I find that I can’t help falling in love with my best friends. It’s a kind of love that there doesn’t seem to be a word for, outside of the convenient and conventional bounds. Not quite romantic love, but also not familial. It is only with my closest friends, the ones I most deeply admire, that this occurs. It’s hard to explain, but I think it has always been that way. I don’t know if other people experience this same strange romanticism, or if maybe its some defection of my own that causes me to feel this love that defies definition.
One of the closest facsimiles I’ve come across to this kind of love is in Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Jungle,” which explores the friendship of two teenage girls. Tessa Hadley, an author and literature professors, refers to the bond between the girls as a “passionate friendship.” Having no better descriptor myself, for the sake of discussion lets call this unnamed feeling “passionate friendship.”
I don’t often write about passionate friendships, though the feeling brings a strange desire to remember everything about the person, to get them just right in my brain and hold them there forever— a memorial photograph. But people rarely stay still long enough for such a thing, leaving you with side long shots and awkward angles, or else attempts at candid shots that are not candid because of the very fact that you meant them to be. Attempts I’ve made at cataloguing these passionate friendships read like love letters to abstractions. I believe that writing about someone is sacred and also that you can never get the symmetry of a person quite right. How then could they be anything but abstractions? A collection of facts and fibers and details made up in the moment and looking back.
The best example of my collection of such fragmented moments can be found in a personal essay I wrote in my first semester of college, a time during which friendships— passionate or otherwise— seemed few and far between. The essay explored my attempts to recreate some of the important relationships in my life, and the parallels I imagined during these attempts. While the essay is full of snapshots, the best comes from an otherwise insignificant moment I invested with fate and symmetry and meaning.
“He places his hand against mine, edging his palm until the points of our hands are exactly aligned. The landscapes of our hands are different, his palm more square, his fingers slimmer at the base, his nails clipped short and square, but the breadth of our hands is the same. He is taller than me, just enough so that to make eye contact I have to turn my eyes the slightest bit up, but our hands match perfectly. I take a secret satisfaction in that.”
I can recall many of these moments of secret satisfaction. Perhaps these one-sided, platonic love affairs are entirely constructed from secret satisfactions. Little moments that made me feel special, or loved, or in the right place at the right time because timing has never been my strong suit. I find it hard to share these people I love with the world because I want to be special them, to be valued more or privy to things they don’t share with the rest of the world. To make matters more difficult, these people seem to be the people — more than anyone else I’ve encountered — that the rest of the world want most.
To quote Emily Gould, author of And the Heart Says Whatever,
“It’s hard, sometimes, to love a person who you have to share with the world. They’re yours for a moment, in a cafe or at your kitchen table, and then they’re on a stage and you are the same to them as anyone else in the theater, even if you’ve made a point of coming early and sitting in the front row.”
But having to share these people with the world is not really the problem. The real problem, the real great and terrible thing, is how self-sustaining and void filling these passionate friendships can be. Once they’ve started, any little thing can be an excuse to continue them. The friendship need not even continue, as a blend of nostalgia and hopefulness can easily keep love for another person alive, even if the person you knew has ceased to exist.
Who has time for the mundane, returned, describable kind of love when you’re busy indescribably loving someone so totally brilliant and talented that it seems impossible not to love them? How could anything real compete with something so perfectly imagined? It’s not that this unnamed loved, these passionate friendships, aren’t based in real affection or tangible relationships, it’s that they exist on a plane removed from everything else. What then is the answer? Is it possible to stop loving people so incredibly close to your heart? Could anything compare to the kind of love you don’t ask for and can’t explain?
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I worry sometimes that I’ll never love in the “normal” way (if there is such a thing), with attraction and desire and returnability. But more than that, I worry that the two can’t exist together and that love with desire will mean no more passionate friendships. I hope that I’m wrong, that these worries I have are unfounded and that this special kind of love can exist alongside every other kind. I hope that you understand what I mean about “passionate friendships” and this way that I love my closest friends. But mostly, I hope that one day, even just for a moment, you’ll feel this kind of love too.