Editorial opinion by Emily Feek
When college students—and younger people in general—talk about relationships, they’re often referring to something romantic or fragile. A relationship carries weight and is something to be taken seriously.
Our Facebook updates don’t say we’re dating, they say we’re “in a relationship,” as though we don’t have an extraordinary number of relationships already.
The word “relationship” has taken on a romantic connotation that seems to oversimplify and erase the platonic component.
The definition of a relationship, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings.” Of course, these dealings can be romantic in nature, but that’s a subset of the definition, not the primary meaning.
So why have we started to discuss relationships in such a romantic context? We need to begin considering relationships in a broader sense.
We have relationships with our family (good or bad), friends, peers and teachers. We have a relationship with the college we attend, the town we live in, the country and government.
A research paper by Lynne Giles et al. proposes that social relationships are not only satisfying on an emotional level, but may be linked to the prevention of mobile disability later in life.
Although this research highlighted familial networks in particular, the general social belief holds that social relationships in general promote better health.
In an op-ed speculating about the reason for that linked longevity, Carlos F. Mendes de Leon of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging suggested “friendship, feeling connected to other human beings who are valued, trusted, and loved, may provide meaning and purpose that is essential to our human condition.”
Describing relationships in a romantic sense isn’t bad, but it places too much emphasis on romance and our need for it, while the above research has shown friendships to be just as valuable. Using it narrowly devalues the other types of relationships in our lives.
Often romantic relationships aren’t the most important ones we have, or the type of relationship we want at all.
I’ve come to view college as a time of self-reflection, and a lot of that reflection has involved evaluating my relationships with others and what I value in them.
Do you think of your friendships as relationships? Do you have a relationship with the people you consider family? Do those bonds carry the same significance and effort that you would associate with the weight of a relationship?
All of our relationships require effort and maintenance. They’re give and take, push and pull, and we shouldn’t neglect the relationships we have with people we value whether they’re romantic or otherwise.
Every relationship has to start somewhere. When you befriend a peer in one of your classes, there’s some initial hesitation. You can’t have a strong connection with someone without knowing them first, and once you know someone and have developed mutual trust you have to maintain it.
We like to talk about how hard dating is and how difficult it is to make the right move–but that applies to friendships, too. All relationships require trust and communication, both of which are active practices.
Putting effort into a relationship doesn’t imply romance—it shows you value someone and want them in your life, and that’s a good thing. Some of our most important relationships are platonic or familial, and it’s time we start treating those with the same weight and validation of a relationship.
The next time you think about having a relationship, take a second to think about how you approach it. We should strive to put the same care and effort we would in a romantic relationship into a platonic one, because at the end of the day, we want to treat the people we care about right.