Have we lost the distinction between friend, stranger and acquaintance? It seems like it goes without saying, yet I wonder if the value of boundaries is becoming more and more lost in our culture.
Real Simple panelists proposed five “old-timey” traditions they would like to see brought back. One panelist while proposing the return of titles to identify distance where distance exists snuck in a secondary proposal to bring back the handshake and hug a lot less. Hugging. I enjoyed youth group as a junior high student because it provided me the opportunity to hug the cute freshman in the group. As I grew older, I liked hugging less and less and found it more and more in all circumstances. My hairdresser, who I like very much, gives me a hug as I leave and while in experience it doesn’t seem so bizarre, saying it out loud points out the strangeness of it.
We call random connections on Facebook our “friends.” A friend denotes an intimate, someone with whom I share similar goals, views and confidences. On Facebook, these are merely connections who see what I post. It’s like we opt to be bodies occupying a room where I can hear and see what the other does. I can choose to leave the room anytime. Online we call that “unfriending.” Whether we like it or not, “unfriending” becomes laden with emotion. Rather than “unfriend” someone, which rejects the person, I can just choose not to “follow” him or her. On other social media sites I have “followers.” At best a follower denotes someone who follows me around. Some would see it as a disciple. As I said before, it’s merely being in the same room, or in terms of blog websites, becoming a subscriber. The terms make it so very personal.
Boundaries are diminished. Couples couple on their first date or even without a date but at a party. Rather than going out on dates to get to know people, we “go out” and enter a committed intimate relationship in order to get to know the person.
If everyone is my friend, if everyone is in my intimate circle of hug receivers, then I must up the ante to show those who are truly on the inner circle. I will have to marry an intimate friend, opposite sex or not, or even myself, because we must be allowed to love. We must be allowed public recognition of our uniquely close relationship.
If I referred to acquaintances, or they referred to me, by my title (Mrs.) then an intimate would be indicated by calling me by my first name. Friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together. Deeper friendships would be indicated by first name + spending time together + spending time with my family + a hug upon greeting or saying good bye. Marriage would be indicated by all those things and so much more.
Legally society is not greatly stratified. There is marriage. There are civil unions in some cases. There are common law marriages. And then there is nothing. I read once (I apologize for not remembering the source, though I believe it published through First Things) a proposal for legal recognition of more types of relationships, without the need to call it marriage. If two sisters live together and care for each other in their old age, there is no legal recognition given to that relationship. If one sister has an estranged child, that child has more claim than the sister who has done everything for her.
So I am proposing more steps. They need not all be romantic as in marriage because not all intimate love is romantic. Our society is hyper-sexualized and would question the nature of the relationship between those two sisters. They may just be intimate friends sans physical intimacy. Such a thing does exist.
Now, I live in California. I know my ideas/discussions here reflect that. The coasts strive to be avante garde. California is both cutting edge on cultural trends and extremely casual. I recognize what I see taking place in cultural trends does not reflect the whole of the United States, although I do think times are a-changin’ and we’re all affected to some degree, the coasts (and college towns) likely being the most extreme.
It starts with one person and how he or she builds their relationships, then teaches a group, perhaps a youth group or their group of children. Christianity has, throughout history, functions as a subculture, something counter-cultural and a little underground. We’ve tried courtship (which in this discussion means you are either my friend or marriage potential, little in between), and for many, it has been found lacking. Maybe a new approach is worth looking at.