With the definition of marriage changing (evolving?) from a permanent union between a man and woman open to having children to two people who love one another very much, it was only a matter of time before writers for The New York Times would want to equate friendships with marriage. If children and sex are removed from the equation, then a platonic “best-friend marriage” becomes possible.
As Glen Stanton argues, when society goes off of the logic of “love is love” (a tautology which basically means that all loves are equal), what follows is “marriage is marriage” (where all marriages between anyone are equal). Marriage is redefined into oblivion, something traditional marriage advocates warned about when same-sex marriage became legal. Even defining marriage as “two people who love one another” seems too narrow. Rather, it seems fairer to say marriage is just “people (usually two people, but not always) who are together for the sake of being together.”ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
Whatever angle one takes, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose in all this. Why would a person want to bother with marrying their friend while presumably keeping themselves open to marrying someone else? What need is there to keep a friend tied down by a marital contract? And why should the government be involved or offer its blessing when it’s completely unnecessary?
One word: loneliness. This is a problem of the modern world, where everyone is glued to their screens and experiences so much of life virtually. Many adults now live on their own, and it depresses them. (A good movie that captures this problem surprisingly and hilariously well is Lego Batman.) Even the little contact they had before has been limited or eliminated because of COVID-19 lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing restrictions.
The “best-friend marriage” seems to solve this with guaranteed company. It provides much-needed affirmation and support for lonely adults. They don’t have to worry about coming home to an empty place. Their best friend/spouse will be there to welcome them. Moreover, they can avoid the pressures and entanglements of a conventional marriage that entails certain obligations, responsibilities, and domestic roles.
As ideal as this setup seems, the “best-friend marriage” will not solve the loneliness crisis. If anything, it will only make it worse. Just as same-sex marriage redefined marriage, “best-friend marriage” redefines friendship. Whereas friendship used to mean two people who sought the good for one another, as Aristotle declared in Nicomachean Ethics, friendship will now mean two people who seek one another to feel good.
Friendship is seen as a commodity, a convenient source of affirmation and support. If someone doesn’t provide these things in the right amounts, or if they require too much in return, or the convenience isn’t there, then the friendship doesn’t happen and people keep to themselves.
However, it doesn’t stop there. The majority of people today will retreat to social media to compensate. In fact, this is likely where the idea of seeing friendship as an emotional commodity originates. Whether it’s TikTok today or Friendster yesterday, all these social media platforms have conditioned users to enjoy the benefits of friendship without putting in any kind of investment of time or energy—they make friends without having to be friendly.
This leads to an awkward trend where so many people feel entitled to friendship and yet deny friendship’s essential nature of mutual self-giving. Not surprisingly, most people never get too far with this mindset. Most of the time, their selfish demeanor will turn people away, yet they’ll usually conclude that everyone around them is simply a jerk—which is true, except they rarely include themselves in this group. A diminishing number of people have the patience, curiosity, or compassion to truly listen, confide, and take responsibility for developing a friendship that lasts.
Altogether, the redefinition of friendship forms a vicious cycle. Loneliness pushes people to seek friendship online. Online socializing makes people less sociable and more confused about true friendship. This effect makes people ever less able to find friends in the real world, making them lonely again, so they return to social media.
More often than not, genuine friendships are accidental. They happen because the two people never even bothered to be deliberate about it. The friendship arose while they were living their lives—going to school, praying at church, doing their job—and not necessarily looking for another person to make them happy. They were already affirmed and supported and could give themselves out of a kind of abundance.
As one might imagine, a quality friendship is rare. And, in today’s world, they are strange. They’re close and involve personal investment, but they’re not sexual or transactional. Despite having a plethora of sexual orientations and genders to choose from, the only thing modern people can think of when describing a close friendship is marriage.
But this is not a marriage, nor is it even a friendship. Friendship isn’t exclusive like marriage, nor is it celebrated with an official ceremony. Friends don’t marry each other; they help one another find good spouses to marry and be happy with. They help each other on their own respective path; they don’t pull them back because they’re scared of being alone. Most of all, friendship brings clarity and serves as a reality check; equating friendship to marriage and living like a married couple encourages fanciful thinking and delusion.
In other words, if my best friend asked me to marry him, I would think he’s crazy and not want to be his friend anymore. This is what honest platonic love looks like.
C.S. Lewis notes in The Four Loves that friendships don’t hold the same significance in modern times as they did in the ancient world. In his opinion, “few value [friendship] because few experience it.” This is true. The loss of friendship has induced an unconscious desire for it, but few people know how to satisfy that desire.
The first step would be to reject what the world today calls friendship. It is not a marriage or a replacement for one. Again, Lewis explains the difference: “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in one another; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” This suggests that the best-friend marriage takes the worst of erotic and platonic love, destroying the meaning and reality of both.
Therefore, it would be best to go the opposite direction and keep loves distinct and to stop making all relationships about oneself. Every relationship has its own rules and starts with the other person. Once this is understood, loneliness can be conquered and marriage can make sense again.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher and department chair in north Texas. He has a BA in Arts and Humanities from University of Texas at Dallas and an MA in Humanities from the University of Dallas.