Never before in recent American history have friends been so important to our everyday lives. They are important because they embody American values of equality, choice, self-expression, individualism, freedom, fluidity, and flexibility. They are important because our families have never been smaller than they are now, because fewer people are marrying, and those who do marry are getting to it later in life than they once did. And rates of remarriage are dropping. With fewer brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the other relatives who used to gather around during holidays and other days, Americans increasingly look to the people they choose to have in their lives, rather than the people assigned to them through family ties.
And so, around Thanksgiving, it is becoming popular to hear about Friendsgiving, a Thanksgiving celebrated with friends, either on the day of Thanksgiving or just before or just after. There is a lot to recommend it, as Upworthy noted in “5 reasons why Friendsgiving is secretly the best fall holiday there is.”
Americans’ attitudes toward marital relationships are reverent and celebratory – matrimaniacal, even. No proposal, no wedding, is ever deemed too much. Married people routinely have their spouse invited to social events. They expect the other people in their lives to ask about their spouse. They get celebrated again if they stay married a special number of years.
A spouse is considered an important person, an important relationship, in just about every imaginable way. I have no problem with the valuing of a spouse. I just don’t think that spousal relationships should be valued exclusively, as if no other relationship could ever be as significant. One of the ironies of the over-the-top hype that spousal relationships attract is that those relationships are not always all that enduring. For many people – including many married people – some special friendships may have lasted far longer than any of their marriages ever will.
So how can we value our friends and everyone else’s, today and every other day?
- Mark their importance in your life in a big way. Friendsgiving is one possibility. Or go beyond that. Create a special event, maybe even akin to a wedding, to celebrate the friends in your life. For How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I interviewed several people who did something like that, including a lifelong single woman and a lifelong single man.
- Be there to help when things go wrong.
- Be there to celebrate when things go right.
- Be there just to be there. Keep in touch. Do fun things together. Don’t ever say you are too busy. If you don’t have the time, make it. After all, research shows that we are more likely to feel happy when we are with our friends than when we are with anyone else, including our romantic partners or spouse or children.
- Learn about the close friends in the lives of the important people in your life. Then, in your everyday conversations, ask about those friends. Those are two of the ways you can show that you value not just your own friends, but the friends of the people you care about. Here’s another:
- When you are hosting a social event, let your guests know that they are welcome to bring a friend.
- Do you know someone who might like to have another friend? Include them in social events where they can meet some of your friends who might also be open to new friends. Do all of the things you would do if you thought someone wanted a romantic partner and you were into the matchmaker sort of thing. Why should we only help other people find romantic partners?
I asked Courtney Martin, author of The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, the same question I’ve been addressing here about how we can better value and validate and recognize our friends. In fact, it was her answer to that question that inspired me to write this article. Here’s what she said:
“I think our relationship to friends has really changed in the last few decades. We’re starting to really understand the profound value of investing in friendships and we’re no longer dividing up our lives so cleanly—work/life etc. There is a real art to friendship—showing up to mourn and celebrate in ways that your friend really needs you to (not just how you would want to be showed up for), creating rituals so that your friendship doesn’t fall through the cracks in our overscheduled lives, sending that little text to check in rather than assuming that someone’s nuclear family is all they need.”
Thank-you, Courtney Martin. And thank-you to all of my friends.