On friendship and community

I’m currently reading bell hooks’ All About Love, which explores emotional connection in various forms – self-love, spirituality, friendship, familial love and romantic love. So far, I particularly like this sentence:

‘Loving friendships provide us with a space to experience the joy of community in a relationship where we learn to process all our issues, to cope with differences and conflict while staying connected.’

My closest friendships are ones that move seamlessly between silliness and soulfulness – from dancing in the kitchen to talking deeply about life. As well as fun, these friendships involve active listening and calling each other out on questionable choices. Friends have helped me to recognise and rectify instances when I have jumped to conclusions, given unsolicited advice, been overly self-critical or grown distant because of a romantic relationship. My self-awareness has developed partly out of being challenged by these people who know and love me.

This self-understanding has also grown through such relationships within wider communities. As a child and teenager, my community was built through school, choir, dance classes, youth theatre, church and extended family. I then found it through my university housemates, coursemates and Student Hubs. Now, having completed the Worthwhile graduate scheme, I continue to be motivated by a network of people who are channeling their energy into positive change. I’m lucky to count my colleagues (plus ex-colleagues and other alumni) as friends and I feel invested in their wellbeing and development.

I’m grateful for the friendships established during my earlier years, too. The old friends I remain close to act as a reference point for my younger self – the nerdy, slightly shy and enthusiastic girl. It’s lovely to see these people grow into themselves, even if we no longer meet often. As for friendships that have been mutually let go or now primarily exist online, I hope that the people involved know that I still care about them and wish them all the best, whatever they’re up to. (Hello, if you’re reading this and we haven’t seen each other for a while!)

Although it’s natural for some friendships to fade, the growing role of the internet in our lives has made it easier to stay in touch and form new connections. I enjoy interacting online with like-minded people and I’ve met friends through social media. I especially appreciate digital communities as a space for shared laughter and solidarity. I turned to Twitter after Brexit, feel boosted by body positive updates on Instagram and benefit from Facebook groups created by Coeliac UK and The Guilty Feminist Podcast team.

Moving home – and missing people I’ve been surrounded with for the past few years – has reminded me how fulfilling and important friendship is. As bell hooks writes, ‘[c]ommunities sustain life – not nuclear families, or the “couple”, and certainly not the rugged individualist’. We learn about ourselves in relation to others – by sharing stories, providing support and celebrating together. Whether online or offline, in the same town or another country, “your people” are always worth seeking out.

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