Lately, my mind has been focused on friendship, particularly friendship between men and women. Apparently, I am a man who finds friendships with women easy, very few of which have ever turn romantic. That’s not to say that some of these relationships are uncolored by attraction –just that, even without the possibility of sex, people are intriguing enough to keep the attention of anyone with a normal amount of curiosity. In these friends, the women and and I have simply decided not to follow up on that attraction. Whether we have discussed the matter or come to an unspoken agreement, we’ve decided instead that what matters is the relationship. The expectations of romance can become tiresome, and to dismiss them can be a mutual relief.
Take, for example, a woman I am going to call Kari. We met a number of years ago at a workshop that I was writing an article about. She was one of the organizers, sitting to one side of the audience, and our eyes keep meeting. On my part – and, I believe, on hers – it was not a matter of love at first sight, so much as a recognition that here was a person of obvious character and individuality. After the meeting, we made a point of talking, and quickly went from professional colleagues to friends.
We don’t live near each other, and our lives only occasionally intersect unless we make an effort. In fact, months sometimes pass between phone calls or emails, and even more time between meetings. Yet I frequently wonder what she is doing, and any time we have been out of contact for too long, one of us is sure to remedy the lapse.
Part of our relationship is based on an exchange of favors. I wrote once or twice about an organization that Kari was leading, and, the weekend after my wife died, Kari invited me to just hang – a favor that I badly needed, and will never forget.
However, the relationship long ago became more than any sense of obligation. Part of the relationship is that we can talk to each other about problems and ambitions, perhaps because our interactions can be intermittent.
Yet the friendship goes beyond that. I can’t speak for Kari’s opinion of me, but I take for granted that she will one day leave her mark. It may be in social activism, or in something more mainstream, but short of some appalling random coincidence, one day she is going to be successful, and I sense that she wants that success very badly. If I could, I would like to help her ambitions along, even in a small way, and to witness their fulfillment.
Sometimes we talk about her ambitions, or mine, and what the next steps might be in fulfilling them. Mostly, however, we talk everyday events, and exchange suggestions about how to solve each others’ problems. We make plans, too, to see more of each other, most of which we never carry out. Simultaneously, it is both a distant and a close relationship between two people who think very much alike, yet lead different lives and are just different enough in temperament and pursuits to make discussion insightful.
Since I am a few years older than her, cynics might say that what I have achieved is an avuncular sublimation of sexual attraction, but that, at best, would be an over-simplification. In fact, it would be an insult to both Kari and I, and fails to explain why we have maintained our friendship at the same time as love-relationships with other people I may not understand exactly why we are friends, but it seems to be enough for both of us that we are.