Learning How to Love Through Friendships

I enjoy being single.

If you try saying this to a group of strangers, you might be met with a quizzical glance or expressions of disbelief. This is how most people have responded to me when I've said it, anyway.

I hardly ever date. In my teenage years, some of my friends used to try to set me up on dates. This rarely happens anymore because most of my friends know that I won’t reciprocate the interest.

“Alice will be interrogating people about their political views before she gives them her phone number,” my one friend joked.

It’s true that I often come off strong. I hate small talk and, unless I am certain I’m into someone, I don’t see the point in feigning interest.

Many of my peers have described me as picky when it comes to choosing potential partners. One problematic comment from a potential love interest is often all it takes for me to lose this interest. When I envision a future partner⁠ , I picture someone who is intelligent, empathetic, cares about social justice⁠ , and who I am attracted to. If that’s too picky, then so be it.  A good number of people have told me it means I am doomed to spend my life alone.

“Yes, maybe,” I tell them.

For a long time, I thought that my inability to sustain interest in potential partners meant that there was something seriously wrong with me, and that if I didn’t sort this out⁠ and find someone soon, I was destined to live a lonely and single life.

But then I realized that being single doesn’t necessarily mean I will be unloved or lonely.

The rare times I get lonely now are moments when I feel like I ought to be feeling lonely. If I’m with a group of people who are coupled up and I suddenly realize I’m the odd one out, that can be difficult. But these moments are unexpectedly infrequent and usually pass by fairly quickly.

You don’t need to find a partner to find unconditional love.

Part of why it’s taken me so long to accept the idea of being single is because society and the media have ingrained in us the idea that women need partners in order to find happiness. For example, many of us are more likely to describe an older, single man as an ‘eligible bachelor’ while the word ‘spinster’ holds negative connotations. Most pop culture also fails to represent the idea that someone can be simultaneously single and happy. Almost all media portrayals of a single person are that they are either seeking love, suffering from heartbreak, or in a state of despair over their singleness.

Even when a long-established character is canonically happy being single, Hollywood might force them into a relationship⁠ . In the original Archie Comics, on which the television series Riverdale is based, Jughead Jones is asexual⁠ and has little to no interest in dating. Yet in the series, he fairly quickly begins an intimate relationship with the character Betty Cooper.

In All About Love, bell hooks writes that most of us believe we’ll find love first in our families and eventually through committed romantic⁠ couplings. She explains that many of us are taught as children that friendship should never be seen as important as family ties — yet it is through friendship that many of us discover redemptive love and caring communities and make our families.

For as long as I can remember, I have worked on cultivating strong and meaningful friendships. It’s through these friendships that I have discovered what I hope to get out of romantic relationships. My friendships teach me the importance of trust, communication⁠ , and commitment. I know that if I have an emergency, physically or emotionally, I can call up a good friend for immediate assistance or comfort and advice.

It’s through my friendships that I've learned how to extend love and, as clichéd as it sounds, how to love myself.

Seeing the way that some of my friends spoke so openly about what others might perceive as being their flaws or weaknesses has encouraged me to open up about many of my own insecurities. If I didn’t have friends who carefully listened and validated me when I spoke about my father’s chronic illness or my feelings of self-doubt, I’d be a very different person than who I am today.

Thanks to my friends, I know how to be honest and vulnerable with myself and with people I trust. I also know that in moments of crisis or difficulty, I have a strong support system. I’d like to think that my friends, too, know that I’ll provide them with the same support and care that they offer me.

In All About Love, hooks also mentions that many people accept things in their romantic partners that they wouldn’t necessarily accept in friendships. Part of this is because of the perceived idea that we all need romantic companions and that if we apply the same standards to relationships as we do to friendships, we’ll end up alone.

When I look at my friends who are in unhealthy relationships, it concerns me how much of their own happiness they are sacrificing for their relationships. I have seen friends regress from being happy, self-assured, and confident to having intense feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and depression. This change, based on what I have observed and what these friends have told me, can largely be attributed to the way their partners have treated them. Something similar happened to me the first time I fell in love a few years ago. While the relationship wasn’t exactly healthy, I was willing to sacrifice my time, my academics and, if necessary, my own happiness for them. I accepted certain treatments that I definitely wouldn’t have been okay with when it comes to my friendships. Despite the heartbreak of the relationship ending, I’m grateful it didn’t continue for a prolonged period⁠ of time.

Just because I had a negative romantic experience doesn’t mean I am shut off to future relationships. I am simply a lot more sure of what I want as well as how I want to be treated. Right now, I feel both loved and incredibly certain of who I am. Because of this, I refuse to have anything but high standards when it comes to dating.

Most of us want to be loved and cared for. I am lucky to have enriching friendships where I receive this. I’d be thrilled to meet a potential partner who meets all of my standards and with whom I am able to form a loving and trusting friendship—but if I don’t, I know I can lead a life that is equally fulfilling.

Similar articles and advice

  • Siân Jones

Hi Susan,

It sounds like you have two separate things going on here. We can break it down into smaller pieces and talk about them individually.

1. Your friend likes you, but you don't like him like that.

The most immediate thing is that your best friend has expressed a romantic interest in you, which…