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The Friendship Frisson

I like to call it a frisson in friendship, not even something important enough to merit beginning with capitals and being preceded with a ‘the’. It’s that elusive sense that you can’t quite catch. If it had tangible form, it would be the thing that you seem to catch from the corner of your eye but when you look for it, it isn’t there. It only turns up when you don’t expect it and the minute you begin to think about it, it turns into something else or vanishes altogether.

Say there’s this friend you have. For simplicity, let’s assume this friend is of the opposite sex (though I think the frisson happens with same-sex friendships too, sexual orientation notwithstanding). You’re comfortable with each other, if you think about it, which you probably don’t do much; that’s part of the comfort level. Then it sneaks up on you.

Like a faint whiff that came up on you as memory first (because the memory-center is very close to the olfactory sense center in the brain, so smells trigger off instant memories). You can’t quite smell it just yet, even if you really strain your nostrils. But it is there, unmistakeably. The next time you notice it even more, perhaps because the last time threw you off a bit.

“四種男與女的吻 Four kinds of kisses between men and ...

“四種男與女的吻 Four kinds of kisses between men and women” #BW #Life / SML.20130116.Montage.20091001.10D.55055.P1.L1.BW.SML.20091220.7D.01633.P1.L1.SQ.BW.SML.20100202.7D.02686.L1.C45.BW.SML.20091129.SD850IS.03537.P1.L1.SQ.BW (Photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML)

It’s not insignificant enough for you to ignore. It’s there, the slight tremble that runs through you when they – your friend, you have to remind yourself – say your name. Or the tingling warmth in your cheeks that you’re aware will turn into a blush if you don’t clamp down on it by saying something very intelligent – and all because they paid you a compliment.

It’s also not big enough to be able to tell what it is – sexual, romantic, both or neither. All you know is that it’s there. You see your friend in a new light. Then you start noticing them noticing you. Wondering if they feel those things too. Deducing perhaps that they don’t. But then, recalling a funny look in their eyes a few months ago. Then remembering that the two of you didn’t speak for about a month after that. But that was because they were out of town. Wasn’t it? You’re thinking about it. It’s that frisson that’s making you think all this.

I think the frisson happens in all male-female friendships at some point of time. Perhaps even all male-female relationships. It’s a sudden crystal-sharp awareness of the other person’s sex. Maybe it’s a natural balancing out. If you’re used to seeing each other in a ‘purely platonic’ manner, nature throws at least one such frisson your way where your brain thinks of nothing but the opposite, if only for a brief minute.

If you’ve been very close for a long time, it can be confusing. If one or both of you are in committed relationships to other people, it can be destabilizing too. I think it sometimes happens as a result of loneliness, horniness or one person going through a difficult time and the other one being there for them. Many of us tend to desperately attach onto the person that’s good to us, during tough times.

The frisson may not be harmless. It’s probably what causes cheating in relationships that are going through rough patches. But it is also probably where longtime friendships that turn into love, begin. Frissons aren’t always permanent or reciprocated at the same time. I think it at least adds a little spice and flavour to an already nice relationship – friendship. And like most other things to do with human emotion, they can be managed with cool heads and communication. Or perhaps not, a frisson is probably the one thing I wouldn’t want to discuss with a friend that I otherwise talk to about everything, precisely because conversation could make it bigger than it actually is.

Well, who knows? The frisson defies definition.

Inherited Relationships

Compartmentalization is the one thing that goes out of the window when you get into a relationship. I think that’s what most of us struggle the most with. We’ve spent most of our adolescent and adult lives learning to organize the world around us in a certain way. Then someone comes along with their own set of rules and structure. Merging these two is never going to be an easy prospect.

Relationships to me, are like the baby plants in my window garden. They need nurturing, a lot of daily incremental effort. At some point of time, they can be left to their own devices but really, that takes a long, long time to come. Also you can’t grow a plant overnight by pouring twenty buckets of water on it and then forgetting about it for the next month or so. Every drop must be measured, every word pondered.

In a single state, every new person is like a seed and it is up to each of us to decide how and where we’re going to fit that person into the structure of our lives. But when you’re in a relationship, all of a sudden, you’re handed down a legacy of people. Friends, classmates, family, ex-es, colleagues, all kinds of people. You don’t have a personal history with them but you’re given an encapsulated bulletin of their background, which is really only a recap of your partner’s history with them. You don’t often have a choice of where to fit them into your lives. In some cases, you may not even have a place in your life for such a person.

For example, I’m an only child. I’m completely unfamiliar with the concept of siblinghood, having only seen it from the outside as it were. The finer nuances of brother-sister, twins, older-younger, same-sex-siblings etc are things I strain to discern from what I see of my friends. I’m completely unsure about how to behave with the siblings of my partner. The casualness of friendship may not be taken for granted with them but the strictures of family must be in place. It’s not as formal as a parental relationship, not as markedly opposed as an ex- and not as casual as a friendship. Respect, trust and liking all need to be established, proven and earned. And there’s no roadmap for this.

Then there is the manifold nature of friendships. Same-sex friendships are close in a way the opposite sex can never quite fathom. The relationship is inherited to some extent (I pity the person who doesn’t get along with the best friend of their partner). On the other hand, it isn’t a same sex friendship any more which brings in a new level of uncertainty. Should one treat the best friend of the beloved on par with one’s friends of the opposite sex? But the joking flirtatious tone needs to be dropped as it seems inappropriate with friend-of-beloved. Can one trust them as much, considering their loyalties necessarily must be to your partner first and foremost?

Opposite sex friendships take on an entirely different sense of diabolical. Should I like her simply because he likes her too? In fact, is that possible? Can he ever like my buddy knowing that the man was around for me at a time when we didn’t know each other? Even after you get past the jealousy bit, how do you recreate the friendship when clearly you are not the same person as your other half? Opposite sex friendships are very different from same sex friendships. I’m going to shoot down the theory that two women cannot be friends, on the premise that I have a number of close women friends. But can two women who care for the same man (albeit in different ways) form a friendship? Extend that question to two men who care about the same woman too. It should be possible, in theory. And yet, do we really see it happening?

As if being in a relationship isn’t complicated enough, dealing with the inheritance of people just makes life a helluva lot more complex.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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