Will you be my ex-stranger?

by Dinah Sheehan June 19, 2014

Friendship is weird. Does anyone else ever think about that? I have an hour-and-a-half bike commute each day, so I tend to think about some weird stuff. And lately I’ve been thinking about how weird it is that we find strangers, identify some tenuous thing we like about them, and then we are bonded together usually for years. We’re not motivated by sex and we’re not bound by blood and we don’t have a social obligation for making nice. We just look at them and say we like the cut of their jib and then we’re off. We’re going to the movies, and we decide we like that, so we grab a drink, and we decide we even like each other when we’re drunk and arguing in a crowded bar about whether Walter White was always a monster or if he just got that way because he lost all hope. Fast forward a few years or months, and we’re camping together or going for a hike. People who were strangers just a little while back. We’re in the forest together, miles away from civilization. That’s crazy.

We become friends because of shared interests. A lot of things can bring people together – music, TV shows, movies, stamp-collecting. We give weight to these things, because they’re important to us, and when we meet new people, their love of these things creates a certain credibility in our eyes. But what keeps us together as friends? I’ve had plenty of past friends who liked the same things I do, but I wouldn’t give them the time of day now. As much weight as our passions have, we ask so much more from our friends. Trust, belief systems, kindness, wit, level-headedness – all these are the things that really get us through.

Friendships can have a lot stacked against them, too. Our society is pretty unhealthy these days, as a whole, and women especially are raised not to be friends with each other. We’re supposed to compete – for jobs, for romantic interests, for whatever. We’re not supposed to relate to each other. Because if we get to talking, we really get to talking, you know? Think about the last conversation you had with a group of female friends. I know the last conversation I had at a table full of women was about misogyny, morality, rape culture, and the recent shootings in Santa Barbara. We talked about how people don’t seem to take care of each other. It’s puzzling, and we reached no conclusions. According to most media, we should have been talking about shopping or men. Don’t get me wrong – we do talk about those things. But we talk about so much more, because we ARE so much more. It speaks volumes about the strength of female friendships because we don’t often see good examples of them on TV or in movies. We don’t have road maps. We simply do it, because it has to be done.

Friendship doesn’t get enough credit. It's because of all those weird things about friendship that friends are perfectly placed to keep us gently in line. Families can’t always do it, because they don’t have an objective view of us. We can’t tell them everything, and Moms really don’t need to know everything about us. Friends can tell us these things. They can listen and be silent. They can be there when things go wrong.  

Let’s celebrate friendship. Go on hikes, go camping, go swimming. Bike to the movies and race down hills. Play board games. It’s important to cultivate these relationships with these ex-strangers – if only so we can trust them not to push us into a ravine when we go hiking.

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Dinah Sheehan
Dinah Sheehan

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