Relationships are very important. They provide a significant source of meaning in our lives. It is not easy to wade through this random fleeting life without people by our side. However, society has taught us to understand relationships in a reductionist way.
By “relationships”, we mean only one relationship, which is that of romantic lover or spouse, by “family” we understand only one format, comprising a couple and their children. But my experience with life has been very different.
Over time, I found myself in a relationship format that works the best for me, though it is not a socially accepted formula for finding fulfilment, which is apparently through a mono-romantic relationship. I found my relationship needs met through a bunch of varied, vibrant, warm and intimate friendships and stopped looking for that all-encompassing and consuming love in one human being.
Yes, there was a time when I like everybody else thought marriage was a sure shot of way of finding lifelong security and companionship. Only when I started dating that I realized that while I enjoyed the time spent with my romantic partners, I couldn’t possibly be content in one relationship that mandated the bulk of my attention, time and space.
Being in such a relationship is not just suffocating but stifling my growth as a person. During the time I dated, I always felt myself falling short of time for my other interests like reading, movie watching, writing, travel etc. Not to mention hanging out with my best friend, which I used to immensely enjoy.
In spite of my best efforts and sacrificing my other needs, I was not able to keep my partners happy. I later realized this was because I was not happy with the things I had to compromise in order to make those relationships work.
After going through these dating rituals on and off, I finally realized that marriage or a long-term romantic relationship was not my cup of tea. While I did not suffer from commitment or intimacy issues, I suffered from space-related issues.
I couldn’t possibly be content in one relationship that mandated the bulk of my attention, time and space.
I would have and I would still gladly be willing to go for a ‘living apart’ relationship if I find the right person whose needs meet mine. But since I know the probability of landing such a person was zilch, I gradually gave up my hope of finding a lasting romantic partner.
However, since I was never a recluse and to the contrary, revelled in the warmth of human companionships, I decided I had to find some other way of meeting my companionship needs. I felt friendships could be a good source of such companionship but did not know how to find them, since most friendships are formed much early in life.
Till that point, I hardly had any friends except for one or two in the city and my best friend, who to my heartbreak, suddenly decided to leave the country with her husband. Around this time, I was transferred to another city, where I did not even have any acquaintances, forget friends.
After spending a few lonely months, I decided to take charge of my situation. Instead of getting into Tinder for that same rut of dating, which took away a lot of effort and time but always yielded the same results, I decided to invest time and effort in making new connections and friends.
I joined Meetup groups based on my interests, like reading, writing etc., where there was a good chance of meeting people with similar interests. In the process, I discovered how much I enjoyed interacting and getting to know a variety of people and their unique life stories and experiences. I also started encountering interesting people through many random encounters, like treks, train journeys, etc.
I guess they didn’t happen earlier, cause I used to mostly travel with my best friend. Whenever I hit it off with someone and sensed a connection, I took their number and stayed in touch. Where there was reciprocation, I pursued those friendship interests with no holds barred.
Though I was lonely, I wasn’t needy. I only invested my time and effort in getting to know people who genuinely intrigued and fascinated me and didn’t make random friendships just to find some company.
Within two years, I found an unbelievable transformation in my life. I found a new home in some beautiful, interesting and empathetic friendships. They say friendships have to happen and we cannot make them happen. Even in my case, I didn’t make them happen, but I took sufficient efforts to let them happen. In doing so, I also broke the myth that friendships cannot happen at a later stage, as I was already in my late thirties when I met these people.
They aren’t too many friends, maybe around 5 to 6 people with whom I can be completely myself. I stopped putting effort into making new friends once I reached a number, beyond which I wouldn’t be able to do justice. Like what Aristotle once said, “He who has many friends has no friends”.
Each of my friends meets different needs of mine and each of them is very valuable to me. I go for occasional long drives with one of them, singing aloud to our similar taste of music and with another, I regularly go for my Sunday morning walks at a park followed by breakfast at our favourite joint. There is a friend who comes over once a month for a weekend and we enjoy our deep philosophical conversations and laughter over shared dark humour late into the night.
There is another long-distance friend, with whom I connected on a feminist forum and keep exchanging deep intellectual insights and thoughts over Whatsapp on a daily basis, though we have not even met so far, we feel connected as though we have known each other for years. Not to mention, my rock – my best friend who lives abroad and with whom I speak over the phone around 3 to 4 times in a day.
I hardly find myself wanting for company when I decide on an impromptu plan for movie or dinner. If at all, I don’t find anyone, I still go watch movies alone, like I have been doing since I was a teenager.
I didn’t make friendships happen, but I took sufficient efforts to let them happen.
In spite of my love for human company, I also love the time I spend by myself either sitting in my balcony with a coffee and a book, watching movies or breaking into a thought stream with no disturbance around. Over the last few years, I have also explored the beauty and adventure of solo travel and make impromptu trips every now and then.
With the kind of life I chose, I get to address my needs, my need for solitude and my need for human company in healthy doses. The best thing about friendship is that unlike romantic relationships, there is no sense of ownership or demand over the other person, while there is abundant love and an unconditional promise that we would be there for each other in times of need.
However, I’m not saying this kind of life doesn’t have its problems. There are some excruciating moments of loneliness that I have to suffer, but I do it with an awareness that it is a momentary feeling and it will pass. Any life choice one makes is a trade-off between what you want the most and what you can endure in the process.
Yes, there is also the problem of sex. While sex toys do a good job, they cannot substitute the original act. But it is a smaller compromise to make, rather than staying in an unfulfilling relationship, just for sex, which in any case would wane over time, if the relationship is not satisfying on other grounds. Occasionally, when I meet the right person for casual sex or short-term dating, with whom I can find the right amount of warmth and comfort, I don’t hold back.
I’m not saying my way of life can universally work, but those for whom the regular format doesn’t work, they should not hesitate to design a format that works for them. Life is short and one should try and listen to their needs before addressing the needs of society and others, including their loved ones.
A few days back I heard a woman say that she doesn’t consider herself single though she is unmarried and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She says that she has many people whom she loves and who love her back, from her mom and sibling to many friends.
She refused to be assigned the tag “single” just because she doesn’t have that one single romantic relationship which is considered to define one’s relationship status. Going by that, I am not single too! Maybe none of us are and none of us should be, as finding love might not be in our hands, but finding friendships definitely is.
Featured Image Credit: Star Tribune