Shall We Begin?
I recently traveled to Belgium, where I grew up, to give my first live lectures in two years, in Antwerp and then in Amsterdam. I engaged in my typical preparation ritual: calling my closest friends in each place and having them spread the word to our little groups. This includes four girlfriends whom I’ve known since age six. As soon as we began to plan the various gatherings, I found myself in a kind of platonic foreplay. “I’ll get us tickets to the theater,” said one. “I've already bought the pralines you like,” said another. We discussed sleeping arrangements, shopping, museums, cafés, and those who’d come for the night from Paris. I felt that familiar anticipatory joy take hold of me. In my bedroom in New York, the words of my friends transported me into their arms and their kitchens long before I arrived.
Since I couldn’t see everyone separately, I gathered them all around the table and I asked that they each tell us something about their experiences of the last two years. Fourteen people had different accounts, which they themselves had not yet articulated. There had been deaths, divorces, isolation, and cautious reconnection. Some of our children had gotten married; others had broken up. Part of witnessing each others’ lives is witnessing the lives of each others’ children. I see friendship as a relational network of generations.
While some of my friendships are tight knots, others are loose threads. I think of the parents of my childrens’ friends in New York with whom I had once been so close. My boys grew up in their homes and their children grew up in mine. In many cases, I know very little about them now, but at the time, our friendship was an instrumental part of raising our young families. These circumstantial friendships are important, too. Sometimes they come back in new contexts. More often, we can just be grateful they happened, or—depending on the situation—relieved to move on.
Friendship is a love story. Different from romantic or filial love, it’s its own unique love story. Making friends is the first free choice relationship we have as kids. Our friends provide community and continuity in an ever-changing world. Our lifelong friends are our witnesses. They accompany us through the trials and tribulations of lovers that come and go, job changes, family rifts, births, deaths, and recoveries. And we are a witness for them, commiserating or celebrating together over morning coffee or late-night phone calls.
The first episode of season five of my podcast, Where Should We Begin?, is all about friendship. Two lifelong friends in their twenties have come to my office because they worry that the intense, shared experiences that once formed the foundation of their friendship have faded. More importantly, they each believe the other one doesn’t need them anymore. I love this episode because it illustrates one of my favorite aspects of the show: people come in with one story about their relationship and end up leaving with another. I won’t tell you what happens, but if you’d like to listen, it premieres this week. Click follow here and you’ll be notified when it comes out. Consider listening with a friend. I know I will.
Let’s Turn the Lens on You
Let’s take a friendship pulse check.
- To whom do you owe a phone call?
- Do you have a friendship that would benefit from clearer boundaries?
- Have you ever broken up with a friend? Why?
- Has a friend ever broken up with you? Why?
- To whom might you owe an apology?
- What does friendship feel like when it’s great?
- With whom would you like to spend a whole day?
More From Esther
Esther Calling: “Losing My Best Friend” / a new short series from "Where Should We Begin?"
As a way of being able to connect with more of you, Esther is trying a couple of new things. Esther Calling is one of them. You write in with a relationship concern and Esther calls you to talk through it. In the second episode, we meet a woman who feels she is losing her best friend to a bad marriage. Esther talks her through a new way to see their relationship and where to go from here.
“Connection” / a newsletter
A throwback to our first newsletter. Read all about Esther’s models for connection and friendship.
The Great Adaptation / A multidisciplinary training event
Social connection is essential for therapists and clients alike. Sessions Live 2021 is a virtual event hosted by Esther Perel for mental health professionals to come together to counteract the isolation and burnout that has intensified this year. Across three Saturday sessions, we will explore how to support and resource each other in a period of overlapping large scale crises.
A compendium of highly recommended sources of inspiration and information
On My To Read List: