Friendship part 2


Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in Friends with Benefits (2011)

Having started my discussion about friendship, I now wish to add to it, hence this part 2. I will probably also write a part 3, in which I will discuss social media friends, as these are becoming the new normal, due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

In part 1 I talked about friendship as discussed by Plato and Aristotle. I mentioned how for ancient Greeks friendship was something that involved men alone, women being so marginal, especially in Athenian society, and also how their concept of friendship encompassed an erotic dimension, as erotic friendships between adult men and young boys were acceptable, even though adult men would also  have wives and children. Some such friendships were true passions - how can one regulate a human relationship? - but they were usually regarded as friendships with a sexual connotation.

In our contemporary world, this kind of friendship would be inadmissible, as it would be regarded as paedophilia. Not only that. Same-sex relationships between men (and women) are acceptable provided all the people involved are over the age of consent, but they are not regarded as friendships,  they are viewed as full-blown intimate love relationships. Somehow, the concept of a friendship with an erotic dimension is generally frowned upon. 

Achilles and Patroclus, mythical loving friends 

The phenomenon of 'friends with benefits'- named after the 2011 movie with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake -  is regarded as somewhat 'unnatural'. We tend to differentiate clearly between love and friendship. We also tend to worship Romantic Love (in capitals, RL for short). Thus having sex with a friend is almost unacceptable or regarded as a poor choice. Yet sex with no love exists in abundance, it's even commercially available. Such are the contradictions of our society. Friendship is based on affection, but,  we are told, love in the context of a friendship is absolutelky non-sexual. 

This is a relatively controversial subject and ultimately there is no right or wrong view. I can only venture a personal opinion here. I am not fully convinced about the existence of RL, in my own experience, it has revealed itself to be more often than not rather chimaeric. But friendship is something that I have always felt as being very real. Obviously, not all my friendships with men do or have involved a sexual connection. Still, some have, and I have to say that without being overloaded with expectations of RL,  they were very genuine connections. Maybe I am in the minority believing that love is essentially a deep friendship.

I remember reading a while ago a  story about a now-married couple who were friends for 12 years before they decided to get together. They met at Uni, lived together as flatmates, had other relationships,. Still, their friendship was solid, and they eventually opted to have a go at conventional coupledom, as they wanted a family and viewed that as a continuation of their friendship. They are still best friends, acknowledging that being a couple works for them precisely because their solid friendship sustains the endeavour.

There are many books and articles which try to make sense of love and friendship. Many, though distinguishing between the two, also recommend that intimate relationships should be based on friendships as constitutive of love, rather than infatuation, which seems to be the basis of romantic, passionate love. In hindsight, I can say that my own infatuations never gave way to friendship. A couple of former lovers are still my best friends and that was essentially because we started off as friends.

In one of the most defining movies of the 20th century, Saturday Night Fever, the closing scenes are about invoking friendship as the basis of a meaningful relationship between a man and a woman. 

I love SNF not because of the glitter of disco music and the great dancing it displays, not because of John Travolta on whom I had a proper star crush, not even because it is an intelligent movie that  deals with significant issues, and is quite disturbing in its portrayal of violence towards women and life at the margins of society, exemplified by underclass Brooklyn youth.

Tony and Stephanie promise to be friends. Screenshot from Saturday Night Fever

I love it precisely because of those closing scenes. Stephanie asks a repentant Tony, who has fled Brooklyn for Manhattan, staying up all night, shaken by his friend's involuntary suicide and who, the night before, had tried to have sex with her without her consent, whether he can believe in friendship between a girl and a boy. Tony replies he can try, he will try. Then there is a close up on them holding each other's hand, and their embrace which is telling of so many possibilities. Yes, they might become a couple but their relationship is going to be based on the promise of friendship.  It is a powerful and positive message, a glimmer of hope for better human relationships, in a movie that remains essentially very dark in the sexism, homophobia and racism it portrays. 

As I said, there is room here for different views. Should you wish to add your own please leave a comment.