Paul Catalanotto: Loss of friendship

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Are deep, chaste, friendships in danger of largely disappearing from our society? PHOTO: Omar Lopez/Unsplash

Are we keeping ourselves at arms’ distance?

A while back, I grabbed a burger with a friend who managed to convince the waitress to give him a free milkshake, and my friend jokingly asked for two straws for the free milkshake: one for him and one for her.

It took a moment for the waitress to realise what was said because she was excited and then immediately disappointed. She was excited because she thought we were two men on a date, and she was “so proud and hopeful” for us. She was disappointed because we were not two men on a romantic date with each other.

It used to be the case that two guys could grab a meal together without the general populace characterising it as romantic. However, this no longer appears to be the case. What has changed?  The changing marriage laws and the now social acceptance of same-sex relationships, but those are just symptoms of something deeper.

when deep friendships are no longer possible, and the only tolerable friendships are shallow ones, the fallout is an over-sexualisation of everything and everyone

The deeper issue has to do with now having only the lenses of familial or romantic love to judge relationships.  We have lost the concept of authentic friendship: a friendship of goodness and virtue, a friendship in which a person shares his vulnerabilities and success with another person of the same sex in a non-romantic way.

Often who we call a friend is only an acquaintance, a work buddy, or a teammate.  We confuse virtual relationships with celebrities as friendship. We think bartender Bob is our friend, but forget he is paid to be friendly to us.  In other words, we do not invite these individuals into our lives in a deep and meaningful way.

Replacing authentic friendship, either accidentally or purposefully, with romance reorients relationships, even some familial ones, and by reorientating relationships as potential romantic encounters or even sexual partners creates confusion.  In a world that has lost authentic friendship, all men are potential rapists, and all women are potential accusers.

All “friends” are kept at arms distance, not just because of COVID, but because they may be confused for romantic partners — one of the many struggles people have in the dating world.

In brief, when deep friendships are no longer possible, and the only tolerable friendships are shallow ones, the fallout is an over-sexualisation of everything and everyone, as demonstrated by the adult entertainment industry’s increase in step-sibling on step-sibling content.

The problem is already there for men, but it is catching up to women as well. Some time ago, a former student, while discussing relationships and love, shared with me that she felt like she was unable to give any kind of physical affection to her female friends without people thinking she was in a romantic relationship with them: a long hug given to a sad friend, a friendly hand squeeze of encouragement, even braiding her friend’s hair, or always being seen together with just her “bestie”.

The remedy is rediscovering authentic friendships and embracing chastity that helps to view relationships in the right light and without automatically defaulting to sexualised assumptions.

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