So, the lovely Katie Chapman posited “I am left wondering what it is that still makes those positive family relationships somehow carry more weight than those friendships that are just as positive in their influence in my life.” She then posed the questions on Google+ “Is there a line between friend and family? If so, why? Can that line disappear? What can change that line?” (I have to note, after writing for a bit, that Katie did qualify this with the term ‘positive family relationships’. Smart girl…I just redacted five paragraphs of stuff no one wants to know because it doesn’t fall into that category. Heh.)
Speaking as someone who once had to figure out a way to feed 30 people in a space made for 4, I feel more qualified to answer these questions than I’d like. The reason being that I now live on the opposite side of that equation; on the side of the ‘friend’ who sort of feels like family but really isn’t. As I’ve written about many times, my life has taken an odd turn and my husband and I are left with only a few relatives who stay in contact with us. It’s not as if we don’t have fond memories of family, quite on the contrary. Both of us have warm and heartfelt memories of huge family gatherings and the feeling of security that comes with knowing you have numbers of relatives behind you when the going gets tough. Except, in our case, when the going got tough, well…
In the 20+ years Cas and I have been together, we only ever wanted our families to be happy. If someone asked us to do something for them, we did it regardless of the circumstances. On many occasions, Cas took his father to dialysis in the morning, after working a 12-hour night shift at the hospital, because no one else was ‘available’. I bailed my parents out financially countless times, to my (and our) saving’s detriment. We gave everything we had because they were family, and that’s what you do for family.
Except, the truth is that that’s not how everyone behaves in real life. While we never expected reciprocity, there’s a level at which you begin to notice you’ve become a door mat. A place where people wipe their feet before moving forward. It’s certainly not treatment you’d ever accept from a friend, so why would you accept it from family? Well, if you’re smart, you move those relationships to the ‘not-positive’ category and go on.
But where do you go? You have no ‘family’. So, you try to build bonds with people willing to accept you the way you are, and there’s a remarkable and refreshing quality about that. People who choose us, rather than being stuck with us because of our DNA. The trouble comes in when you don’t have the self-awareness to own up to your new-found friends that they’re your family replacement. Because if you don’t fess up relatively quickly (no pun intended), there’s a fair chance that you’re going to put too much pressure on the new ‘relationship’ and they’re going to bolt. Because, who needs fake family when you have real family?
I do have a friend, and a very good one at that, who has a ‘brother’ who isn’t a brother at all, but someone who came into their lives and genuinely became a part of their family. How much a part of their family? At their dad’s funeral, he provided part of the eulogy. There wasn’t a dry eye as he described the rare quality of the man who had created a family so wonderful that they would take him in and make him part of their family. He’s lucky, and he knows it.
So, Katie, only a person with positive family relationships wonders why it is that family relationships have a different quality to them than those equally positive friend relationships. The line between friend and family is only as wide as the two people allow it to be; and it most definitely can change and disappear just as family relationships change and sometimes even disappear. The bond between two people is only as strong as the weaker of the two, right?