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By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
The Gift of Friendship
Remember Valentine’s Day back in grade school? Everybody made everybody else a Valentine card; everyone received lots of Valentines. As years passed and we grew older, Valentines became a special card or gift between romantic partners. Oh, how sweet it was to be special to someone else. And how sad we felt if there was no special someone in our life.
Here in Mexico, February 14 is more than a day for romantic partners; it’s also to honor our friends: El Dia del Amor y la Amistad. It’s a great time to show appreciation to all those we care about. And this way, there’s no need to feel left out if you don’t have a significant other. How many people are in your life who might really enjoy a little special something—a card, some flowers—any token that says you care?
The various people in our lives fall into many categories, and each has their own level of closeness and importance. Healthy relationships grow through each level to the next rather than jumping through all levels from the start. Let’s take a look at the four basic levels of relationships.
We all have superficial involvement with a wide variety of people. These are the folks you run into during the normal routine of your days— your favorite vendor at tianguis, a co-worker where you volunteer, your housekeeper and gardener. Your interaction is casual and talk doesn’t run very deep or personal, yet every one of these people is vital in helping our world go ’round.
A little closer to us are our companions. These are those with whom we enjoy sharing common activities like going shopping, to the movies, or exploring someplace new. The activity is the primary purpose, and while you may enjoy the person’s company, the person is secondary to the activity and could be interchanged for another if he or she becomes unavailable. If the movie is no longer playing or there’s unexpected bad weather, the activity is likely to be cancelled and you forego your time together for another day.
Deeper yet are true friendships with persons you feel safe enough to share intimate details of your life. Friends are more important than whatever you do together. If there’s no good movie to watch, you have lunch together instead so you still have time to visit. The activity is secondary to the enjoyment of each other’s company and the mutual support you provide for each other. A person is fortunate to have more than a very few of these deep true friends in their life.
Out of certain deep friendships can grow romantic love, that special bond between two people that is physical as well as emotional. If sexuality happens too early in a relationship, before the bond of friendship, no matter how special you may think it is, this is only superficial involvement. Healthy romantic relationships emerge out of a foundation of friendship, not hormones.
Problems erupt when these levels are plowed through too quickly. Sharing your darkest secrets with someone you don’t know well is risky. Heed the wise words of George Washington: “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” It takes understanding, time, and trust to build a deep friendship with someone. It’s not something that develops overnight.
And while you’re passing out those Dia de Amistad remembrances, don’t forget to say a word of gratitude to the person who should be your best friend of all—yourself. Friendship with oneself is important because without it one cannot be a good friend to anybody else.
Happy Valentine’s Day!