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Sexual Love Distinguished from Friendship

( Originally Published 1957 )



A reader of current literature on sexual love will find much discussion of the relationship between love and friendship, with special attention to such matters as whether friendship alone is possible between the sexes, and how one can "tell" when friendly feeling becomes love.

The impulse toward friendship itself is the basic "need-forcompanionship," which is rooted in our utter dependency as infants, according to Suttie's accounts. This need lessens as we grow up and become more resourceful, but it does not disappear. It persists, and the larger environment of "people" now takes the place of the mother. This "fellowship-love" is quite independent of sex, in contrast with Freud's doctrine of aim-inhibited libido. Suttie now says that while love may, of course, enter into a friendship, friendship differs from love so far as its motive is a joint interest in "things" rather than interest in the persons concerned. If, for example, two people find a mutual interest in photography, their joint activities, including their seeking of each other, prompted by this interest, and the intensified enjoyment of the interest that results, make a "friendship." It means, then, "the direction of attention upon the same things (rather than upon each other) . . ." So far as such a common interest is independent of the personalities of the people concerned we might say that they have an "impersonal" interest in each other.

No reason appears for doubting that common interests are a motive in friendship, but the need for limiting such interests to nonpersonal matters is not clear, and does violence to common usage of the term. May not people with joint interests also be attracted to each other's personal qualities within the meaning of a friendly relationship? The entire field of "socially valued and desirable" behavior characteristics seems admissible here. We like, we feel friendly toward and seek, people who are amiable, kindly, cheerful, honest, and so on. We may find ourselves attracted toward someone because we enjoy his sense of humor, or because his cheerful temperament raises our spirits.

Such interests as these, considered from the point of view of one side of a friendship, might be regarded as essentially "selfish" in motive, and as illustrating the rather cynical observation that "when we like people it is because they give us pleasure." But there is, of course, much more than this to the matter. Beyond a "friendly interest" in joint activities and in personal qualities there may be a "friendly concern" for the well-being of another. We may participate in our friend's anxieties, sympathize in his grief, and enjoy his good fortunes. There is a motive, in short, not only to satisfy one's needs through an-other, but also to assist in the satisfactions of another's needs. That this motive is one meaning of "affection" seems clear from usage. It is of the same quality, assumedly, when it appears in friendship, as in the parent-child relationship or in "love between the sexes." Whether or not a relationship is called "friendship-love" would depend on the strength of this motive in an attachment, as compared with others.

How, or when, does amorous emotion enter the friendly attachment? The view that this emotion is a response to a distinctive type of attraction, "akin to admiration," has been presented. That the expressions of this emotion may be similar to those of the "tender-protective" affection is conceded. Our proposal is that when the motive to approach, to caress or embrace, is one of sympathetic solicitude or when it is the urge to aid or solace, the motive may be called friendship-love, and that, on the other hand, when this motive is an aesthetic attraction, when it is essentially pleasure-seeking, self-gratifying, and possessive, it is amorous in character, with or without a setting of friendship, and regardless of the sex of the participants.

That amorous feeling may enter into what is commonly sup-posed to be friendship, particularly among girls, has often been observed. A study of the amorous friendships or "flames" of adolescent Italian schoolgirls disclosed that these attachments are distinguishable from friendships by "anxiety" to be together and by the urge for contact and embrace; by the "exaltation" of traits and qualities; by such familiar features as excessive ex-change of notes, long reveries, and the repeated writing of the name of the loved one. The attractions are characterized by complete exclusiveness and by persistent jealousy. These attachments do not, moreover, begin like friendships. They do not grow by frequent association. The enamored ones generally do not know each other. The emotion is aroused by impressions of beauty and grace received from a distance. A pleasing appearance, charm, and quality of movements are here in the foreground of attention; admiration of beauty and "elegance," "physical sympathy," these are the most usual factors of attraction as reflected in the material of 300 "flame" letters. While of "passionate" intensity, the relationships are also described as, with a few exceptions, chaste, or "platonic." The likeness to "romantic" attraction between the sexes is clear; likewise, the role of aesthetic features in the arousal of amorous emotion.

The distinction we have offered between amorous and friendly attachment is in harmony with the occasional judgment that jealousy is more often seen in the former. It may be argued that a friendship based on a common interest is unlikely to include jealousy because its substance is the interest and not the person, and therefore to lose the friend can hardly endanger the interest. If, again, the central motive is "affectionate," we may similarly say that since the goal of the motive is the well-being of its object, anything, including new attachments, which can be regarded as favoring this well-being, will be acceptable to one who bears it.

It is clear that jealousy is not consistent with an unselfish feeling for another, and that it would be hard to find a place for it in sexual love if a desire to protect and minister to another were, as so many have believed, the essential element in this kind of love. The widely current acceptance of the latter view has undoubtedly given jealousy its "bad name." But if the essence of sexual love is, instead, the intensely possessive amorous desire, then we have no choice but to admit jealousy as a part of the necessary or "natural" expression of this emotional state. The lover who is "benevolent" only should not be jealous; if he is, we may be sure he is amorous as well. Debates which turn on the notion that "where there is `true' love there can be no jealousy" illustrate the confusion of the two emotional states. Loss of the amorous love-object is a frustration of the essence of the amorous desire, and here we may repeat Edward Sapir's remark which was cited at an earlier place, that the unjealous lover is under suspicion, and justly, of being "no lover at all."

There are, besides jealousy, other characteristics or accompaniments of amorous emotion that appear incompatible with love in its more common sense of benevolence. There is the occasional hatred that seems so contradictory to it. There is the "violent and importunate" behavior that does not seem to go with benevolence, and there is the preoccupation with aesthetic attractions.

Such apparent disharmonies will be seen to vanish when we recognize that they are rooted in two different kinds of love, which are unlike in fundamental motive, and therefore unlike in expression.



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