Far More Intimacy Through Friendships
Away from my homeland, I cannot describe the geological age the typical friendship takes to develop in Holland without sounding ridiculous.1 The first year you meet and have coffee, go on outings. The second year you might have dinner together and visit each other’s birthdays. The third year you might go on vacation together or stay over. At some point, you are introduced to each other’s families, love becomes unconditional and you will share all of your sorrows and all of your big life events. When families expand with partners or children, these are absorbed into the friendships. Gender plays no role in these relationships, except that friends tend to be of the same gender and friendships with women tend to be more physically intimate. After growing for a while, friendships settle at a certain level of intimacy and stay there. These friendships can weaken over the years or endure a lifetime.
After my stay in the U.S., I could not describe how I’d experienced friendship there without sounding ridiculous.2 After a first meeting, either a group event or happenstance, you know each other enough to decide you like the person, and from that point onwards, they’re “a friend”. Intimacy, or at least its appearance, immediately shifts to the desired level and will likely stay there. Actual closeness grows more gradually by going through through the motions until they feel natural. None of this makes either the initial wish for friendship or the resulting relationship any less genuine. Nor does its sudden end when people grow out of touch or the instant reconnecting when people meet again. They are the simple effect of a more nomadic existence.
What I describe are abstracts, actual friendships are as different as the people that have them. My point is, the ideas we have about relationships, both platonic and not, are limited by the culture we live in. We follow a certain plan… but is it the best? The American idea for “friend” is different from the Dutch one… aren’t we limiting ourselves?
When we do not prefer a typical relationships that involves romance or sex, aren’t we better off opening the door to a multitude of relationships? And doesn’t that oblige us to explore, at least in theory, the length and breadth of the varieties of relationships we can have, outside of the carrot that’s been dangled in front of our noses all our lives, when we don’t want the carrot?
- The difficulty of making friends in Holland has become proverbial amongst expats, rather hilariously explained in this blog post “How to Make Friends With the Dutch“.
- Americans are sometimes thought shallow, but it’s largely (underestimated) cultural differences, see this article for an intercultural analysis of that impression.