You are probably familiar with the expression “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” The well-meaning slogan represents the importance that friendships hold, and the fact that we hold our friends close to our hearts - as close as our nearest and dearest family.
However, that is not always the case. Countless studies have found that friendships consistently rank among the lowest priorities in people’s busy lives and family pretty consistently rank the highest. In which case I beg to differ. Friends are NOT the family we choose for ourselves. They are NOT family!
Friends can be the extra layer of support we need, because at times we can tell a friend things we don’t feel able or ready to disclose to family yet. Why is this? Because a friend isn’t as invested in the outcomes of our lives as family is. (To be fair our parents gave up a lot of themselves to have us, so their investment and inability to see us fully as a separate people to them is understandable… sorry mum! Lol She would point out that we also never really see our parents as people separate to us either. Touché. haha) Friends love us with a degree of separation that allows them to be happy for us (instead of worrying for example that we are rushing into something, taking on too much responsibility or too much financial risk/spending, or stand to get considerably hurt etc…)
Similarly; friends can support us when things do inevitably go wrong; without being significantly impacted by our circumstances. For the most part, their lives go on as normal when things do go wrong for us, while we tend to lean more heavily on family for any housing, caring, financial or medical supports we find ourselves requiring.
Family are more invested and more impacted by our choices, and as such we are heavily influenced by their feelings, thoughts and opinions of our lives. Family love is the strongest (in most cases,) but also the most constricting. Family is a love you are born into, or brought into - usually without any choice in the matter yourself! It isn’t about you specifically. It exists, and with it exists a sense of duty, obligation, and pressure.
Yes our family love us – but sometimes it feels as though they love us because they have to, not because they would have loved us or chosen us anyway under different circumstances. They love you, but it doesn’t always mean that they like you. It is the most unconditional form of love, yes, but somehow it doesn’t always feel unconditional. It is easy for our identity to become enmeshed with the family, and we can lose sight of who we are and what we want - in favour of who they think we should be and what they want for us. And that’s just the family you are born into or raised with…. Then comes the family you make for yourself with your own children, partner and in-laws for example. During a recent parenting workshop I attended, I was told this:
To the world you are a mother, but to your family you are the world? The world? The whole world?? Yeah… No pressure, right? Which brings me to the next point about friends NOT being family. There are no set rules or roles for a friendship. No beginnings, no formal acknowledgements or ceremonies and certificates, no endings, no legalities and no standard guidelines on how to be a "good friend." (No workshops! Lol) No real pressure. Being a "good friend," it would seem, depends entirely on the definition of such from the person you are good friends with! While one of my friends describes her ideal best friends as “other nice mums where we do things for each other such as babysitting and going for coffee” another describes her ideal best friend as “someone I can really talk to, who listens and keeps my confidences, who understands me, doesn’t judge me and also shares her secrets and worries with me.”
How people define what makes a good friend is likely to depend on their circumstances. A very busy person is likely to value someone who doesn’t require much time and attention, whereas someone who has more free time will value friends who have more time to spare. A person with a good family support network will probably not expect as much physical support from friends such as babysitting or transport for example, and may become easily overwhelmed by a person who doesn’t have that strong family support and therefore searches to have those needs met in friendships.
Friendships are essentially relationships of convenience, and what we value in a friend will usually reflect what we can reasonably expect to give or ask for ourselves. In family relationships we expect to give and receive much more regardless of the inconvenience it may present.
Just because friendships are relationships of convenience though, does not mean they are never inconvenient! That said, unlike family ties, you can easily choose to exit old relationships and make newer ones anytime you like, there is not an expectation that you have to 'make it work' or that you are “stuck” dealing with these people for life. Not many people will question you or hold you accountable for ending a friendship, however you choose to do it. Ending a familial relationship is a much heavier decision and will come with some societal judgements.
What a double edged sword is the optional nature of friendships! While it hurts when friendships do end, and often comes as somewhat of an unexpected blow to at least one party, the fact that friendships are optional extras is exactly part of their appeal. We are not playing an expected 'role' in a friendship. These are the relationships where we really explore who we are as individuals outside of the family. We can push boundaries and make mistakes and explore our personal values through trial and error. These are the relationships that truly help us discover ourselves. Where we perfect the reflection we see of ourselves – our self-image. If we change, we can change the friends around us to suit! We are not expected to stay the same forever and that offers a unique freedom. As our friends like, love and respect us, we learn to like, love and respect ourselves. Friendships are pivotal to our self-esteem and self-worth. Powerful.
Friendships are the most validating relationships in my opinion. Friends are people who love us, just because they do. Because they value us, they like us, they enjoy our company for no reason at all apart from seeing our value as good people. They don’t HAVE to, they just do! Most of the time they don’t get anything out of it either, they just like us. Even in romantic relationships, physical intimacy of some degree is usually given or expected in return for the relationship and the validation, not to mention lifestyle, it offers as a result. It’s still somewhat "transactional" at its core. (spell check is telling me to stop making up words! Lol) In a relationship we have to make certain sacrifices to become a ‘we” and let go of being “just me.” This is not so in friendships. Friends validate us in a way family can’t. Family relationships contain pressure, you want to win their approval, or expect them to consider yours. In friendships you already have approval, just as you are, just because you are awesome already. And you are!
As I transitioned into motherhood myself at 26, I felt ready and mature enough to handle this. Ha! I started to notice pretty quickly though, how irrelevant my identity had become. Instead of asking me how I was, people asked how my son was. I almost never talked about anything other than him, although I wanted to, the opportunities were small. It had become my sole purpose in life to take care of somebody else, and I felt so guilty for the longing I had to be away from the role and to just be myself. (Post on how babies affect friendships to come!) Family is full of responsibility and the things we have to do. Friendships are what nurture our soul and where we get some choice in what we WANT to do.
Something I really learned when I had children of my own, is that when it comes to family; you play a role - often many at once. In friendships; the only role you play is yourself. That is the true beauty in friendships. I am never more myself (and just myself – not a wife or a mother or a daughter) than when I am with my friends. While I am always all of those things, my friends don’t care if I am any of them. They don’t mind how successful I am, how rich or poor, or messy or neat, or if I parent in the same way as them. They care if I am happy, and happy for them. The parenting workshop I mentioned earlier also states children need adults to “delight in them.” Well, adults need that too, and that is where friendships come in. My friends are the people that delight in me, and I certainly delight in them.
Friends are NOT the family we choose for ourselves. They are not Family. That’s the whole wonderful point! Do you agree?
Your Best Friend ForNever