In a World with Couples Therapy, where is Friendship Therapy?

I have always loved my friends with my whole heart, even more than I love Jeni’s ice cream. My friends and I in elementary school traded stories about our abusive parents. We Facebook messaged each other after our parents yelled at us or hit us and took comfort in our shared pain and support. I first came out as bisexual, and then as gay, to my high school friends, who loved me all the same. We talked about boys who never stood a chance with us anyway. Today, my friends and I still talk about our shared trauma, we rant about the racism we encounter at work, and we roast the men who have wronged us with the most eloquent rage.

But like every relationship, sometimes friendships suck, too. Let me provide a list of the ways I feel some of my friends have wronged me over the past few weeks: one prioritizes her boyfriend over me. Another makes it hard to spend time together. A third included me in an upcoming program of his and then forgot my schedule and made it impossible for me to attend.

“I just feel tired of feeling like I care more about friendships than most of my friends,” I told my therapist this past week, referencing how some of my friends prioritize their boyfriends over friends.

“It’s a loss,” she said. “There’s this cultural script that you’re just supposed to be happy for your friends when they date, but there’s a loss too, especially if they don’t make as much time for friends. It’s okay to honor your disappointment.”

Honor my disappointment. This phrase stood out to me because I tend to avoid honoring my desire for connection and the feelings of disappointment that sometimes emerge from that desire. A friendship is disappointing me? Another man is disappointing me? Whatever, I’ll just invest in my mentoring and research and books. But my therapist’s point about honoring the disappointment that accompanies friendship resonates with me, because we so often expect our friends to always support us and love us – accompany us to our weddings, be “best friends forever” regardless of the actual emotional labor invested, etc. – and yet we as a society do not invest all that much in friendship.

“I got so annoyed the other day,” I told my therapist. “I was in one of my therapy supervisor’s rooms, and I saw a poster for that Gottman method for maintaining relationships. And I was like, why isn’t there a book series on maintaining healthy friendships? Why isn’t there a whole industry designed to support friendships?”

“Wouldn’t it be cool if that was your legacy?” My therapist, a queer woman, has always validated my frustration with heteronormative patriarchy, thank goodness. She pulled out her copy of Eight Dates by John Gottman. “There totally should be a friendship version of this. What would it be like for you to write it?”

dump him t shirt thank u queen bri

An iconic t-shirt my close friend Bri got me a couple of years ago for my birthday. One time a guy I hooked up with saw it while walking into my bedroom, asked who “him” referred to. I looked him dead in the eye and said: “every man, really.”

It would be easy to act like the friends I wrote about above wronged me and I have nothing to work on myself. But I know I have shortcomings, too. Sometimes I get upset about friends not meeting my expectations before I even realize the expectation they did not meet, perhaps because society does not teach us to think about our expectations for friendships. While I excel at responding to my closest friends, I let conversations with other friends drop by the wayside. Over the past decade I have worked a lot on taking time away from situations that make me feel upset, so that I can honor my emotions and then communicate in an assertive and compassionate way instead of resorting to passive aggressiveness. But I know I have more work to do and always will have more work to do.

Beyond these individual shifts, I want a society that values friendship more. I want to help create a world with Friendship Therapy and not just Couples Therapy, so that people can explore and grow their friendships in meaningful ways. I want a world where we have an abundance of books and resources about friendship, a world that acknowledges the heteronormative patriarchal foundations of romance and prioritizes friendship just as much as romance, if not more. I am still trying to figure out how to manifest this ideal world into reality. For now, though, I am trying to do my part by writing about friendship, by seriously considering learning how to provide Friendship Therapy, by investing emotional labor into the friends who return it. I’m honoring how all relationships inevitably entail disappointment. And I’m still invested in loving my friends, perhaps the most pure, untainted form of love that exists.

jeni's ice cream in freezer iconic

Look at all this Jeni’s my close friend Natasha and I ate together. Iconic, right?

How do you prioritize friendships, or not? How have friends disappointed you or how have you disappointed your friends? What can we do to make a world that values friendship more, or what underlies your resistance to that idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next post!

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9 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

9 responses to “In a World with Couples Therapy, where is Friendship Therapy?

  1. This is such a thoughtful post about friendship, Thomas. Funny how we always prioritise romantic relationships over friendships and when friendships are tense, we don’t really work on it but rather let it slide. I think it’s normal for us to let conversations drop by the wayside. Some conversations will serve us and other conversations we wouldn’t feel like participating in a moment in time. For instance when someone is telling me some happy story about their life and I am in a bad place mentally, I would not want to chat about that and will be silence – in other words, sometimes you have to put yourself first. It’s also hard when inevitably people will change over time and so will you, so there’s a chance every friendship will fizzle out at some point.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response to this post Mabel! Yes, I think that’s a realistic approach, about how inevitably some conversations will drop by the wayside – I suppose it’s just important to be mindful about which ones we allow to do that and to examine our patterns surrounding that. And I agree about people changing over time, including myself. It’s bittersweet yet important to accept, I guess, the notion that as Havelock Ellis wrote, the art of life lies in a fine mingling of holding on and letting go.

  2. OMG write the book about friendships! Please! There is a book called Text Me When You Get Home which is meant to be about women’s friendships, like a sociological study, but I’ve read some iffy reviews of it. I seem to recall a book called The Group which was about a group of people in therapy and their interactions (not the novel, a non-fic) – I’ll have to see if I have it. But write the book!

    I have been hugely supported by my running friends and their massive acceptance of each of us as we go through ups and downs, recently – I’ve done the same for them. Sometimes I expect to matter more to friends because they matter more to me due to having not much family, and i have to dial that back. Introducing an editing friend to the photo-a-day group I’m in has given an extra tie and strength to our friendship, which we’ve both noticed. Just some thoughts there really.

    But write the damn book. Do it.

    • Liz, thank you as always for your thoughtful comment. I’ve heard about Text Me When You Get Home but have also heard iffy reviews about it, I’m hoping a book comes out someday that goes in-depth about the importance of friendship in a way that is meaningful and beautiful and true. (:

      One thing you wrote that really resonates with me is like, how I also expect to matter more to friends because they matter more to me because I also don’t have much of a family. That’s something I’ve been working through a lot and I may message you privately/individually to discuss. Thanks for your encouragement to write the book and I hope you’re doing well. (:

      • I was thinking about this discussion when reading the latest Iris Murdoch in my challenge, “The Book and the Brotherhood” as there’s a lot about friendship portrayed there, good and bad. Might be an interesting book for you?

        PS I’m currently reading a memoir about a queer, Arabic/English drag queen – I seem to be embracing my attempt at more intersectional and inclusive reading!!

        • Oooh thank you for that recommendation Liz, it’s on my to-read list! And yay, I love that you’re reading more books (or at least one book) that is from an underrepresented/marginalized perspective. (: Thank you for sharing, I genuinely love hearing your bookish updates and life updates whether on your blog or mine.

          • Oh there are many more coming up, if you’ve caught any of my hauls I have a secretly gay elderly man from the Caribbean living in London; Karamo from Queer Eye’s thoughts and memoir; stories of life as an immigrant in the UK … all newly on the bookshelf, plus a couple by young Black women writers in the Kindle. Getting some balance back. Oh, plus a whole year of reading by a gay male author who includes all sorts of marginalised characters in his writing with honour and insight to come! I have always read a lot of books about minority and immigrant experiences and LGBTQI experience and authors, but that hasn’t been reflected in recent reading, weirdly.

  3. What a beautiful post. I was intrigued by your recommendations of therapeutic books on Friendships which is just as important as the one for couples. I so agree with this! Thanks for writing this.

    • Thank you for your warm and encouraging comments, they mean a lot to me! Let’s hope there’s more on friendship (e.g., books, movies, music, etc.) in the future. Hope you’re well. (:

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