Friendship is undervalued

We are obsessed with romantic relationships

As a society, we seem to be obsessed with romance. The majority of songs seem to be about romantic relationships or sex. A whole genre of books, Chick Lit, is devoted to romance, and romance often features as a life-enhancing situation in many other novels. And then there’s the Romcoms. Dating sites abound. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s that much-dreaded day for many singletons: Valentine’s day. No friends’ day, at least not here in the UK.

Where’s the celebration of friendship?

Where are all the homages to friendship? There’s a saying that lovers come and go, while friends remain, but there’s really little celebration of friendship in popular media. Everyone knows that friends are the ones you go when you have a broken heart; no matter how sure you are that your relationship will last forever, 42% of marriages end in divorce [1]. Who will be there for you then? Unless you’ve made the effort to nourish friendships even while juggling work and family responsibilities, the answer could be that no-one will. Even for those fortunate couples whose relationship remains strong, one day one of them will die and the other will be in certain need of supportive friends. I remember being very struck by that common regret of the dying (observed by a palliative nurse): I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends [2].

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There is a great deal of celebration of romantic love, but when do we celebrate friendship? I’d love to see more books, songs and films about friendship. Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash.

 

The best friendships are not based on selfishness

And I don’t think we should just stay in touch with our friends for selfish reasons alone. Friendship should be about a mutual bond and the willingness to go out of our way to support the other person when they need it. I worry that we are coming to view friendship in quite a selfish light; many popular internet memes encourage us to ditch our ‘negative friends’. And yet, approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives [3]. Are we expected to be constantly positive, encouraging and in agreement with our friends? Surely the occasional argument, or grumpy mood, or patch of depression is natural and part of being a good friend is to be able to resolve conflicts, not over-react to less-than-perfect behaviour and to support our friend through a difficult time. (That said, it’s another matter if your friend is routinely putting you down or acting aggressively etc. I would not suggest anyone risk their own mental or physical health for the sake of a friendship.)

Loneliness is rife

I often come across people online who have no friends, and indeed felt like I had none at various points in my life. Some might say that these are difficult or selfish people, but I think that’s unlikely. Many are people who come across great online. Many attribute the ‘disappearance’ of their friends to a decline in health, which they assume made their friends feel uncomfortable or view them as too inconvenient. Others have moved away from their university friends and are finding it impossible to make friends in their new town, and yet others attribute their lack of friends to a disability or depression. The emergence of friend-making sites such as Girlfriend Social and Together Friends is a response to the large numbers of people struggling to make new friends.

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Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash.

Perhaps we should not be so quick to write off old friends

I admit I now regret writing off a couple of former friendships. I’m quite slow to do… I generally cherish every friendship and don’t turn anyone away. But after two of my best friends said hurtful things, I considered our friendships over, and wonder now if I was a little hasty to do so. I’m sure I’ve also been a bit neglectful of some friendships during very busy patches of my life. I’ve also been on the receiving end of friendship neglect, and I find it very sad that people I’d gone out of my way to support in difficult times don’t value our friendship enough to maintain contact.

Friendship is a great gift, and need not be a burden

I have always thought that the gift of friendship is an easy one to bestow. A kind word and a bit of genuine listening costs nothing and need to take up much time. Grabbing lunch with someone, or dropping someone a text or email is not a momentous task, but can do a great deal to relieve someone of loneliness, provide sympathy or advice, and make them feel cared for. I think often it’s a matter of finding what works for both people, be it periodic phone calls, Whatsapp messages, Facebook etc. Even parents busy with young children can find a way to check in with old friends from time to time. When you look out for people in this way, not only do you store up people who will support you when you need it, you also help reduce mental health problems and even suicide.

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Supportive friendships are a precious thing. Photo by Kevin Gent on Unsplash.

I think parents should also not assume that friends will want to see them without their kids or partners. Often friends will accept that it’s not easy for them to continue as they did before marriage and parenthood, and will be ready to accept – or even appreciate – different types of get-togethers.

And how about some more books, music and films celebrating great friendships? Heroic, impressive, beautiful friendships. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite bored of it all being about romance.

What do you think? Is friendship undervalued? What have your experiences of friendship been? How do you stay in touch with friends? Comment below!

References

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12011714/Divorce-rate-at-lowest-level-in-40-years-after-cohabitation-revolution.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35322354

Related links:

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/when-friends-disappear-during-a-health-crisis/comment-page-2/?_r=0

http://princessinthetower.org/how-chronic-pain-affects-your-friendships-and-what-to-do-about-it/

http://www.tesh.com/articles/why-is-friendship-so-undervalued/

http://www.therisingblog.com/blog/2016/6/10/why-dont-i-have-friends-anymore

https://lifeinprogress290296.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/loneliness-knows-me-by-name

 

 

 

Why we shouldn’t automatically describe low libido as a ‘problem’

Guest post

There is a lot of wisdom to be found on the internet. I’ve searched about for advice on many topics, from how to clean a toaster (there were special reasons) to how to deal with commitment phobia. Occasionally, prominent views on the net annoy me quite a lot, and that is the case with the ‘low libido problem’.

Ironically, I first became aware of this view when searching about low libido in men and high libido in women. Instead of finding much about either of those things, I found hundreds of links about low libido in women, and how to ‘solve’ it. (Thankfully there seems to be more about high sex drive in women and low sex drive in men now than when I looked).

I wish to point out at this stage that I like bras, skirts and dresses and I don’t have a problem with anyone ogling a fit woman as long as ogling a fit man is ok too. I actually often find men easier to get on with, and think that masculinity has its perks. Let’s face it, I’m no Germaine Greer.

That said, I find it concerning that pretty much no-one seems to question whether low libido in a woman is a problem. Or whether high libido in men might actually be the problem… Surely this is an issue which can rightly be examined from either viewpoint.

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In a society obsessed by sex, no wonder low sex drive is often immediately labelled as abnormal. (This stunning photo of a kissing couple was taken by Alejandra Quiroz and posted on Unsplash.)

The medical profession talks of ‘female sexual arousal disorder’. According to webmd ‘loss of sexual desire is women’s biggest sexual problem’. NHS Choices describes it as a ‘common problem’.

Now, no one knows better than I do that a discrepancy in sex drive is quite a bummer in a relationship. In almost all of my relationships there was a discrepancy and it caused quite a few problems: frustration, uncomfortable pressure, sulking, thoughts of straying and feelings of abnormality. But I never thought that low libido is always the problem and high libido completely normal. And what is ‘high’ or ‘low’ anyway?

As far as I can gather, low libido is not a medical illness. It may occasionally be linked to another illness, but in itself it’s not physically harmful. Arguably, high libido is more of a problem because it could be linked to sexual harassment, viewing hard-core porn and distraction from work or studies. So where are the medicines for lowering sex drive? Or the articles about how to calm those raging hormones?

I can’t help thinking that this whole issue is mainly being viewed from a stereotypically male perspective which suggests that men are entitled to a certain amount of sex and, if they’re not getting it, there’s a problem with their partner. It’s an easy position to get into. When I was the one in the relationship with the higher sex drive, I have to admit I did sometimes feel like my partner had a problem and that it would be quite nice if some harmless food or medicine would give him a bit more drive.

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Relationships are about much more than sex, and sex drives change, unpredictably, over time. (Lovely photo of a couple looking on a hill with a mountain view by Anelise Phillips, taken from Unsplash).

According to sex therapist Graeme Orr, in most couples the sex drive is not equal in both partners [1].Having been both the more sexual and the less sexual partner in a relationship, I’m wary of saying that if you’re not perfectly matched, you shouldn’t be together. And I definitely don’t think that low libido is necessarily a problem: personally I find it quite frustrating having a high sex drive – it often comes with aggressive feelings, tension and stress – whereas with a lower sex drive I can concentrate much better and feel chilled out.

Surely the real issues are: Is your sex drive causing you a problem? And if so, why? Is there a discrepancy in your relationship and, if so, how can you both deal with it in a loving way, from a neutral perspective? Maybe there are ways the more sexual partner can get some release without upsetting the less sexual partner. Maybe there are some simple changes that would make sex more appealing to the less keen one? Or harmless ways to decrease one person’s appetite, as well as potentially harmless ways to increase that of the other?

Male and female sex drive is prone to change throughout our lives, not just in line with hormonal changes but also during periods of stress or depression. I can’t help feeling that the answer for any couple which isn’t perfectly ‘libido matched’ must be to approach the issue in that way, rather than there being the sense that the low libido partner has ‘a problem’.

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There are benefits to a low sex drive, such as feeling more relaxed. (Great photo of a girl by a lake by Maxime Lelievre, from Unplash.)

And if you’re single with a low sex drive, so what? Plenty of ways to enjoy that.

I’d LOVE to know your views and experiences! Unless you’re a sexist pig – in which case, not so much.

Related links:

http://www.xojane.com/issues/womens-low-sex-drive-is-not-a-problem (love this one!)

http://www.yourtango.com/experts/debra-smouse/mans-low-sex-drive-isnt-always-sign-relationship-trouble

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/5174737/posts/15393 A poem on low libido! Love this.

http://www.sexscience.org/PDFs/Gender%20Differences%20and%20Similarities%20in%20Sexuality%20Final.pdf This seems like a good summary of research on sex drive differences between men and women (there is a lot of nonsense out there, so finding something on this topic that looks well-researched isn’t always easy!)

References:

[1] http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/can-a-realtionship-cope-with-a-difference-in-libido. See also: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/sex-intimacy/info-06-2012/steps-to-resolve-sexual-desire-differences.html