Summer Friendship Series

roses

It's funny to think about some of the things that inspire certain pieces and how long it can take to actually complete one even after the original idea has come to you. This piece was inspired by an older show that I watched when I was younger. One of the characters has a rose motif, and part of her personality combined with some ambient creative energy to give me the initial image that I used to conceptualize this piece, throwing around some abstract ideas critiquing how we tend to think about love, specifically romantic love, and how roses have traditionally been one of its icons. I suppose in some sense, that means that this post vaguely fits into my summer friendship series, but just tangentially.  

One last thought: I'm definitely not a poet, and I would've always been hesitant to use poetry as a literary medium until recently, but I originally tried to put this piece through the filter of a couple different written mediums and it just turned out better this way, which was just so strange to me. I would've much rather done this as a short story or as nonfiction, but it came out in this form, so I decided to run with it. I just think that's so crazy sometimes, how your writing takes on a little bit of its own sentience and guides you as you're shaping it.

 

roses

--

Maybe roses didn’t always have thorns.

What if they grew them to protect the frailty of our hearts,

To warn us of the neuroticism of fantasy,

That spews lies about romanticism,

Supposedly sealing its essence behind petals and chlorophyll?

//

Maybe the roses knew better than us,

That four letters encompass much more than mere emotion,

But we’ve deluded ourselves into believing,

In gestures and rules about courtship,

When empirical theories can’t begin to encapsulate this dance of affection.

//

Maybe the roses were trying to teach us,

How to actually love without conditions that hinder,

So they prick our fingertips and draw blood,

To pierce our hearts and spurn nonchalance,

But we shunned their wisdom and chose to indulge fairytales and false magic instead.

//

Maybe we should’ve listened to the roses,

When they said we’d have to work and fight pain,

As we toiled in our own gardens in order,

To grow the love we dream about at night.

Now these thorns are the only remnants left reaching out for our attention.

the lie of nonexistent intimate friendships (part two)

This is the fifth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Something that I’ve noticed about American relational culture recently, and perhaps especially so with Christian American relational culture, is that we really like to have lines clearly drawn. I see this as the reason why we have phenomena in Christian colleges like DTRs (defining the relationship). There seems to be an increasing neediness to always know what the status of your relationship with another person, and it doesn’t necessarily come from within ourselves. More often than not, it comes as an external question, when we may or may not have been thinking about it.

 

I think most of us have probably found ourselves in a situation, or at least observed a situation in which two people have begun spending significant amounts of time with each other, prompting some or all of their friends to probe them on whether they’re “just friends” or something more than friends. This can be an incredibly awkward or frustrating experience for everyone involved, regardless of whether the two people actually might have feelings for each other and are trying to navigate that or whether they are close friends who enjoy spending a lot of time together.

 

Either way, I think this fascination with needing to define relationships has begun hurting our conceptions of friendship, because along with a desire to know exactly what status a relationship has, there also exists an assumption that the relationship will also fit neatly within the preconceived assumptions of what “just friends” or something more than friends might look like. (That being said, I’ve really grown to hate the term “just friends” as I’ve been learning more about friendship and working through this series, because I’ve come to realize it’s a rather derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.) If we really think about it, friendships already tend to exist in the middle ground of a Venn diagram, but our attitudes toward them skew towards trying to keep them cleanly isolated to only their safe extremes on a gradient spectrum and this severely limits our ability to understand and have healthy friendships in my opinion.

 

I've really grown to hate the term "just friends," because I've come to realize it's such a derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.

Anam Cara || Irish Gaelic

In conducting my linguistic research for this post as well as my last, this term for a relationship between friends impacted me the most. I had originally found it online while doing some cursory searches for terms for intimate friendship in other languages, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was understanding it correctly until I came across the word again while I was reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, used in a eulogy by one half of an inseparable pair of friends in reference to the other after her untimely death. Though the Bible doesn’t go into detail about the specific circumstances, I like to think David’s mourning over Jonathan’s death in 2 Samuel was similar to the heart wrenching eulogy spanning several pages in Accidental Saints half of the pair of friends wrote for the other. It read similarly to how a lover might have mourned for a lost partner, and that’s when I was sure that I understood how this term was meant to be used.

 

According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs when the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said two spouses would become one flesh in Genesis.

 

A simple definition of ‘anam cara’ refers to it being the Celtic spiritual belief in the bonding of two souls in friendship. In Celtic spirituality, the soul is thought of as radiating out from the body in an aura that interacts with everything and everyone that you come into contact with. If a person formed a strong enough bond or connection with another person, through being fully open and fully trusting of each other, among other things, it was believed that their souls began to run and flow together as one and that they had found an ‘anam cara.’ Though that may sound romantic in nature and though this term is often translated as ‘soul mate,’ the literal translation is ‘soul friend,’ this translation being supported by the modern Irish notion that while your spouse may be an ‘anam cara,’ it’s still usually reserved for friends rather than lovers. In a way, this makes sense and causes this perception of an ‘anam cara’ to align more closely with the oft forgotten Christian idea of spiritual friendship as a result. According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs in which the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said in Genesis that two spouses would become one flesh through their physical union, an idea taken from 1 Samuel 18 when David’s soul is described as being knit to Jonathan’s upon meeting him for the first time. Specifically, it says this:

As soon as he had finished talking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. // 1 Samuel 18:1-3

 

This passage was something my mind was immediately drawn to upon reading about the concept of an ‘anam cara,’ and I think it fits the description well. Though the only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate at all anymore is the covenant relationship of marriage (which is a problem that needs to be remedied in American Christianity), multiple different kinds of covenant relationships existed in the Bible, including this covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan as well as the covenants that God Himself made with Israel and later with all believers. For this reason, I see it as impossible to deny the significance and weight friendship holds when certain types of friendships are bound together by the same kinds of covenants that seal relationships that we as Christians tend to idolize, such as the covenant of marriage. This is especially true when Jonathan risks his life and crosses his father, the king of Israel, for the sake of his friendship and covenant with David later in the story, all acts of love and sacrifice that we typically only see in portrayed within the confines of romantic love in many stories that we grow up with today, which does so much to destroy the beauty, depth, and intimacy of what true friendship is supposed to look like.

 

The only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate anymore in American Christianity is the covenant of marriage, which is a problem that needs to be remedied.

 

If my friend, Sheridan, is my [nakama] from my last post, then my friend Joseph is my anam cara.

 

I first met Joseph under less than ideal circumstances and basically by accident a few years ago. I was at this weeklong, overnight leadership camp being held a Christian college, and I definitely wasn’t there voluntarily. Though not necessarily forced to go, I probably would’ve come up with any excuse to back out if my family and I hadn’t already paid for it, and I had been dreading it even more so when I realized that I likely wouldn’t know anybody else there upon arrival. And to top it all off, you weren’t allowed to bring your phone or any other type of electronic device in order to keep you present during the week. Great.

 

The camp consisted of three or four lecture-type sessions every day with teaching on various aspects of leadership and worldview with team activities (which you were sorted into randomly), meals, and free time in between. During the first session the first night, I had spotted a friend from church that I vaguely knew across the way and my awkward self made its way over in order to hide the fact that I was still feeling horribly uncomfortable. With him was Joseph, and if I’m being honest, at that moment, I felt something similar to what Jonathan felt when he met David. In that moment, I knew I wanted this person in my life, probably forever, but at the same time, I met him during our five minutes of stretching and mingling time in the middle of a session, so I wasn’t actually sure if I would see him again or actually become friends with him.

 

That quickly changed the next day. Our first block of free time in the afternoon had just rolled around, and I wasn’t really sure who I was going to be spending the next three hours with. Having been pretty exhausted the previous night from the dread of not even wanting to be at this camp, I went to bed early without really meeting anyone else, plagued by a runny nose and cough due to the mold that was lowkey growing in the dorms we were staying in. So like any awkward camper, I looked at the directory to see what room the church friend I hardly knew was staying in and thought I’d pop over there to see if I could not be alone for those three hours of free time. When I knocked on the door, Joseph answered, being roommates with this church friend and struck up a conversation with me after informing me that the guy I had actually been looking for was gone and he didn’t know where he was. And thus began an entire week of spending the majority of our time together, along with the small group of friends that we formed, ditching our assigned small groups to eat with each other, being essentially inseparable during sessions, and swapping numbers at the end of camp to ensure that we would remain in contact. We’ve been friends since then, our lives continuing to intersect almost accidentally, like when we both discovered about two weeks before Welcome Week that we’d both be going to Bethel in the fall of 2013.

 

"You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their 'relationship,' but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out." // Andrew Sullivan

 

He truly is one of my soul friends, and he’s one of the few people that I really do feel comfortable sharing my soul with. He’s a strong non-anxious presence, being one of the very few people I feel completely safe and unjudged with, and we’ve both made it clear that nothing is off limits between us. We can talk about anything and everything without feeling like we’re burdening or annoying each other with it, which goes for both the smallest of things and the biggest. Beyond that sense of just safety with him, he’s also so good for me, because he challenges me on why I think certain things and doesn’t just agree with me in order to avoid a potential disagreement in opinion. So, we’ll have excellent talks that weave in and out of serious and lighthearted topics, and he’s also incredible at just being, which is probably one of my favorite things about him. I’ve read several articles recently that talk about how millennials don’t know how to handle silence and just being, but Joseph is a pro at mindful silence and makes me want to be better at it too. All in all, I think a quote by Andrew Sullivan, who wrote extensively about this idea of ‘anam cara’ in his book Love Undetected, describes our relationship quite well. He writes, “You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their “relationship,” but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out.”

 

The very last words are particularly relevant. Even as of late, several people have asked me if we’re together, and some don’t even believe me when I tell them that we aren’t, which is just funny to me. I mean, I’m not shy about saying that I do genuinely love him, but even that seems to be such a polarizing thing to say in American relational culture. They always assume that something else must be going on between us because there’s just no precedent for that kind of friendship in American culture, and that raises a lot of good questions. Why can’t friends pay for each other when they go out to meals together? Why can’t friends hold hands or link arms walking down the street (this is actually quite common in many countries, especially non-Westernized countries, but also countries like Spain and Italy)? And why can’t friends say “I love you,” to each other?

 

Why have we created such a warped and distorted view of friendship in American culture that we've started to believe friendships can't be this deep or intimate without being a threat to marriage?

 

I think our perception of friendship has been so warped and distorted in American culture and American Christian culture that we’ve started to believe that friendships can’t be this deep or this intimate without being a threat to marriage or romantic relationships because the lines might be too blurry. While obviously those relationships are distinct, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Greeks and even C.S. Lewis counted friendship among the different forms of love, so why do we keep insisting on limiting love to the kind we see in romcoms and keeping it in a box when it’s so much broader and more beautiful than that? I think that perhaps if we reoriented and repaired our perceptions of friendship and other forms of love that aren’t romantic, sexual love, maybe those relationships in our lives would be improved and strengthened too, because we’d start to see love more holistically than the way it’s been fed to us over the last several decades.

 

Maybe the Greeks were onto something when they used different words for the different forms of love. Maybe they knew that having only one word to encompass so many different kinds of nuanced relationships would cause us to unhealthily emphasize one over all the others. Maybe that’s the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships.

 

All of that being said, start thinking about how you think about your significant others in your life, because they can be your friends, your family, and so many other people other than just someone you might be romantically involved with. Do you automatically prioritize a romantic relationship over others in your life? If so, why? And is it even Biblical to do that?

 

Maybe the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships stems from the fact that the words we have to talk about different kinds of relationships in American English are so limited and narrow, lacking the nuance that the Greeks had to talk about love.

 

After that, start thinking about how you can love your friends better. Tell your friends you love them. Show some physical affection maybe. I’m not necessarily saying we need to knock marriage down a few notches, but I am definitely saying that friendship is a beautiful and complex thing that hasn’t been getting enough of the credit it truly deserves.

 

(In writing this post, I referenced a couple articles and they can be found at these links below if you’re interested in reading more about this kind of friendship.)

 

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/12/anam-cara-john-o-donohue-soul-friend/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/23/love-undetectable-andrew-sullivan-friendship/

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff and please, please share my writing if you resonate with it!

 

when our words kill friendship (part one)

This is the fourth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

As a writer, you could say that I think about words a lot. Part of both the joy and frustration of writing is being able to find just the right word to express exactly the sort of sentiment you want to convey. For the most part, the English language usually does a pretty good job of supplying words that have the proper nuance, but something that I’ve been thinking about recently is how sometimes we don’t have enough words to capture the depth of some things that we consider to be so basic. Friendship is one of those things.

 

In English, our single word ‘friend’ encompasses such a wide range of meanings that other languages might divide into different words in order to convey the proper amount of nuance behind them. I mean, I think it’s a little strange that we use the same word to describe people that we’re connected to on Facebook, many of whom we might not even talk to or interact with on a regular basis, as well as people that we share our souls with and can call late at night to cry with. It seems almost disrespectful to use the same word for both of those kinds of relationships. After all, many people call their spouses or their siblings their best friends, and yet we’ll still use the same word to talk about that person we might’ve shared a class with freshman year of college or high school and haven’t talked to since.

 

That’s one of the things I loved most about being a linguistics major. By at least rudimentarily studying several other languages, you gain a broader understanding of how other people express different ideas across different languages, and the subtle nuances that those untranslatable words and phrases carry tell you quite a bit about how that language or culture thinks about and treats various aspects of life. With friendship, I think the contrast between English and other languages is quite striking.

 

Friend || English

We’ll start with the English word for friend, because I think that this word carries a lot of underlying connotations that we perhaps don’t consciously think about when we use it in our daily lives. Personally, in observing and thinking about the ways that the majority of people around me use the word ‘friend,’ I’ve realized that this word tends to carry notions of casualness and complacency that other languages’ terms for the same type of relationship don’t necessarily. In English, a friend can span anything from an acquaintance that you’ve met and small talked with to someone you’ve known for years and years and knows some of the most intimate parts of your life. Again, it’s peculiar that English uses the same words for both of those kinds of relationships.

 

The English word for friendship tends to carry notions of casualness and complacency that the same words in other languages don't.

 

The complacency and looseness of the term ‘friend’ comes into play when you start comparing friendship to other kinds of relationships. In American society specifically, I think that we tend to use a hierarchical system when it comes to how we mentally organize the different types of relationships in our lives. The pyramid is structured a little differently for everyone, but what I’ve noticed is that, especially in American Christian culture, we tend to place romantic and marriage relationships at the top, while simultaneously associating friendship with a slightly lower tier, as if friendships are inherently less valuable or desirable than romantic relationships. I don’t think many of us would admit it in those specific words, but I do think that this is how we tend to act when we really think about prioritizing relationships a lot of the time. I know that I’ve definitely chosen to do this before, giving someone that I might’ve been even vaguely interested in priority over my friends or family. I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing, because it might not be in every circumstance, but I think it’s definitely something to think about, whether we realize that we might be doing that and whether that’s something we want to continue doing consciously.

 

In American Christian culture, we tend to place romantic and marriage relationships at the top of the pyramid while simultaneously associating friendship with a lower tier.

 

Nakama/Shinyuu || Japanese

Japanese has a number of different words and expressions that are used for friendship depending on what part of the country you happen to be from, and these two are ones that I’ve heard the most frequently in shows and other media when characters are talking about especially close friends. Where we have the word ‘friend’ in English, Japanese would use [tomodachi], which is loosely used to refer to schoolmates or casual friends and acquaintances, people that you enjoy spending time with and doing certain activities with, but whom you’d probably still address using slightly more formal language, which is often a sign of closeness in Japanese culture. This seems roughly equivalent to the way that we usually use the word ‘friend’ in English, but then Japanese has [shinyuu] and [nakama], which express slightly different but similar ideas.

 

[shinyuu] refers to your best friend or your confidant, which is fairly commonplace understanding in English. It’s that person who knows your secrets, and obviously, you know theirs as well. In Japanese culture, these two people might refer to each other using just their given names or with diminutive honorifics, which usually implies a high degree of closeness, especially since honorifics and respectful speech are typically used as a means of social distancing for respect purposes in Japanese culture. For this reason, most people typically address each other by their last names accompanied by an appropriate honorific, or a little linguistic tag that denotes their status in relation to each other.  That’s why the very act of being able to address someone by just their given name signals that closeness in Japanese culture, and thus goes to show the level of friendship between two people meant to be understood by the use of this word.

 

On the other hand, [nakama] refers to friends that you almost no longer consider to be friends at all. When someone is [nakama], it means that person or those people have essentially become family to you, a person who will stand by you no matter what, which is even more significant in Japanese culture than it might seem to us Americans. In the United States, it’s more or less common to know people who consider each other to be family even if they aren’t related by blood. Perhaps they grew up together, or their parents are close, which led to them being close by default. That’s part of what [nakama] means, but it just barely scratches the surface, because family is so much more significant to someone’s identify and social construction in Japanese culture.

 

In Japan, the family is the first social unit that a person is born into and remains the main social unit for the rest of your life. There are a lot of stereotypical ideas about Japanese, or perhaps Asian honor culture in general, floating around the United States, and that’s what this plays into. Family is your biggest priority in Japanese culture, and a large part of your identify comes from how you interact and relate to your family. Anything that you might do will reflect back on your family and the same goes for anything that your family members might do in relation to you. It’s hard to properly describe how significant family is in Japanese culture, being a collective culture, rather than an individual culture like what exists in the United States, but it goes without saying that for a friend to become family in Japanese culture means for that relationship to be on a level above what we would normally consider friends to be in American culture.

 

In Japanese culture, for a friend to become family inherently means for that relationship to be on a level above what we would normally consider friendship in American culture.

 

I’m not sure that I have any true [nakama] in my life quite yet, but I would say that my friend Sheridan is pretty freaking close. We don’t quite reflect on each other in the same way that family members would reflect on each other in Japanese culture, but most people that know us also automatically know the other, or have at least heard of the other. But we definitely will stand by each other no matter what. She knows my secrets (provided that we’ve had time to actually catch up, considering that we’ve found ourselves living across countries or oceans from each other recently), she’s one of the first people that I want to tell when I have news, and she’s my first choice as a roommate once we decide to start trying to adult. She makes me want to listen to better music, eat healthier (and trendier, haha) food, and she’ll call me out on my BS without really caring if I’ll like it or not (because eventually, I’ll come around and realize that I was doing something stupid). She’s one of very few of my friends who I’ve cried with (and loudly at that) in person, and to top it all off, we actually technically weren’t friends for a grand total of three months at one point in time (again, because a certain person was being stupid – read – me), so if that’s not “standing by you no matter what,” then I’m not really sure what is.

 

She’s good for me in more ways than I have time to write about here, but I think one specific thing I will always love about her is that she has an uncanny sense of discernment that I haven’t seen in anybody else in my life. She can get a read on any situation and see through whatever other kinds of mess are floating around in a heartbeat.

 

Now, I’m definitely not the kind of person to overspiritualize everything, but last winter I was going through a pretty dark, suicidal period in life, which most people are familiar with, and she was the first person to point out to me that perhaps part of that cloud of darkness was a form of spiritual attack. It was something that hadn’t even been on my radar before she mentioned it, and frankly, I was a caught a little off guard by that assessment, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. That was the crack in the door I needed to be able to see the light on the other side, and that kind of discernment isn’t something that everyone has.

 

I’m not sure if the two of us will ever quite fit the exact definition of [nakama], just because American culture doesn’t work the same way, but if there was ever an American equivalent, Sheridan would definitely be [nakama] to me.

 

Maybe the reason we have such a low view of friendship in American culture is because we don't have adequate words to fully explain and define what those relationships mean to us.

 

These kinds of distinctions and nuances in how other languages talk about friendship consistently blow my mind, and I’m certain that they help me better understand what friendship really is, because our American view of friendship is so narrow and limited. In linguistics and probably also in psychology, we learn that the way we talk about things influences the way that we then perceive things and treat them. Maybe the reason that we have such a low view of friendship in American and American Christian culture is because we don’t have adequate words to fully explain what those relationships mean to us, and maybe we need to start borrowing some of this friendship vocabulary in order to free us from the cultural chains that bind our preconceived notions of what friendship is so that we can really, truly understand it in all of its beauty.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: the second half of this discussion on friendship in linguistic terms, covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff.

when your friends strip you down

This is the third entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Vulnerability. Intimacy. Authenticity. Those are all pretty popular Christian buzzwords as of late, usually accompanied by an Instagram photo of daybreak from a mountain view or a crashing waterfall in the middle of an evergreen forest with a hipster backpack brand or some sort of “supply company” tagged toward the margins. Cheeky, right?

 

I’m not going to lie. I love a great nature shot or artsy portrait on a curated Instagram feed as much as the next millennial, but I think that perhaps we’ve turned those words into a brand in and of themselves, passing over their actual etymology in favor of a trendy aesthetic. All of a sudden, words like those get commoditized into hashtags and lose their meaning and appeal just as fast as the Billboard Top 40 and cheap gum, the difference being that people still listen to the same overplayed songs and buy $1 gum while we’re quickly losing the ability to actually be vulnerable and authentic.

 

We're quickly losing the ability to actually be vulnerable and authentic.

 

Maybe that’s because real vulnerability and real authenticity aren’t nearly as attractive in reality as the latest pop single or that Instagram photo with hundreds of likes. Most of the time, their true selves look a lot more like confessing dark secrets or having an ugly cry than a landscape panorama or a hand lettered poster of worship lyrics. I think that’s because true vulnerability and authenticity weren’t designed for social media or marketing campaigns. Instead, they fill the dark spaces where the light can’t quite reach past the masks we wear and the defenses we build up for protection against the outside world. They seep into the places where our voices fall to hushed whispers and where our hearts are afraid to even beat, lest someone hears, and oddly enough, they create safe spaces that aren’t guarded by walls, but rather by an understanding voice that says you aren’t alone and offers to cry with you.

 

True vulnerability and authenticity weren't designed for social media or marketing campaigns. They fill the dark spaces where the light can't quite reach past our masks and whisper that you're not alone while offering to cry with you.

 

Perhaps that’s why some of the most loving friends that I know, regardless of whether we’re close or not, are the ones who have had to walk through the valleys with looming shadows on either side. I think that their overflow of love comes from the fact that they’ve experienced the heaviness that comes from chronic pain and struggling. They know what it feels like, that a quick Bible verse or worship song isn’t going to fix the problem (though it could still make you feel a little better), and instead of trying to cheer you up, they take a seat next to you, pull their legs close to their chest the same way you do, and simply be with you.

 

My friend, Jordan, is good at that, and that’s no surprise to anyone who knows her. She’s a future nurse (as in she’s taking the NCLEX in a couple weeks, so if you want to pray for my friend, that’d be excellent), so her job will basically consist of taking care of people and making them feel better, at least in the oversimplified version of her job description, and I think that’s pretty fitting. She’s an incredibly compassionate soul, and I think a part of that can be attributed simply to her nature and another part to the fact that she’s gone through some heavier times herself and come out the other side.

 

Last summer was a particularly stormy period of life, with multiple things going sideways and a terrible attitude towards it all on my part to top it off. Needless to say, I wasn’t quite in a posture of being open to constructive criticism at the time. After one specific night of bomb after bomb being dropped, I was beyond fed up with life. I was taking summer classes at a school that I no longer wanted to be at, I didn’t like the vast majority of the people at this school or in my program, all of my closest friends were miles and miles away, and I really just wanted to bury myself in a hole for a few days and cry and feel sorry for myself. Sometimes you just get to points like that, and it’s completely okay.

 

At that moment, I distinctly remember drying some angry, confused tears with my sleeve and texting Jordan, “How socially acceptable would it be for me to call you and cry right now?”

 

“Pretty acceptable,” she answered in a matter of seconds.

 

"How socially acceptable would it be for me to call you and cry right now?" I asked.

"Pretty acceptable," she answered.

 

So, I did just that. Sitting in the hot, musty basement (because the program I was with was too cheap to actually pay for air conditioning in the summer) of a shoddily maintained dorm building in North Dakota, I called Jordan and told her a little bit of what was going on and cried. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I was glad to have someone there, even in spirit, to just be with me, something that I feel like we don’t utilize enough, the act of just being with another person when they’re hurting.

 

Talking to her the other day, I brought this up and she noted that it was a sad anniversary to be reminded of, but I don’t really think about it that way anymore. The sadness and frustration of those events faded a long time ago (and it’s beautiful really to think about the inability to remember a certain kind of pain from moments past), but what I still remember and will probably always remember is the time I had a friend open up her schedule to just be with me while I cried because of life circumstances. That alone makes that memory worthwhile, and I think it’s also one example of what real vulnerability and authenticity look like. It looks like admitting and being painfully aware that you don’t have everything all together and maybe resigning yourself to crying and being frustrated for a while. It looks like not caring what other people will think of you anymore, in general, but also to the extent that you’re no longer embarrassed to cry on the phone with a friend. The purest forms of vulnerability and authenticity look like an acknowledgement of our own brokenness and darkness and being able to open up enough to share that with another person without fear.

 

Real vulnerability and authenticity look like admitting and being painfully aware that you don't have everything all together, and that's okay.

 

That kind of openness doesn’t feel safe at first. In fact, I can attest to the fact that it feels pretty scary and dangerous. But at the same time, I think it’s another piece of evidence that true love does exist within the bounds of friendship, because love casts out fear, including the fear to be seen as scared, broken, and hurting in a world where so much of our lives and our identities have been carefully crafted to portray a certain kind of persona that’s only a shadow of what our true selves look like.

 

I think that one of the biggest problems that we have in our world today is that we keep slathering on layers of accomplishments, accolades, and achievements in order to protect ourselves from vulnerability while simultaneously aching to be fully known, which isn’t possible when we’re hiding behind masks. I think what we really need is to come out from behind our defenses for just long enough to realize that most of the time, being open about the hard things is usually met with a response that says, “Me too.” And I think that starts with our friends.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff.

when marriage has a monopoly on love

This is the second entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

American society seems to be going through something of a love crisis if you ask me. We’re completely captivated by love, or at least the idea of love. There are hundreds of songs, movies, books, plays, and talk shows, among other things all revolving around the concept of love. I’d wager that it’s probably one of the most commonly talked about things in this entire country. Without our fascination (or perhaps obsession) with love, I would also be willing to bet that the majority of pop musicians and young adult authors would probably be out of work.

 

But at the same time, it appears as if we don’t really know all that much about love despite our insistence on saturating our existences and media with talk of love. According to the American Psychological Association, somewhere between 40-50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, with subsequent marriages only having higher rates of divorce. For the one relationship that we’ve all been taught and socialized to view as the epitome and encapsulation of love, it’s not doing the best job at upholding the standards that we’ve been spoon fed with love songs and romcoms. And yet, we still hold to these sensationalized stereotypes of love that don’t seem to quite square up with reality. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Taylor Swift album as much as the next (and seeing her in concert is still up there on my bucket list), but I think that all the emphasis that our culture has heaped upon love, specifically romantic, idealistic love, has poisoned and tainted our view of what love really is and how it covers a lot more ground than American pop culture is willing to give it credit for. Instead of giving us a well-rounded, holistic view of what love is, we’ve been offered a distorted version of love with all the rough edges blurred out until it’s been censored to a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that gets us drunk on fairytale delusions and leaves us with false hopes when reality rouses us from our stupor.

 

The craziest part about this counterfeit love that we’ve been sold our entire lives is that it also gets us to buy into the false notion that love somehow doesn’t exist in its purest form prior to marriage. Sure, we might be able to state as a fact that we love our parents or that we love our siblings or that we love our friends, but when it really comes down to it, we don’t really believe it, or at least that how it appears to me. Rather than recognizing those relationships as true forms of love, I think that we tend to rationalize our devaluing of other forms of love by qualifying it, spewing out phrases like “just friends” or “love him/her like a brother/sister.” Though diminishing the worth of those types of love might not be our goal when we use phrasing like that, it still serves to create both a psychological and sentimental division between the different kinds of love that we experience. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, especially when you consider the fact that Greek has somewhere between 4-6 different words to describe love depending on how you categorize them, but the danger comes when that mental separation is combined with the American cultural idea that romantic, sexual love is somehow on a higher plane than the other forms of love that we experience.

 

We've been sold a counterfeit idea of love that says its purest form exists in marriage and only in marriage.

 

If you don’t believe me, just think about the majority of successful movies that come to mind. Many early Disney movies and romcoms as a genre typically center their stories around a certain couple falling in love and getting married or navigating their romantic feelings for each other. Again, that’s not bad in and of itself, but the majority of those movies treat that relationship as if it’s the beginning and end of all their problems. The conflict of the plot revolves around the romantic and sexual tension between the main couple, and the film usually culminates with a happy ending where the two lovers end up together, strategically placing the curtain call and final fade to black after a declaration of love or a wedding or something else similar, visually and sentimentally communicating that the success or at least the beginning of the success of that relationship is the end of the story and insinuating that all of the problems and conflicts in the film have been tidily resolved because of that relationship when that’s seldom how events play out in real life. Beyond that, the friends and families of the main couple are usually side characters, if they exist, and frequently, their relationships with those main two characters are not elaborated upon. To me, this seems problematic, because it seems to suggest that love only exists between those two people, and it relegates the relationships that they have with everyone else to the background or the sidelines, automatically placing those relationships on a lower level by default while the romantic, sexual relationship is elevated to a pedestal out of reach.

 

The majority of romcoms treat romantic relationships as if they're the beginning and end of all our problems when that's seldom how that works out in real life.

 

This harmful hierarchy of love is something that my friend Nikki and I have realized and are still continuing to unlearn and remind each other. Nikki is one of the bubbliest and most genuine people that you’ll probably ever meet. She’s a joy-filled human being and always sincerely glad to see you whenever you might cross paths with her. Even when she’s sad or upset, there’s still an underlying sense that whatever is going on is just a minor setback, and that’s probably one of my favorite things about her. But also, I think that most people don’t give her enough credit for the wisdom and insight that she has on the world. Out of all my friends who have taught me things, I think that she’s one of the few that’s taught me something that’s actually changed the way that I live and approach the world.

 

Last year, during my senior year of college, we both studied abroad back to back semesters. I was in Spain from the end of August until mid-December, and she left for South Korea mid-February and won’t be back for a couple more weeks until the beginning of July, so I didn’t get the chance to see her all that often, since we were only in the same state and country for about two months total. But I also think that she unwittingly taught me more during that period of extended physical absence than during the previous year when we were around each other all the time.

 

Even though we loved the school that we went to, had great, amazing friends, and were about to set off to travel the world on different continents, something still felt oddly off, like something was still missing from this novel-esque existence. Going to a small Christian college in the Midwest, we naturally attributed this state of dissatisfaction to the fact that we were both still very, very single, essentially pitying ourselves like that one thing was an affliction that drained the joy out of the rest of our lives. It seems illogical to juxtapose those things in writing, but when #ringbyspring is a very real assumption and stereotype of the Christian college that you go to, it doesn’t feel quite as much like the joke that it was originally supposed to be. It felt like a real threat to a happy existence.

 

Though originally a joke, notions like #ringbyspring really start to feel like a threat to a happy existence, because it tells us that we won't be happy until we're in a romantic relationship.

 

While I was in Spain, Nikki and I kept in touch over WhatsApp, and I can still remember the mutual amazement and ecstasy when we discovered that WhatsApp also supported voice messages. That aside, we would periodically send each other long updates on life, something that we’ve continued to do now that I’m home and she’s in South Korea. Over the course of the four months that I was there, I would intermittently revive the topic of our (or mostly my singleness), but she started telling me that I didn’t have time to worry about that because “YOU’RE IN SPAIN!” she would say. Instead, she would ask me about some of the places that we had traveled to, about the food, about the people that I was there with, and that topic would gradually drop off the radar. Maybe she was just trying to get my mind off that one specific topic, but I think that the underlying message that I heard every time she said, “YOU’RE IN SPAIN” was that there’s so much more to life and to love than being in a relationship with one specific person and getting married someday. There are places to travel, friends to make, foods to try, and so much more in our world than simply worrying about falling in love. We were made for so much more than that.

 

There's so much more to life and to love than being in a relationship with one specific person and getting married someday. 

 

And I think that both of us have grown more into that revelation as time has gone on. A few months ago, after she had been in Korea for maybe a month or two, I messaged her on WhatsApp and asked how she was doing with that line of thinking and she answered by telling me that she didn’t really think about it that much anymore. She explained that she was far too busy making friends, figuring out public transportation when the signs are all in Korean, trying out karaoke bars, and traveling all over South Korea to be preoccupied with such a minor detail of life. Hearing that put a smile on my face from thousands of miles away, partially because I was incredibly glad for her, but also because I understood what that felt like, probably because she’s the one that taught me.

 

Understanding that life doesn’t orbit around romance and finding that person was probably one of the most liberating lessons I’ve ever learned, and I’m glad that I had a friend like Nikki to teach it to me, because I’ve definitely heard that idea before, but I don’t think it ever really sank in until she pounded it into my being by constantly reminding me of it. Before, people would say that getting engaged and getting married wasn’t the focus of your life, but they would still act and behave as if it were. I think what really made it real when it came from Nikki was that she lived like it. She reiterated that it wasn’t the center of the universe and then went out and lived and breathed it so that you could see that it was what she really believed. I think that’s what makes every lesson come alive.

 

And what a poignant lesson. I know a number of people who have gotten so wrapped up in trying to find romantic love that they’ve either cast aside their friends, fallen into a state of depression and self-pity, or both. But maybe if we finally decentered romantic relationships in our universe and knocked down the pedestal that they sit on, we’d be able to open our eyes and see that the world truly is so much more vivid and rich than that. Maybe we’d be able to love our friends better and be more satisfied by them if we weren’t always so fixated on finding the one, because the world is so much bigger, brighter, and richer than that.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media if there are any other aspects of friendship I should write about!