Many of us carry the inheritance of the Romantic movement which placed Eros (Romantic Love) above all over forms of love, whether Familial or Platonic. Alas, an unfortunate result of this is that whereas our Ancient ancestors saw Friendship as an equally divine and enriching love to Eros, we have come to regard it as a weak substitute for the organic, heady joy of Romantic love. Worse still, many have ceased to regard it as a love at all.
C.S. Lewis and The Four Loves
The famous Christian apologist and author C.S. Lewis wrote a short book, titled The Four Loves, in which he explores the nature of love. Lewis divides it into 4 categories: Affection or Familial love, Eros or Romantic love, Friendship or Platonic Love and lastly, Charity or Christian Love.
It is the third love that we will be focussing on is this piece. Lewis noted that Friendship had been lowered in our estimation, and believed it was a tragedy that we neglect this ancient and virtuous love:
“When either Affection or Eros is one’s theme, one finds a prepared audience. The importance and beauty of both have been stressed and almost exaggerated again and again… But very few modern people think Friendship is a love of comparable value or even a love at all. I cannot remember that any poem since In Memoriam, or any novel, has celebrated. Tristan and Isolde, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, have innumerable counterparts in modern literature: David and Jonathan, Pylades and Orestes, Roland and Oliver, Amis and Amile, have not.”
Lewis was an Oxford don, and knew the Classics inside out. As such, he was well aware that once upon a time, Friendship was seen as superior to Eros:
“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it”
In short, the Ancients believed that Eros was a biological and worldly love, whereas friendship– rationally founded– belonged to the soul. They believed friendship was a higher love, less dependent upon nature:
“But in friendship- in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen- you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels.”
The Romantic movement, however, downgraded Friendship, believing it to be an inferior substitute for the organic, passionate, animal love of Eros.
Lewis notes that this movement, alongside other factors, made many see sexual intent where there was none in literature; kisses, tears and embraces were retrospectively seen as evidence of repressed attraction between friends in ancient stories. Lewis, on the contrary, argues that we are the ones who are repressing the love of Friendship:
“On a broad historical view it is, of course, not the demonstrative gestures of Friendship among our ancestors but the absence of such gestures in our own society that calls for some special explanation. We, not they, are out of step.”
Today, if people see friendship as a love at all, it is seen as love lite. Lewis, on the contrary, shows that it is a love that has its own beauty and stands on its own two feet. Lewis notes, however, that many conflate mere companionship with Friendship; the former comes about when we interact with someone frequently and are affable with each-other, but Friendship, according to Lewis, is when companionship develops further; when a few unite among a group because of some deep, shared interest or perception of the world:
“The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one”.
Furthermore, Lewis argues that friendship possesses many qualities that set it apart from love, and in some respects, above it. Firstly, Friendship wants to share, whereas love is possessive; division does not minimise friendship, whereas it destroys love. Lewis notes that in a group of friends, every member adds something unique to the whole:
“If, of three friends (A,B, and C),” A should die, then B loses not only A but “A’s part in C, while C loses not only A but “A’s part in B”…By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity, I want other lights than my own to show me all his facets”.
Friendship, then, is the least jealous of all the loves; whereas romantic lovers seek privacy and gaze at each other, friends stand side by side and gaze at something- a shared interest- and are happy to invite like-minded souls to enjoin in their admiration of the mutual interest.
Furthermore, Lewis argues that just because Friendship and Eros can co-exist in Romantic love, it doesn’t mean there is no distinction. In fact, he uses there co-existence as evidence that Friendship is a separate and equal love:
“The co-existence of Friendship and Eros also help some moderns to realise that Friendship is in reality a love, and even as great a love as Eros. Suppose you are fortunate enough to have “fallen in love with” and married your Friend. And now suppose it possible that you were offered the choice of two futures: “Either you two will cease to be lovers but remain forever joint seekers of the same God, the same beauty, the same truth, or else, losing all that, you will retain as long as you live the raptures and ardours, all the wild desire of Eros.”
Lewis assumed we would all choose the former; whereas we dread the Friend Zone, Lewis, if given the ultimatum, would enter it.
Frances Ha (2012): A Tale Of Star Crossed Friends
Lewis mentioned that there was very little art praising friendship in his time, but there is one film, released in 2012, which is a friendship love story of sorts. What’s more, it’s a demonstration of how we neglect friendship in favour of love, and the sad results of this.
Frances Ha is a tale of star crossed friends who are separated by the entrance of romantic love; Francis and her best friend Sophie live together and dream together, planning to take the world over, hand-in-hand. Seemingly nothing can come between the bond that the girls share, that is, until Sophie falls in love and becomes interminably unavailable. It is a story that is all too familiar.
The film is a deft case-study of what Lewis argues: that friendship has been relegated to relationship foreplay- something to keep us busy until we get hitched, and afterwards, to help us get away from our partners when they grow irritating, but never something to rise to the same level as Eros.
Many share this attitude towards friendship, believing that we all need a few friends on the side, but nothing that could ever outshine the supernova of romantic love.
As Lewis notes, this need not be the case; true Friendship is not jealous, and can co-exist with love, but we must all remove romantic love from the pedestal which we have placed it on to do so. We can have friends who are soul mates, alongside a romantic partner who is a soulmate, and best of all, we can share the friendship of our romantic lovers with them. As Lewis says:
“Nothing so enriches an erotic love as the discovery that the Beloved can deeply, truly, and spontaneously enter into Friendship with the Friends you already had: to feel that not only are we two united by erotic love but we three or four or five are all travellers on the same quest.”
Romantic love doesn't have to eclipse a deep, long-lasting Friendship, but so long as we believe Friendship to be a weak imitation of Eros, the danger of that happening increases.
This is not an article saying that we must start conversing with our friends like lovestruck teenagers, only one that wishes to speak in defence of Friendship as a love that is equal to Eros, and which deserves to be praised in art and deed. Continuing, we would all do well to stress a little less about romantic love and give a little more reverence to friendship.
What’s more, this is also a call to abandon toxic masculinity and the cold distance males often feel obliged to keep in their Friendships; to abandon homophobic nonsense such as saying “No Homo” when we are intimate with our friends or express our affection in an embrace, a kiss or through tears.
We are impoverished by our neglect of Friendship as a love, and would all be slightly better off if we reinstated Friendship as a separate, though not inferiour, love to Eros.