Monday, May 13, 2013

Should You Love Your Best Friend? Tales Of Prickly Briars and Sensuous Roses

"Love and Friendship"

By Emily Brontë (1818–1848)

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.

Lover. Friend. One a wild rose-briar, the other a holly-tree. We desperately need both types of companions in our fleeting lives. We treasure these essential acquisitions and live for the eternal "bloom" of our lovers and friends. During all seasons of our lives, we trust our friends and lovers will remain true and constant.
The speaker in Emily Bronte's "Love and Friendship" certainly affirms the necessity of a person acquiring sweet love during his/her time of blossoming. Even though the young "rose" has briars to be avoided, its seductive beauty leads to fruitful acquisition vital to the happiness of the human soul. 
Yet, she questions a steady passion and longevity in such an intense and delicate relationship. In contrast, she believes the "winter" of a person's existence is kept verdant by faithful friends who may be less "fair" but more valuable companions.
This poem brings to my mind an age-old question. What about a rather awkward intersection of personal emotions -- a time when a best friend becomes a lover? Can any lasting fruits of passionate and erotic love coexist with strong friendship when two people decide to commit -- to exist as best lovers and best friends. 
I have often listened to the debate concerning whether a best friend can be a lifetime love. Some say the twain can never meet while others claim their soul mates are, in honesty, their best friends and best lovers. I don't know. Can a mate find long-lasting love with a friend?

Let's Examine Love and Friendship
A psychologist may expound the theory that four types of attraction exist in a male-female friendship: friendship attraction, romantic attraction, subjective physical/sexual attraction, and objective physical/sexual attraction.
(Heidi Reeder Ph.D. "Can You "Love" Your Friend?" Psychology Today. February 7 2012) 
Friendship attraction is not romantic or sexual in nature, but is the kind of attraction we feel when we are drawn to someone because we like that person and enjoy being with him or her. In a survey, 96 percent, said they currently feel friendship attraction for their friend, and over two-thirds said their friendship attraction has increased over time.
Romantic attraction is not necessarily physical or sexual attraction. While the two can go together, it's certainly possible to find someone physically attractive but have no desire to be in a romantic relationship with them. Romantic attraction is about the desire to alter the friendship into a couple relationship. Only 14 percent of friends said they currently feel romantic attraction for their friend.  Yet, interestingly, almost half said they used to feel more romantic attraction at an earlier stage in their friendship than they do now. ("But now that I know what she's really like, I couldn't date her!")
Subjective physical/sexual attraction refers to feeling drawn to the other physically, and perhaps of wanting to make sex a part of the relationship. Almost a third of the survey respondents currently felt this form of attraction for their friend. Quite a few friends may want to "get busy," but the strong majority-over two-thirds-did not currently feel this kind of sexual attraction. This form of attraction can change over time, and when it does it is more likely to decrease (30 percent) than to increase (20 percent).
Objective physical/sexual attraction refers to thinking that one's friend is physically attractive in general terms ("I can see why others would find him attractive"), but not feeling the attraction herself. This kind of attraction was experienced by over half of the people surveyed; one-quarter more than subjective physical/sexual attraction.
Let's summarize the findings. Friendship attraction is by far the most common type of attraction. The next most common is objective physical/sexual attraction followed by subjective physical/sexual attraction. The least reported type of attraction in male-female friendship is romantic attraction which, when it did occur, tended to decrease over time.
Holy mackerel! Friendship attraction increases while romantic attraction decreases. And, most people don't really want to get horizontal with their sexy best friends, but they do "see" why so many others want to shag them. It seems to me that this survey says "friends make unacceptable stable lovers."
Also, a finding from a recent government-funded marriage study reported in the Wall Street Journal: “Twice as many unhappy spouses said lack of time for self was their main reason for being unhappy than those who cited an unsatisfying sex life.”
From a study of 1600 seniors published in a recent Archives of Internal Medicine: almost two thirds of seniors who reported feeling lonely were married or living with a partner. Researchers defined loneliness as feeling isolated or lacking companionship.
Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines friend as “a person one likes and chooses to spend time with, usually without sexual or family bonds; a sympathizer, helper, ally.”
Wow! A spouse who is one’s best friend yet leaves a person feeling lonely and/or smothered, or sometimes both?
One marriage/sex therapist says this:
"It is not at all unusual for someone who comes to see me for counseling to begin their story by stating that their partner is their best friend but…there is no sex, no fun, no time for solitary pursuits, or in some major way life is not being enjoyed to its fullest. Often, the problem would have an obvious solution without the profession of best friendship. If the client were single, or even coupled, and life were unfulfilling she or he would know what to do, if not exactly how – take some time for oneself and find some new friends.
"I always review other aspects of their life – general health, the work he or she does and feelings about it, other people in their life (family, friends), what recreational activities are pursued, and if the person has enough time for him or herself. Almost always the answer to this last question is “no”. While all the other aspects of a life I ask about may have some bearing on a relationship issue, this last one always does.
 "I strongly feel that you need to be your own best friend. Your own needs must be given some priority so that, as a fulfilled person, you can then be in a position to be more generous with your partner and others around you. If you’re feeling lonely and not getting the support, sympathy or help from your spouse that is the very definition of friendship, look elsewhere – for a friend, usually same sex, and not place that burden of such expectations entirely on your spouse. If you are feeling too much closeness within the coupled bonds, take what space you need for maximum enjoyment of life….and for maximum enjoyment of your partnership as well. Two people who each have their needs met, who take responsibility of fulfilling their own needs, will make much better and more interesting partners to each other.
"Not too close. Not too far apart. Find the best equation for you so that you can enjoy your coupled relationship and not turn it into something it was never meant to be – a confinement in the name of an exclusive friendship."
 (Isadora Alman, M.F.T. "Is Your Spouse Really Your Best Friend?"
Psychology Today, June 22 2012)

My Take
I must confess I do understand what Alman means by calling a coupled relationship "a confinement in the name of an exclusive friendship." And, I do understand what she means when she implores me to be "my own best friend." Yet, what in the hell does this say about romance and passion as flames of love eventually die down to glowing embers? Why can't love remain intense and titillating?
I know what you're going to say. "Not my lover and me. We are just as romantic and passionate as we were during our first encounter. Our love grows stronger over the years."
So, I have to ask. What is "stronger" over the years in your relationship -- love or friendship or both? Has your "rose-briar" matured into your "holly"? Is your best friend someone other than your lover? Is Emily Bronte just an old bullshitter who never had her sensual buttons pushed? Is "tenderness" a substitute for sexuality?
Maybe you are so happy loving yourself that you could care less. Or maybe you have figured out how to get friendship from your friends and love from your lovers. Or, just maybe, you are loving your best friend. If so, why is easy to tell that trusted "someone else" in your life about the foibles and shortcomings of your mate?
The older I get, the less I know about love. I do know it's a beautiful, wonderful thing and it is the most powerful force on earth. I hope I am worthy of keeping some of it around always. The mystery and appeal never die, and, these days, I wish my body could generously cash the checks my sensual mind writes.
Love? I don't know what I've learned. However, I do think I get a little smarter about those I call "best friends." I'm trying to write down these thoughts about friendship now because I also realize my memory seems to fade more with each passing day. And, I seem to lose best friends now with the same regularity. Lovers and friends -- all treasures. I hope some of them think the same of my acquaintance.

"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more"
"In My Life"  John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Emily Bronte

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