A few weeks ago a group of us were talking about love. We were talking about how society defines love and how unlike love its definition often is.
After a while, someone said,
“I don’t understand why, when you ask some people about why they are together, they say ‘oh he’s my best friend’. I don’t like that. I mean I have guy friends and I have girls who are my best friends. But a guy that I would date wouldn’t be my best friend; he would be my date or my boyfriend. I think it’s different.”
I was caught off guard a bit because I did not really agree. I was trying to think of something to say when my friend Kathy spoke up.
“Well, I hear you bud, and maybe that’s just where you are in what your definition of ‘friend’ is; and that is Okay.”
It got me thinking. Lovers = best friends is the cliché; it is what most everyone thinks it should be and how it should look. It made me realize just how destructive, or constructive, our definitions can be when we bring them to our relationships without realizing we put them in our suitcase.
How do you define love? How do you define friends? What makes a best friend?
I think we are pretty quick to dismiss those questions. First, because our second grade teachers already made us answer them and, second, because we think our answers are THE answers. Defining the terms with which we are most familiar, often pose the most difficulty. Usually, we think our definition of ‘friend’ or ‘love’ is everyone else’s definition; and if it is not, it should be, which is the primary reason we fail to define it for ourselves in the first place. Brushing up against people of different paradigms puts our definitions into question—and not in a kittens and rainbows kind of way—sometimes it is painful. We have the opportunity to ignore or to grow; and sometimes that means changing your definition, but other times it does not. Either way, it becomes crucial to know what your definitions are.
Recently, I was in a relationship and, in trying to define what love is and how it behaves, it was like Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield. Okay, no one lost an ear, but it was emotionally brutal. I believe love constantly pursues and engages. I believe a real love relationship destined for marriage puts itself first—not to the neglect of others—but definitely first. He thought that was selfish. We were closer than I had ever been to the wedding-bell-phase and now I am single. Unfortunately, one of the steps to authenticity is uprooting disingenuous weeds and it can mean sacrificing something you want more than anything for the sake of being real.
There is an outstanding film made in 1960, based on the 1925 Scopes (Monkey) Trial, called Inherit the Wind. Spencer Tracy plays the part of Harry Drummond, based on Clarence Darrow, Scopes’ representation. Tracy’s part is stuffed with a lot of great lines, but this is one of my favorites:
“It’s the loneliest feeling in the world. It’s like walking down an empty street listening to your own footsteps. But all you have to do is knock on any door and say, ‘If you let me in, I’ll live the way you want me to live, I’ll think the way you want me to think.’ And all the blinds’ll go up and all the doors’ll open and you’ll never have to be lonely ever again.”
I think many of us sacrifice authentic relationship as a way to keep the loneliness from hanging out in the corners of our lives. The more appealing we are to a greater number of people, the more people we can include in the “friend” category. We try to wear the right things, say the right things, or adopt the ‘right’ theology, but I think what we find is an even deeper sense of loneliness when we do that. We think we are keeping loneliness out of the corners yet it has settled in our very bones, preventing us from anything of any worth.
Love, at every level, seeks to know and be known. Love wants to know everything about us. It wants to know the things of which we are proud and ashamed, so love can love us anyway. It seeks all the dark places in our hearts so it can pour light on them; and in the light, we find them easier to bear.
Love pursues, engages, and seeks our good. Friends are people who love.