong with her (even though nothing was really wrong), simply so she (and her father) could have some peace.
But this meant she had to lie to all her friends and relatives, all the time, and keep up the pretense of having celiac by avoiding gluten. Her friends went out of their way to accommodate her, which made her feel even worse, and she became deeply ashamed of her lie.
Such shame is terrible to feel, and I think most of us who’ve struggled with food issues can relate on some level. Even though you probably don’t have Selina’s experience, you’ve likely felt shame for eating something like ice cream or fast food. And perhaps you’ve eaten it in secret, like she ate bagels and other foods with gluten, and that only feeds the shame. It can even make you feel separate from the rest of humanity.
That’s a terrible burden, but the good news is, friends can help. As Franco noted: “When we confide our shame, and friends accept us or even identify with us, we learn our disappointments don’t make us unhuman. They make us deeply human.” (p. 17)
Selina experienced this when she told her good friend Jesse about the lie, and instead of condemning her, Jesse sympathized and offered to celebrate Selina by eating lots of gluten-filled foods with her. It gave Selina the courage to tell the truth to everyone, even her father, and it changed her relationships for the better – including her relationship with food.
This is one of the beauties of good friendships. They can give us a safe place to share things about ourselves, even what we’re ashamed of, and remind us that we don’t deserve that shame.
Getting a move on
Another benefit of friendship is that it can help you stay more active.
That’s because a lot of people struggle to stick with exercise or physical activity on their own. When you’re by yourself, it’s very easy to put off going to the gym or for a walk, or taking that yoga class.
If you know someone else is expecting you, though, you’ll be more likely to stick with it, knowing you have some accountability.
Plus, exercising with a friend helps make the activity more enjoyable, and it strengthens the friendship by having that consistent social interaction.
Personally, I know I’m more likely to go for longer walks when I’m with friends, and I enjoy the opportunity to catch up while also getting some fresh air and stretching my legs.
And perhaps most importantly, friendships help you feel connected and engaged, allowing you to have fun and grow in new ways.
It depends on the friendship, of course, but with good friends, you can relax in ways you can’t with a romantic partner or your children. As Franco pointed out, much of the time spent with significant others or family is filled with mundane things like doing chores, paying bills, or making sure the homework is done. With friends, you can simply relax and enjoy yourself.
And if you don’t have a romantic partner or close family, friendships are even more important. We humans are social creatures, and we need relationships to survive and thrive.
Having good social connections not only makes you happier, it also impacts both mental and physical health. Franco noted: “The impact of loneliness on our mortality is akin to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.” (p. 7)
Additionally, author Marta Zaraska, who writes about longevity, has determined that connection is the best contributor to a long life. “Meta-analyses have found, for example, that exercise decreases our risk of death by 23 to 30 percent, diet by up to 24 percent, and a large social network by 45 percent.” (p. 7)
This makes having close friends seem like a good idea all around.
Clearly, friendships have a lot to offer us, and although romantic love gets a lot of attention, it’s certainly worth taking some time to celebrate the platonic love of our friends.
So, here’s to all the good friends out there. May they provide you with opportunities for fun and connection, and help you live a long, happy life.