An Ode to Friendship

Why friends form a core part of our identity — and why this kind of intimacy matters

Sally Clarke

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In the English language, the word ‘friend’ is used as a catch-all term for people we have met over the years. We use it for anyone from our most intimate relationships to someone we hung out at high school with two decades ago.

I want to get more granular.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship recently. Last week I returned to Amsterdam after two months in my gorgeous homeland. Amsterdam is grey and cold. It’s not freezing, and I missed most of the winter — as everyone goes to lengths to point out to me, laced with only a hint of resentment.

However, after spending two months in blissful Australian sunshine (here’s the Instie feed to prove it), the question has crossed my mind: what am I doing here?

I’m single, I work remotely, I’m a nature addict. Why Amsterdam?

And the answer that emerges: I have a nexus of incredible relationships here. Friendships that run so deep they define, ground, and nourish me.

As an avid traveler who has lived on four continents, I’ve met many incredible people and garnered countless beautiful memories. And yet, not everyone with whom I’ve connected is a friend. True friendship goes far deeper than acquaintance: it requires mutual respect and commitment.

Friendship is intentional. More than just liking each other, a friend is willing to support and be supported. True friendship takes sustained effort and patience. And the most beautiful friendships bring a sense of being seen, heard, and known that runs deep.

As Esther Perel has written, “Love and commitment and intimacy don’t just belong to the world of romantic couples.” They belong to the realm of friendship, too.

During my time in Australia, I reconnected with some of my closest and oldest friends. People who nourish my soul just by existing. I usually need a lot of time to replenish energy by myself after social occasions. With these friends, there is no drain on my social battery and no need to recover afterwards.

And now, back in Amsterdam, I’m reminded of the strength of my friendships here too. Friendships that have outlasted jobs, haircuts, marriages, international moves, grief, heartbreak, everything the world could throw at us. The value of the safe haven these kinds of friendship offer cannot be overstated.

Historically, our culture has prioritized family as our primary, most important relationships, by definition. As if being a blood relative somehow supersedes the intimacy and unconditional love that is possible between friends. I challenge this notion. If ‘family’ is what we consider our innermost circle, then my friends are my family.

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Sally Clarke

Co Director of Human Leaders. Wellbeing & burnout author, expert, coach, writer & speaker. Global adventurer. she/her www.salcla.com