Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just Friends

I was driving on my way to work the other day and heard a song on the radio in which the singer plaintively says, "and you say that we're just friends" as if this is something terrible. Well, it could be terrible, as sometimes the phrase, "I just want us to be friends" means "I don't want to have anything to do with you beyond our being nodding acquaintances" and it can be said after a long and intense relationship. But, I think our culture is impoverished by this diminishment of friendship and the exaggerated reliance on the romantic relationship of marriage or the romantic (but non-sexual) alternatives to marriage.

This brought to mind my great-grandfather Mac. This was my great-grandmother Ruby's second husband, and my grandmother Nel's stepfather. I remember in the late 1970s Great-Grandpa Mac telling me about friends he had made in France when he was stationed there during the First World War. There were some families and some young men or boys who had been exceptionally friendly and affectionate to Mac over in France, and he enjoyed telling stories about how much they loved him and how much he loved them, and the things they did to endear and cherish each other. One of these little boys grew up to fly in the French air force, and I can remember Great-Grandpa Mac sobbing and crying when he recounted how this friend of his perished when his aircraft carrier was sunk and his plane ditched at sea during the Second World War. So, this was a friendship that he enjoyed recounting sixty to fifty-five years after it bloomed, and this was a death of a friend that had occurred 35-40 years ago and it still made him cry to remember and retell it.

I was recently at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in San Antonio, where I met (as I do every year) old friends from my time as a graduate student, or from my time as a professor at the University of Illinois. It is always so nice to be among friends and learn what discoveries they are making. It's also a pleasure to work with friends, and to think along with them, or write with them. I need to make more time in my life for that.