Bonds of Friendship, Love, and Community

One of the saddest things that has happened in our atomized society is that we have been cut off from the ties that used to be so important in life.   We are separated from our families, often by great distances, and few of us have deep friendships or ties to a community.

In the United States, a ruling just came down from the IRS that marriages of same-sex couples would now be recognized for tax purposes.  This is quite convenient on a personal level, and for many of my readers, it is happy news.  There is a rather sad backdrop, though.  This backdrop is that the only bonds of family that are recognized for non-dependent and non-disabled adults are marital ones.  This is true on a social level as well as a legal one.

Andy Griffith Choir EpisodeHow many times have we heard the phrase, “Oh, we are just friends.”  Friendship has been relegated to a “just,” and is seen as inferior to marital or romantic relationships.  This is a strange concept of an atomized society.  In more traditional societies, one would often have much stronger bonds with one’s friends than with one’s spouse.  Marriage was not primarily a romantic relationship, and romantic love was seen as rather incidental.  Men and women occupied very different social spheres, and a woman’s closest relationships would be with her other female relatives and with her female friends.  I would imagine it was the same for men, but to be honest, (apologizing to my male readers), I have never really understood the dynamics of male friendships.

Before the mid 1960’s, individual families were all part of larger communities, and harmony between friends and within communities was seen to be as important as marital harmony, if not more so.  As I mentioned in previous articles, I have been watching the Andy Griffith Show.  I am quite impressed the portrayal of community in this show.  A disruption of harmony in the community was a major problem that needed to be solved.  Given that this was a sitcom, it was generally solved by the end of the show.  Still, it seems a marked contrast from the way society views these things today.  Over a decade ago, Miss Hilary Clinton stated, “it takes a village to raise a child.”  She was mocked for this, but it was probably one of the wisest things anyone has said in modern times.

Deep friendships and relationships are often viewed with suspicion.  Modern psychology has coined terms like “enmeshment” and “co-dependence,” and people are wary if others get too close, or if they feel like they are getting too close to others.  This being said, I do think that co-dependency exists and can be quite problematic.  Yet, it is something very specific, being addicted to the drama and feeling of importance that comes from caretaking and enabling someone else’s addictive or otherwise harmful behavior.  It is not the same as a deep and intimate relationship that is sometimes difficult and painful because we are imperfect human beings.

Yuri-san CrushIt is seen as a cause for suspicion and jealousy if a married person has deep friendships outside of her marriage.  If two people are close friends in general, there is a view that there might be something inappropriate happening.  I was recently watching Episode 42 of a Japanese Anime show, Heartcatch Precure.   One of the characters in this show is Yuri-san, or Cure Moonlight.  On a personal level, I confess that watching this show is quite emotional, because Yuri-san’s story matches my own to an extent that can be eerily uncomfortable.  Yuri-san is a bit older than the other Precures, and she becomes restored to her powers late in the series.  In any case, there is a little boy who has a crush on Yuri-san.  They had known each other since they were much younger, and Yuri-san thought of him as her little brother.

In a Western story with the same theme, this crush would be treated as something that was to be stopped.  In most shows, the older person would generally try to stop the crush in as gentle a manner as possible.  Still, it was definitely something that needed to be stopped as quickly as possible.  Often in these shows, the younger person would get carried away with the crush and push the issue beyond the point of propriety.  In this story, the crush was treated in a much different manner.  The little boy said that he knew that he needed to grow up and did not expect Yuri-san to reciprocate.  He did want to give her a love letter that she would take seriously, though.  At this point in the story, Yuri-san was smiling for the first time in a long time, and the little boy wanted to protect her smile.  He thought that her knowing that someone loved her would do that.  At the end of the episode, Yuri-san held the love letter to her heart, while her and the little boy stood together.

There was nothing improper about this.  It was just a sweet story about people caring for one another.  It was so different and so much more innocent than what we would see in a Western show.

On this same topic, I have been greatly enjoying the Precure series, but I have been a bit disturbed by the reaction of Western fans at times.  For those who are not familiar with these shows, they are in the Magic Girl genre of Anime, and an article describing the premise of the genre is here.  One of the other features of the Precure series is that the girls have very strong and deep bonds of friendship and love between them.  The disturbing and sad part is the innuendo that the girls must be lesbians or have s*xual feelings for each other.  When looking up images from the series on the Internet, there are some rather rude images of the girls implying this.  I think that this is a sad commentary on Western society.

Why is it so hard to believe that there could exist strong and deep innocent bonds of love between friends?  Why do we assume that something less innocent must be happening?  I think that the answer to this is the overall atomization and cynicism that we are fed from earliest childhood.  I think it is also part and parcel of the phenomenon that Western society seems to believe that the only “real” intimate relationships are s*xual or marital ones.

This all being said, I think that the most wonderful part of my journey has been the development of very deep and intimate bonds of friendship with some very wonderful people.  While at first, my spouse was a bit threatened by this, we worked things through.  One of the strange things that I discovered was not only do these friendships not threaten my feelings for my spouse, but I have found myself feeling even closer to my spouse because of them.   I have been very blessed by this.