Have you ever asked yourself, after a few years with a person, friend or lover, “Why the hell am I friends with them? Why the hell am I even in a relationship with them? We have nothing in common and I can’t stand them!” ?
It always seems to suddenly pop in our heads that we are not made to be together, in love or friendship, even after many unsuspecting years.
Why do some people stay in our lives when others are coming and going? Why do we seem to commit to eternity to some people and let others go adrift? Why do people cheat when others manage to stay faithful to one person? What is in us that makes us want to be with someone, crave for them, need them, desire them even after 20 years on common life, even after the “honey moon phase” is long gone? Why do we, here, thread bounds that seem to just disappear with time when, there, others are like stainless steel?
I got to think about it a lot as I was preparing something to say at my best-friend’s wedding and I can still picture the flashing, fading views of London from the window of speeding buses and the Overground, with Kate Bush in my ears, as hints were crippling in my head.
The people who come and go in our lives (friends, lovers, spouses…) are people we meet because we need something. The sole purpose of these people for us is to provide us with something missing. We go to them looking for something, we expect something. Sometimes the need is such that we don’t see anything else, we love them unconditionally or we make ourselves believe that these feelings are true love, because they are saving us from something, providing us with something we think only them at this moment can. It then can take years maybe decades but once this need is fulfilled, we suddenly wonder why these people are still here.
A woman can genuinely love a man because she knows he will be the best father for the children she has always wanted, he has the qualities and situation for this. That’s what all animals do, we search for the best partner for the future of our offspring, the problem is that the society wants “romantic love” to be a prerequisite to the whole affair…
Anyway! Then she can realise after 20 years, after the children are grown up and gone, when her life can be about herself again, she realises that she never really liked him as a person. At first, she put up with his flaws, his unbearable sexism and his golf, mocking her for ageing as his beer-belly grew slowly and downwardly between his lower shirt and trousers. All because the need was still here and blinded her. It’s cruel use of a man as a “sperm bank and babysitter” but that’s the way we still often do.
It can be the same for the husband who wants to have a wife, to conform to society’s view of him as a the provider for a family, to have children, to be proud of them, to play with them, to pay for them and pretend he resented it, to teach them, to have his name carried on. All just to wake up one morning after the kids are not here to buffer between them, and to realise that his wife has not let him touch her for years and she never really liked sex with him to begin with, that she “has changed”: she doesn’t cook, clean anymore…in one word, she doesn’t pretend like she used to. He wakes up next to a woman who he used as a “baby-factory and babysitter” and who’s now a stranger to him.
It’s anecdotal with it comes to friendship, it’s terribly destructive when it comes to love relationships. In France, there’s a staggering rate of divorce within people in their 50s. I am also baffled by the amount of couples breaking up under the strain because they can’t manage to have kids: is it really the main reason why you got together? What about love? Did you ever love each other or was breeding the sole, unconscious purpose of each other?
(One can argue that it is, we are animals, but I will address that later.)
On the other hand, the people who do stay in our lives are the people of whom we have no expectations to begin with, whom we create a need around. They are not in our lives because we need something, they are in our lives because they are them, their individuality has become our need. In love, these couples will be the ones to last forever, not because the partners feel like they have to conform to society but because they actually, genuinely love each other and want to be together.
However, it shows better with friendship where romantic love and need for breeding (really?) is not blurring the lines.
Let’s take Alice, my aforementioned best-friend. At uni, I did something unusual for France which was to go to a university far away from where I live and where I knew no one but one friend from high-school. My only friend was in Psychology when I was in History with very different timetables and little time to no time to meet.
Thus, I had the need to meet people – the horror! Being alone is one thing, being lonely is another. Especially since I made a mistake with my train connections the first morning and missed the first lecture. I thought uni was like high-school at first and freaked out. So I went to some people who, themselves, missed the first lecture and we bounded on that: our missed, difficult train connections, we all came from very far and had up to 5 hours of transport everyday, we knew nobody and all needed some people to be with so we don’t drown in 40,000-student strong university.
From these friends, with time, I met others then others and one day, after eight months, I met her, Alice. It just happened! I was talking to someone else about Russian, of which I was relearning the alphabet, and she joined in because she learnt it for years. I spotted her before and was attracted to her aura but I was not looking for anything, I was not looking to meet someone her to be my friend of ten years. I was happy with the friends I had but then, because she was more attuned to me, because I was attracted to her in a way – even if it’s nothing carnal – I unconsciously did everything to make her stay in my life. After a few weeks, I realised I was spending less and less time with the first friends and was looking for her when alone. I can’t describe the good feeling I had when with her although I can describe exactly what the first friends were providing me: the feeling of confidence walking in the corridors with three other people and not alone
Then sentences, remarks (“For me, being gay is a disability”), attitudes, deeds that I really did not like from these erstwhile friends in certain situations surfaced suddenly when these situations repeated themselves and Alice’s reaction was what I was expecting from someone I would call “friend” and I know that losing her would feel like losing a sister.
I have the same story for Caroline, a girl I met at uni again, during my French Masters and we found ourselves being roommates in England. I thought she was naïve and a bit simplistic in her thinking at first and she thought I was a frightening, rough and raw pompous pain in the arse who would be a nightmare to live with. We are now also best-friends.
“I didn’t know I was looking for love until I found you”. It took me years to understand what it meant.
It means that, in friendship and love, the people we meet when you have a need to satisfy (fear, loneliness, sex, rescue, children, conformity to some rules…) will fade away once that need has been addressed. There was an expectation; you gave them a mission to provide you with something that was missing, to make you feel like you are full, accomplished, acceptable, good again.
Once it’s done, if they failed, you will either look for another disposal person who might fulfill this need. If they succeed, you will mostly (not always, things can change), you will mostly let them go to make room for the others: those who are the need themselves, those who bring something more, those who can make you a better, fuller person. The people you “accept for who they are, not what they can do for you”, the ones “can’t get enough of”.