What are the benefits of developing a friendship in relationships? Are friendships the purest form of love?
In All About Love, bell hooks suggests that romance isn’t the idealized concept of love. Instead, friendships are the form of love people should practice.
Here’s how developing your friendships enhances your romantic relationships.
Romance and Friendship
According to hooks, in the US, romantic relationships are often portrayed as the most important form of love. However, she argues, when we focus solely on finding romantic love or investing all our attention in a single loved one, we risk developing codependency and neglecting our other relationships.
Furthermore, hooks adds that the way in which we’ve conceptualized romantic love is flawed. We think of it as a force beyond our control, a passion that defies logic. hooks points to how the language of “falling in love” suggests that there’s no agency or intentionality in romantic relationships. hooks explains that this idea of love isn’t only false, but is also damaging, in contrast to friendships in relationships. Idealizing romantic love can lead us to stay in unhealthy and toxic relationships that only appear to be loving. Instead of practicing a love ethic, these relationships are often where we play out the unhealthy dynamics from our families of origin, exerting power over others or seeking approval by neglecting our own needs.
(Shortform note: Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, counters that it’s not the idea of “falling in love” that’s damaging, but rather the belief that falling in love is all that’s required. He suggests that the feeling of euphoric love that characterizes the beginning of relationships can last up to two years, but after that, for relationships to survive, couples must move past the initial attraction to practice a deliberate love, one in which they set aside personal ego to intentionally learn about and attend to their partner’s needs.)
hooks suggests that to practice healthy love in romantic relationships, we must first see it modeled. She argues friendships are where we’re best able to learn about love because friendships often allow us to be our most honest and authentic selves and to practice being in conflict while still loving each other. Love, if defined as a commitment to the spiritual growth of yourself and another, is equally valuable regardless of the type of relationship. While the relationship looks different, the love behind it is the same.
(Shortform note: While hooks suggests that friendships improve our understanding of love, a growing body of research shows that strong friendships also contribute to our overall mental and physical well-being. For example, a six-year study of middle-aged Swedish men revealed that having friends significantly lowered the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease. Similarly, a decade-long Australian study demonstrated a 22% decrease in mortality among older individuals with numerous friends, highlighting the unique influence of friendships on longevity. Interestingly, a social network of children and relatives didn’t exhibit the same correlation with survival rates.)
The Influence of Queer Culture in Relationships
Some argue queer culture has offered a more nuanced and complex view of relationships by demonstrating that there are many different ways to be in a relationship.
- Queer people have often had to create their own families and communities outside of the traditional nuclear family. This has led to a focus on chosen family, friendship, and community, rather than just romantic relationships.
- Queer communities have also been more open to exploring different forms of relationships, such as polyamory, open relationships, and queerplatonic relationships. This challenges the idea that monogamous romantic relationships are the only or best way to connect with others.
- Queer communities have also been more open to discussing the challenges of romantic relationships, such as power dynamics, inequality, and abuse, thus challenging the idea that romantic relationships are always perfect and happy.