When the chips are down, who’s really there for you?
It’s a question Kylie and I were discussing, and the answer should have been obvious. After all, Kylie is the friend who nursed me for two whole weeks in Buenos Aires, following my accident. (Read the last post for that story.)
And for many of you reading this perhaps the answer is obvious.
Well duh, my parents. Of course most of you are young enough that your parents could look after you, and live in the same country. But what about my mum, whose father passed away many years ago, and whose mother is very elderly and lives in Malaysia? It’s an eventual, possible scenario for me too, as I make my plans to live overseas.
OK it’s still duh, what about her husband? Well, my parents are divorced, and I think my mum would rather ask help from the postman than my dad and his new wife. And let’s face it, if my track record is anything to go by, marriage is not a sure thing in my life.
Well JESUS, you say, what about you, her child. OK so in this instance I am the one who would look after her. But lucky I’m old enough to look after her, and that she had kids at all. As I said previously, marriage and kids is no sure thing in my life.
And if you don’t have a husband, and you don’t have kids (the new family), and you’re living in a different country to your parents and siblings (the old family) can you rely on your friends in the city you are living in? Would they get out of bed at 4 in the morning to take you to the emergency hospital? Would they invite you to their home and nurse you for 3 months if your foot was busted?
It’s a question that is pertinent to Kylie who is single and living in a different country to her family and a question this wonderful blogger put to her audience.
At the heart and soul of the question is exposing the depth of your friendships. Is it unconditional love, made up of mutual support and responsibility? Or is it more a case of fun, accompaniment … convenience?
I thanked Kylie profusely for her help those two weeks, but she shrugged it off with typical humility, “you would do the same for me.” Which is true (although like I said to her, that doesn’t take away from what an amazing thing she’s done for me.) But months later as I was talking about the topic with her, I wondered if it was easier for us to find friends “who would” now while we were young and almost all of them aren’t married or with kids. What happens in 10 years time when most of our good friends will be married and have young kids to look after?
I like to believe that I will always take Kylie in, no matter what my familial status is. That what I have is hers. And I have a few friends with whom I have that kind of relationship. But truth is, I don’t really know. In fact I won’t really know until the chips actually go down, and you see which friends pull through for you. And that’s where the crucial difference lies.
With family, and your partner, you know. With friends, you must ask.
As you might have noticed before I grouped husband/kids as “new family” and parents/siblings as “old family.” As the perpetually single person in my group of friends, I have learned not to resent my friends when I see them less because they’ve started dating someone. The best way to see it is that new guy in their life represents the possibility of the “new family”. And he is going, or possibly going to give her something I can never: the promise of concrete, unconditional love.
Don’t get me wrong, some of my friendships are extraordinarily close. But with your best friend, if you find out she wants to move to, let’s say, Rawanda. Do you automatically begin having that conversation if you should move too? The answer is “no”, but the answer for a boyfriend/ girlfriend is “yes”.
Pilgrim Soul has a unique proposition to this modern day dilemma:
I am calling for a destabilization of the rules that surround who we can and should be able to rely on in this culture. That, like it or not, does involve removing the family from its current position at either the top of the pyramid or the center of the Venn diagram (take your pick of visual metaphors) of your treasured personal relationships. And I think the best way for us to encourage this is to advocate the changing of the law to allow people to choose anyone, regardless of affiliation to themselves, to enter into a legally recognized relationship of mutual support.
It’s a nice idea, marrying a best friend. (And as the comments in that post show, does exist in some places, including, apparently Tasmania.) But for me, I can’t help but think that for a lot of people, even if you were to enter one of these platonic marriages, the number one spot will always be reserved for that special someone. And if that special someone comes along, can that first marriage really be maintained, at its original intensity?
For me this whole issue is connected to a social construct I’ve always had a problem with: the nuclear family. Let’s face it, it doesn’t work. How do I know that? Look at the insanely high divorce rate. Look at my family. It’s ridiculous to expect one mum, and one dad, to carry all that pressure of earning all the dough, and keeping all the members happy.
Sometimes I wish we could go back to the days of old. Like back when we use to live in tribes and the entire tribe would raise the next generation of children. Then it wouldn’t even really matter if you didn’t have kids, there would always be kids around for you to help raise.
Or if we can’t do that, to at least go back to Jane Austen style village life, where everyone took care of each other. The mornings were spent calling on each other’s homes, asking about each other’s business. When Mrs So-and-so was sick everybody would bring fresh eggs, or homemade cake. Everybody would visit the Whoevers when there was a new baby. I mean geez, I had been back for two months before a neighbour dropped by (and even then it was to tell us our tap was leaking.)
Yes, this is a question of community. If we still lived in tight communities this need to get married, and quickly breed your own support system, wouldn’t be so pertinent. If we implicitly knew the entire neighbourhood would be ready to shoulder the responsibility of care, we’d probably have a whole lot less angst about who would be there for us. (And no one would have to worry about “dying alone”.)
So … anyone want to start commune?