A couple of years ago, I was out with a friend from another town. We ate at a sit-down burger & soda place within walking distance of my house and had a nice long chat. It’s been long enough now that I don’t recall the exact subject of the conversation, but I remember the broad swath of the territory covered. This guy and I have been friends since college and know each other super well. I was in his wedding and if I were ever in the position to be married, he’d be in mine.
At a certain point in the conversation, I made a comment which I had spent a great deal of time deciding how to phrase because, knowing him, I knew the push-back was coming. Push-back, he did…for 35 minutes. After debating whether or not my critique (no, the first sentence of my critique!) was valid, he acquiesced.
But then he said, “See? Why can’t my wife have a perfectly rational conversation like this? You and I can!”
And I looked at him and said, “If I had to sleep next to you, I’d have gotten up and walked out long ago. We can talk this way because I don’t have sex with you.”
Now, that might seem very startling for me to say. We live in a culture of marrying our best friends. I’ve been to enough weddings to hear this over and over again: “I’m so glad I’ve found my best friend.” And I cringe. Every time.
Romance as friendship has a long-standing tradition in western culture. The movies we watch reflect this. No less than 3 or 4 Bill Murray films spring to mind.
- Who is the psychiatrist’s best friend in What About Bob?
- Who is Phil Connors’ best friend in Groundhog Day?
- Who is Murray’s best friend in Scrooged?
In each case, it’s the female lead. And the women in each of the films fails to have a substantive conversation with another woman that isn’t about a man, so clearly the writers see this as a pattern in both sexes, whether deliberately or unconsciously. And what do each of these films address?
Loneliness. And no one is any less lonely in their state at the end of the film. Sure, happiness is on offer. Murray gets the girl in all three films to be sure, but his relationships aren’t any deeper at the end than they were before. (The exception to this is, of course, Groundhog Day where he learns to relate to another person…but only one in his entire time in exile which has been estimated by some folks to have spanned more than 8 years (and Harold Ramis says it’s 10).
BILL MURRAY LEARNED TO RELATE TO ONE PERSON IN 10 YEARS.
“But David! He helped the old man! He learned piano!”
Whatever. So he grew a conscience. That doesn’t mean he was able to have an intimately emotional relationship with anyone besides the girl he wanted. In 10 years.
Ultimately, trying to put your romance and your friendship in the same bucket only results in everything sloshing out. My friend discovered that he can’t engage his wife in a combative fashion where he feels like he can actually think out loud and weigh the pros and cons because he’s trying to put more in the bucket than belongs.
A pastor once told me that he and his wife are best friends. I challenged him by saying, “Is that because that’s what your marriage is for or because you have trouble establishing and maintaining friendships with men?” And he took a second and said, “Yeah, I’ll have to think about that.”
Friendship is an antidote to loneliness. Jesus talks about being with us, even to the end of days. He categorizes the relationship he has with his followers as such. Now, Jesus wasn’t giving a lecture on friendship–and it’s unwise to stretch the biblical text too far. I think at minimum what can be discerned is that friendship is a way that loneliness can be abated.
Deep friendship is a way to abate loneliness. Shallow friendship just won’t suffice.