love. week ten.
city. new york city
Some thoughts on Love:
I’ve been undergoing this process of transitioning from appreciating my friends for the ways in which we’re similar, to appreciating them for who they are in themselves. That is, the things that they do/believe/perform that are far from my own ways, are no longer detriments to our friendships, but can also be included in the friendship. I don’t love them simply because they are like me; I love them for being their unique selves, different than me.
I’ve found that this not only deepens our friendship and makes it more stable, it actually makes each friendship irreplaceable. As long as I liked the things about my friends that made them similar to me, I could always replace that friend with another friend that also bears some similarities. Actually, every one of my friends holds some similarities to myself, and therefore could be interchangeable in that way. However, once each of my friendships is no longer centered around myself, but is instead centered around the other person (or around the 'us'), how could I possibly replace a single one of them? There is only one Usher in the world. There is only one Shlomo in the world. There is only one Paula in the world.
And so, I started to mull over this idea that I can look at the relationships in my life and consider whether we’ve connected over our sameness (to each other) or because of our difference (from one another).
And, furthermore, it seems to me that this can be a healthy and natural way of deepening my friendships/relationships. If at first I am drawn to another person because of our similarities, I can, over time, learn to relinquish my hold on those similarities and begin to see the other person as they actually are, as another individual person. I can stop loving myself as it appears in others, and begin to love others as themselves.
The question though is whether this can ever work in reverse. Can I ever begin a friendship by relating to the other person’s otherness, and then work backwards to find some common ground? On first glance, it seems that this could only be unhealthy. I would only be drawn to the otherness of the other, if I thought that I myself was lacking something. For example, if I wish that I had money or happiness, and some other person does in fact have those things, I can be drawn to them, but only in order to fill some perceived lack that I myself have. I think this is very common. Instead of filling the lack myself, I turn to another person to fill that lack for me. This has two negative consequences: a) I am viewing myself in a negative way and b) I am trying to use the other person as a means to satisfy my own lack. Clearly, this is hardly a real friendship.
It is possible, though, that some relationships that began out of lack, may be able to find some common sameness that does exist between the two people (perhaps an appreciation for the arts or a shared sense of humor), and then re-establish their friendship on those grounds. But this seems far more difficult than simply beginning from there in the first place, and there’s an added (unnecessary) step to the entire process.
So, let’s try again, but instead of looking at a relationship that begins with lack, let’s try to imagine a relationship (of otherness) that begins from appreciation. I can appreciate a work of art, not because it fills some need that I have, but just for the thing that it is. And perhaps this appreciation can even arouse loving feelings on my behalf for that work of art. Can this also be done between people? Perhaps I can meet another person and simply admire or appreciate the person that they are, irregardless of my own needs, desires, hopes, wishes, goals, etc.
That seems reasonable. I can even think of some people that I admire for who they are (Elon Musk, Kanye West, the Dalai Lama), even though I do not wish to be like them or have any lack that I’d like them to fill.
The problem though is that there doesn’t seem to be any connection between having that kind of appreciation for someone and establishing a friendship. I do not want to be friends with Kanye. I don’t think either of us would enjoy it. I’d much rather admire him from a distance. There’s nothing to be gained from a friendship with Kanye, just as there’s nothing to be gained from a friendship with a work of art.
This is actually the crux of one of my romantic issues. I often date women that I would love to be friends with. I’d love to spend time with them, get to know them, and contribute to each others’ lives. But I don’t want to date them. I mean, I don’t want to go from “You and Me” to “Us.” I don’t see the necessity. And similarly, I don’t see the necessity of moving from admiration of an other to becoming friends with an other (strictly as another. Remember, we are not considering the things that we share in common, at this point, only the things that divide us).
The problem can be phrased like this. It’s only ‘natural’ to be drawn to sameness. When I meet someone who enjoys the things I enjoy, I’d prefer to enjoy them together. But when I meet someone that is different, sure, I can focus on that difference, bring it into perspective, maybe even understand it, and finally come to admire and appreciate it for the wonder and glory that it is, but how can that difference add anything to my life? The fact of the matter is that everything in the entire world (other than myself) is different than me! And therefore equally deserving of my respect and appreciation. Choosing one different person over another would be purely arbitrary.
The moment you locate something in that difference that can serve as the grounds for a friendship, you’ve done one of two things: you’ve either found a sliver of sameness within the difference, or you’ve found a lack within yourself that can be plugged by the other’s difference. In either case, you haven’t established a friendship built on otherness. You either have a friend (in the former instance), or you have a stranger (in the latter).
Since this is all rather abstract and confusing, here’s a summary of what’s what:
1. I can become friends with someone because they’re similar to me. I can then either hold onto our similarity (and that’s okay), or I can develop our friendship further to include even those aspects of ourselves in which we are different. I think that’s the best option.
2. But can I become friends with someone in the first place because we are different, without ever having established our similarities? Well, why would a friendship based on difference arise in the first place. One of two options. Either because the other person has something that I want (in which case that’s a pretty shitty friendship) or because I simply appreciate the person for who they are (even though they're completely different than me). But if I am simply appreciating someone, why would I want to be their friend? What do I (or they for that matter) have to gain? I do not want what they have, and we have nothing to share.
3. Therefore, it seems that friendship must first base itself on similarities, and only then move to include differences.
Just kidding. There is one other option. Imagine two puzzle pieces. Each stands alone in its completeness. Neither lacks nor desires anything that it does not already have. But now imagine that the two puzzle pieces meet for the first time. Much to their amazement, it slowly dawns on them that the places where one sticks out, the other has a crevice, and where one is bulging, the other is indented. They see that each piece is entirely different than the other. In fact, one has absolutely nothing to give to the other. However, they also realize that if they sit just so, intertwining themselves just right, they can become something larger, maybe even something better.
If I meet someone who is stable in all of the ways that I’m spontaneous. I do not want her to give me her stability, and I do not want to give her my spontaneity. But maybe, just maybe, if I bring my spontaneity and she brings her stability, and we create a new relationship that can hold both of those things simultaneously, perhaps that could lead to a wonderful friendship. A friendship which is based on the other’s otherness, one which does not simply satisfy a lack, and one that can then filter back into discovering the hidden sameness that we do in fact share, beyond our obvious otherness.