Stocker: Embrace friendships, close companionship


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

It was late Winter Quarter last year when I first truly realized the extent of our generation’s fear of love. A friend and I were discussing a mutual friend’s recent relationship when he mentioned that the couple in question had exchanged “the L-word” after only a little more than a month of dating. I was puzzled. “What in the hell was ‘the L-word?’” I asked. Much to my dismay, I learned that “the L-word” referred to love. Love, it seemed, was another four-letter word to some of my friends, an embarrassing admission of emotional dependence or vulnerability, a sign of weakness or a humiliating acceptance of past generations’ ideas about companionship.

As Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, I think it is important for us all to really reflect upon our generation’s seeming fear of love. A week never fails to pass without me overhearing someone talking about “catching feelings” or “catching the feels” for a hook-up, or bemoaning that they have developed a crush on a friend. I know very few people in long-term committed relationships, and there seems to be a hesitancy among many students to define relationships, eschewing labels like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” in favor of more fluid, open, less emotionally constraining semi-attachments. Many more students bemoan their failure to find a significant other, wailing on and on about their perpetual singleness.

There exists among our generation extreme anxiety toward love, a combination of fear and deep desire, of revulsion and fascination. Societal expectations and ever-changing cultural trends redefine what constitutes a “normal” or “cool” relationship, much to the agony of our generation. Are hook-ups the new normal? Is polyamory in? What do my parents expect of me? When is the right time to lose my virginity? The questions swirl endlessly, ultimately preventing us from finding happiness.

There is also so much more than romantic love. The Ancient Greeks had several words for love, only one of which, eros, refers to the passionate love we think of as romantic love today. Philia, commonly misunderstood to mean brotherly love, actually refers to a sense of fondness and appreciation for others, especially one’s friends.

In my experience, nothing brings greater happiness than strong friendships. Having friends with whom I can spend time with one-on-one and discuss our interests, our ambitions or anything going on in our lives or the world around us has always been critical for my happiness, self-esteem and even my health. Many of my closest friends profess similar feelings and experiences. Psychological research corroborates the importance of friendships; strong connections are essential for continued mental and physical health, not to mention happiness, throughout life.

There are therefore two things all of us here at NU can do to make our lives a little happier. First, accept and embrace your feelings. If you are romantically interested in someone, ask him or her out. If it does not work out, move on. Getting past the anxiety and frustration associated with unrequited desire for another person is far more valuable in the long run than the potential discomfort of rejection.

Second, appreciate friendship. Ten years from now it likely will not matter who you dated your sophomore year at NU; strong friendships developed now, however, can last a lifetime. Developing real, meaningful friendships during the college years can set us up for long-term happiness, health and stability in life. And, as we leave college and head into the adult world, it is often through our friends that we meet our next significant others. Friendship is so often undervalued; make it a priority, and you may find your life much more fulfilling.

Embrace love. At a school as stressful and competitive as NU, the importance of strong social bonds is nearly incommunicable. Love your friends, and be honest with yourself about how you feel about your relationships. We have enough things to be worried about, let’s not make love another.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.