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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A love letter to philia

Don’t let your friends fall by the wayside


By MOLLY THOMPSON —- mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 


I’ve never been in love: I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day, or an “our song” or someone to take me to prom. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have love in my life. 

Our society places so much pressure on romantic relationships — from the storybook-perfect Disney love stories that raised our generation to the very concept of “cuffing season,” we’re surrounded by these fantastic images of idyllic romances. I’m a first-year in college, I basically just got here, and I’ve already witnessed my peers seeking, engaging in and recovering from multiple flings. The message is that if you’re not involved, you’re missing out — that you have a deficit, a space to be filled. 

But here’s what I’ve learned: I can live a perfectly full life, complete with elation and heartache and serenity and melancholia, without any sort of romantic presence. Platonic relationships tend to be written off as secondary to their romantic counterparts. We place eros (romantic love) on a pedestal, above philia (platonic love). Not to say that we don’t value friendship, but I think we sometimes get so hung up on our romantic fantasies that we let our friends fall to the back burner. They don’t deserve that — we don’t deserve that. 

I have two friends who walked me home — 30 minutes in the opposite direction of where they live — after I had a panic attack at a frat party once. I have a friend who wrote, illustrated and assembled a homemade pamphlet with diagrams and calming techniques when I had to get my blood drawn in middle school because I was so scared of the needle. I have a friend who lives across the country and sent me a T-shirt she saw at a vintage fair because it reminded her of me; I hadn’t seen her in over a year.

I have a friend who sat across from me in a hot tub listening to me pine over my (extremely mediocre) middle school crush — and who is still there, still listening to me talk about my crushes, more than five years later — who gives me birthday cards that make me cry and who could recognize me by my handwriting or my footsteps or my laugh. I have friends I just met this year, to whom I can voice all my delusions just to find out that they think the same way. I know a girl who would bike through a torrent of cold, unforgiving rain just to sit and watch a movie with me. I know girls with hearts of gold, purple and blue the exact shade of the night sky. 

That kind of love is special. There’s an extraordinary kind of intimacy in true philia — it’s different than the kind of intimacy in eros, but it’s just as strong. The idea of a perfect romantic relationship is to have someone who will support you no matter what. Who will pick you up when you fall, support you when you’re weak and kiss your bruises to make them better. But if you’re lucky, your friends will already be there to help. 

Because at the end of the day, it’s who you sit around an apartment living room table with, eating coffee cake from Trader Joe’s and drinking tea (and maybe sangria). It’s who you run around downtown with after dark, slipping into the ice cream shop just minutes before they close. It’s who you scream with over the phone when a boy likes you and who you cry to when he breaks your heart. 

Those are the memories that make me, like stars that amalgamate into a galaxy. Each one makes me a little brighter, a little stronger, a little more radiant. I love them all. 

This is a love letter to friendship, because romance gets enough attention. Our platonic relationships are precious, and we should treat them as such. We need to be intentional with our friends the way we would be with our romantic partners — tell them we love them, tell them we’re grateful for them, reach out to them and make time for them. They’re just as important to us, so we should put the effort in with them as much as we do with lovers. 

Of course I want romantic love. Of course I do. This is not to say that romance is unnecessary or unimportant. I’m a hopeless romantic: I’ve daydreamed of having someone who reaches for my hand in line for coffee, who holds the door for me, who will dance with me in the kitchen in the middle of the night. 

But I can confidently say that I can be happy in the absence of romance; I cannot say the same about platonic relationships. I need the support of my friends in order to be happy but also just to be okay. I rely on them, and they rely on me. I want to protect them, I want to hold them gently in my palms like butterflies. I want them to know that — I want them to know how much I care about them. Friendship is precious and beautiful and sacred, and it should never come second to romance. 


Written by: Molly Thompson — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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