Friends deserve a special place in our lives. In the U.S., for example, they are important because they embody American values of equality, choice, self-expression, individualism, freedom, fluidity, and flexibility. They are important because our families have never been smaller than they are now, because fewer people are marrying, and those who do marry are getting to it later in life than they once did. And rates of remarriage are dropping. With fewer brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the other relatives who used to gather around during holidays and other days, Americans increasingly look to the people they choose to have in their lives, rather than the people assigned to them through family ties.
But we don’t typically accord our friends the special treatment they deserve. Instead, it is our attitudes toward marital relationships that are reverent and celebratory – matrimaniacal, even. No proposal, no wedding, is ever deemed too much. Married people routinely have their spouses invited to social events. They expect the other people in their lives to ask about their spouse. They get celebrated again if they stay married for a special number of years.
A spouse is considered an important person, an important relationship, in just about every imaginable way. I have no problem with the valuing of a spouse. I just don’t think that spousal relationships should be valued exclusively, as if no other relationship could ever be as significant. One of the ironies of the over-the-top hype that spousal relationships attract is that those relationships are not always all that enduring. For many people, including many married people, some special friendships may have lasted far longer than any of their marriages ever will.
How can we value our friends and everyone else’s, today and every other day?
Honoring Your Own Friends
- Be there to help when things go wrong.
- Be there to celebrate when things go right.
- Be there just to be there. Keep in touch. Do fun things together. Don’t ever say you are too busy. If you don’t have the time, make it. After all, research shows that we are more likely to feel happy when we are with our friends than when we are with anyone else, including our romantic partners or spouse, or children.
- Remember their birthdays. Make a big deal out of the milestones and big accomplishments in their lives, and I’m not just talking about weddings or babies. There are graduations, houses, new jobs, big moves, and all sorts of things that matter to them.
- Mark their importance in your life in a big way. Celebrate holidays with them. Or go beyond that. Create a special event, maybe even akin to a wedding, to celebrate the friends in your life. For How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I interviewed several people, including a lifelong single woman and a lifelong single man, who did something like that.
- Plan travel and vacations with friends.
- If things are headed south, or if your friend seems to need special help or attention for any reason, consider counseling. You’d probably do that if it were your marriage that was in trouble.
- If you are coupled, spend some time alone with your friends. And when your friends invite you to something, don’t just assume that your partner is invited, too.
- If your friends are single, don’t just ask them about their romantic prospects. They have lives full of interests, passions, plans, goals, accomplishments, work experiences, people they care about – including friends, and tastes and preferences in sports, music, books, movies, food, the arts, travel destinations, and just about anything else you can think of. Ask about those things.
- If your friends are married with children, don’t just ask them about their spouse or their children.