Falling in (Friend) Love and Why it’s Important

Hi, I’m Jenna, and I’m the single friend.

I imagine you expect a defensive, angry blog post about how I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, how I feel as though I’ve been left behind somehow. And yes, some of that’s true some of the time. Countlessly I’ve been told, “there’s someone for everyone,” or “your time will come.” The pity gets annoying; the relentless optimism from those who have achieved the “ultimate relationship” gets tiring.

But instead of lamenting over what I don’t have, I think it’s important to focus on what I do have: relationships I’ve been able to effectively maintain throughout my life. And I’d encourage those in a similar position to mine to consider this outlook. Because, really–what is the “ultimate relationship”?

The answer, at least to me, is that there isn’t one. Love isn’t like a video game where there’s one route to maximum health points. It isn’t something you win. It’s something you do to varying degrees with various people, pets, even objects or activities. To that end, I posit that friendships can be just as important and fulfilling as romantic relationships. The media doesn’t want us to know that–wants us to sell ourselves to candy hearts and Nicholas Sparks movies–but I’ve found ever since I was very little that I have a tendency to fall into “friend-love,” or platonic love. And I know I’m not alone.

The back flap of Yumi Sakugawa’s “I Think I Am in Friend-Love With You” defines “friend-love” as “that super-awesome bond you share with someone who makes you happy every time you text each other, or meet up for an epic outing. […] You don’t want to swap saliva; you want to swap favorite books. But it’s just as intense and just as amazing.”

The term platonic love comes from Plato’s Symposium and the idea of achieving the ultimate sense of divinity and understanding of truth. It’s a concept that’s been with us for centuries but has been overshadowed by one monogamous (often heterosexual) path. Urbandictionary user Barkwoof posted this definition of “platonic love” which I think describes it best:

[…] a love or special kind of attraction that is beyond physical or carnal desire. Unlike unrequited love or being ‘friend zoned’, in a Platonic relationship both are usually aware and acknowledge the desires they have for one another but this does not manifest in typical romancing or courtship […] thus remain ambiguous. Platonic love may bloom into a full fledged relationship or fade to obscurity.

So essentially: friend-love can become a romantic and/or sexual relationship, but it doesn’t have to. It goes beyond the physical. Sometimes it’s between two people; sometimes you might feel this intensity for more than one friend. Think of Agent Mulder’s love for Agent Scully (which, if you’ve watched the series, transforms into something else altogether, but for the first six seasons is very much platonic), or a mother’s unconditional love for her child. The most fulfilling, wonderful, dynamic, mutually beneficial relationships in my life to date have all been platonic. All the stories and songs claim romantic love makes you feel wanted, allows you to be vulnerable, and requires commitment–but I’ve experienced these things just as intensely with close friends.

You might say, “But you can’t understand romantic love if you’ve never experienced it.”

I’ve felt a strong sense of deep platonic friendship for a few people over the course of my life, and it is as intense as the black-and-white films portray love to be. I do get that swell of joy when “my person” texts me at 2am just to say hello. I get that jolt of happiness pulling them into an embrace. I feel the heartbreak of saying goodbye. There have been a few people with whom I’ve developed extremely strong bonds, and if that bond breaks and I have to let it go, it’s a process for me as any romantic breakup would be.

So I’d say I have a pretty good idea.

For me, best friendships have always embodied everything a relationship should, and in my opinion, the sexual component isn’t necessary for complete happiness. So what if there isn’t one person to fulfill every single one of your needs? If there were someone like that for everyone, we’d have no need to interact with each other. We’d be entirely monogamous in every respect, our lives orbiting around one person only. To me, that doesn’t seem very fun. And it’s frustrating when I watch people with whom I used to be close fall into that mindset. Far too many of them drop everything and everyone else for the idea of the ultimate romantic relationship, the one thing that is supposed to make them complete. There’s the mentality that nothing else matters anymore, and maybe nothing else ever did.

I’m not saying romantic love isn’t important. As humans, we all require different things from each other at different points in our lives. I’m just saying it’s not the be-all, end-all of relationships. In fact, romance might hinder a relationship if it’s forced or unnatural for both parties. Here’s Lauren (coincidentally, one of my oldest friends with whom contact ebbs and flows but always starts again like we’ve never been apart) and her most recent experience with this:

[A girl and I] were best friends over Tumblr. We met last year and started to pursue a romantic relationship. We ended up having sex and quickly found that we just weren’t feeling it. We talked it out and realized that we just love each other as friends and our relationship is better than ever. We root each other on with our love lives and we can talk about literally anything because we literally know each other inside and out.

And what if sex and romance just aren’t your thing? Asexual and aromantic erasure are topics for a different blog post altogether. I know that especially in college I felt the pressure to “solidify” my relationships with some kind of romantic or sexual component (particularly with those of the opposite sex), finding that my peers were constantly searching for emotional fulfillment when it was right in front of them in the form of loyal friendship. Orion‘s relationship with their platonic mate illustrates a bond that is just as powerful:

My best friend and I are getting married when we graduate from college. We’re both ace and we’ve known since we were sixteen that we were platonic soulmates – our love isn’t romantic but it’s the greatest love either of us has ever known and that’s why we’re commemorating it with a marriage.

Again, platonic love isn’t a new phenomenon. But it’s often tossed to the wayside these days. And it’s hard for us who feel it so deeply to be tossed aside with it. Of course, a significant other requires much more doting, affection, and attention than in other relationships–so when those we love tend to wane in favor of zoning in on another type of relationship, it makes sense to us, and we grin and bear it. But significant doesn’t refer to just one type of relationship. For those who regularly experience and give platonic love, significant spans anything from a best friend to a mentor to a soul mate. And it does come with heartbreak. Over the years I’ve come to terms with drifting apart from people I thought were “my person.” People grow and change; it’s inevitable. But it just goes to show that the love songs apply to me, too.

Platonic love is so important. Love doesn’t have to be sexual. As individuals, it allows us to achieve a better understanding of ourselves and what we want in relationships of any caliber. You shouldn’t feel forced to define yourself by your relationships, but to celebrate and grow from their strength. If there is someone in your life (or multiple someones!) who understands you inside and out, who would make sacrifices for you–and you willingly for them–who complements you, who lifts you up: then it’s love. You have love in your life. And if you haven’t found it yet, that’s okay. You don’t have to look for it in the sheets or on a dating site, though you certainly can. Perhaps it’s already in front of you, waiting to be discovered.

And trust me. You aren’t “missing out” on anything. Your “time” is already here. So enjoy it.

This is not a justification or bitter acceptance of my singleness. This is a celebration of those of us who are ever falling in friend-love, those of us who have so much love to give that sometimes we’re kind of overwhelmed with it. I don’t know how long I’ll be “single” in the traditional sense, but in the end, I’ve always felt a commitment to those friends who’ve stuck around to tug at my heartstrings that I don’t think will ever truly fade.

I guess you could say I’m permanently taken (and you all know who you are).

Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ is Trouble in Paradise for Steve and Tony…or just Trouble in More Trouble

Blah blah blah, the new Captain America: Civil War trailer is out today and we’re all gonna die, blah blah blah. To be honest, when I found out that the third CA installment would center around Marvel’s Civil War storyline, I was thrilled at the concept of turning one of the greatest Marvel comics stories into a cinematic phenomenon–and subsequently very disappointed at the thought of how different the characterization would inevitably be.

I will be the first to admit I am not one of those die-hard original Marvel Comics fans. Joss Whedon’s 2012 Avengers film, kicking off the crossover Marvel franchise, inducted me into the Marvel universe. In preparation for the release of the film, I brushed up on as much Marvel Cinematic Universe lore as I could, and after seeing the movie proceeded to pore over any Avengers comics I could get my hands on. The films, like they did with so many newer fans, were a gateway drug into an addiction to some of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy storylines of the twentieth century. Mainstream media never seriously recognized the power of comic books and their combination of realism and escapism–up until the early 2000’s when Hollywood realized they could make a buck off of them, of course. As an avid reader and writer, I found a lot to love in Marvel comics.

Specifically, I found a lot to love in Captain America and Iron Man.

Wow. Get a room, guys.

The history between Steve “Captain America” Rogers and Anthony “Iron Man” Stark is vast and complex. I’m not going to explain all of it here, because it spans decades and a ton of really weird storylines and contradictory information as Avengers comics were handed off from one group of writers to another. But to give you an idea, here’s an entire manifesto somebody made on LiveJournal once. There’s a lot. Skim it if you like, or don’t. But it features tangible evidence of how these two have deeply affected each other’s lives–both positively and negatively–over the course of their friendship. In the original comics, it is Iron Man that pulls Cap out of the ice and into the present day. They fight together from then on, working in tandem with Ant-Man and the Wasp to forge the original Avengers. They’re also big fans of swooping in and saving each other, no matter the cost. Each makes the other get stupid sometimes. Kind of cute, right?

What I didn’t realize until I started delving into Cap-centered and Tony-centered comics (“Demon in a Bottle,” “Extremis,” “Avengers Prime” and of course “Civil War”) is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe completely abandons this relationship.

Now, before anyone gets defensive, I’ll say this: there are a lot of aspects of Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America that fit their graphic-novel counterparts perfectly. RDJ’s Tony Stark is practically torn off an Iron Man comicbook page–he’s rash, he’s over-the-top, he’s quick-witted, he’s a genius. Cap is methodical, loyal, sometimes dangerously courageous, and believes in his country to a fault. Overall, I see no issues with the writing of their characters individually. It’s how they interact with each other that perturbs me.

Here’s the thing: conflict between characters is basically essential to the effective pacing and entertainment value of a film. If there’s nothing to aspire to, what’s the point of the film? What motivates the characters? It makes sense to me that Whedon and the Avengers writers made the decision to pit Steve and Tony against each other in the first film for a little while to pique the audience’s interest. They really do come from very different worlds–especially in the cinematic universe in which their origin stories differ slightly from the comics on which they’re based–and it makes sense for them to clash.

But it wasn’t just clashing. It was downright dislike. As an aspiring writer, I think it’d be boring to ensure every Avenger started out and finished the film buddy-buddy, but considering the connection these two characters have (Steve knew and was friends with Tony’s father; Tony practically grew up with the idea of Cap an all he stood for), it’s confusing that the film writers wanted them to be at such deep odds. Even at the end of the film and into Avengers: Age of Ultron, there seemed to be a quiet resignation between them of having to deal with each other.

But, okay. Fine. Maybe Steve and Tony don’t have a bromance in the movies. I can deal with that. Films and comics are very different mediums, after all.

Then I found out Civil War was happening and the disappointment set in. The trailer, if you watch it, sets up what Sebastian Stan (who plays Bucky Barnes) calls “brutal mental annihilation.” Twitter users can hashtag #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan and are forced to pick a side as many of the heroes and heroines in the film must do. Essentially, #CaptainAmericaCivilWar is taking the Marvel fandom by storm, particularly over social media. Dramatic shots abound of Cap and Iron Man staring at each other with contempt, spewing lines about wishing it didn’t have to be this way. And it seems so disingenuous to me.

Because the arc is so much more than an opportunity for a gigantic crossover action film. It’s about the relationships that lie underneath.

In the comics, the Civil War arc is particularly powerful because it pits two best friends against each other. Steve and Tony have taken a decades-long journey together that’s led them to this point. Despite their affection for each other, they stand on opposite sides of an all-out war. And they regret that it’s happened this way. It’s like a bad breakup, but with superheroes and maybe even more feelings.

The comics arc features a number of conversations between Tony and Steve–some ending in bloodshed, others not–about their relationship, about how they forged the greatest superhero team in existence. Their relationship with others is affected–particularly with Spider-Man, who finds his loyalties don’t lie where he thought they might. The wondering where it all went wrong makes sense in the comics, because previously, Cap and Iron Man were almost always aligned. They made each other better. As Cap tells Iron Man, “You gave me a home.” What is it like to face someone on the other side of the war who once knew you better than you know yourself? That’s the tragedy in Civil War.

And the fact that the film is trying to echo these sentiments means that it will fail in doing so.

For a true emotional impact to be felt by the audience, the writers should have set the groundwork for a stronger bond between Steve and Tony. It’s no wonder Captain America: The Winter Soldier did so well–pitting Cap and Bucky, friends in the war and on the streets of Brooklyn since they were children, against each other had an extremely powerful affect on the film’s audience. There is fan discourse galore about Steve and Bucky’s dynamic in the films–because it was effectively built upon. Because their bond was established before their friendship was on the line.

I wish Steve and Tony had been done the same justice. An argument between them this large, now, seems it was inevitable since they never really liked each other to begin with. Where is the heart of their dynamic? The depth? It’s almost as if the writers chose to start Cap and Iron Man out as enemies to save them some time in the writers’ room later. I’m curious to see how this pans out.

Captain America: Civil War will no doubt be an extremely successful film. All I’m saying is–knowing about the original story, about the relationship that was originally forged between characters that balanced each other out so well–I won’t be able to watch this film without a little bit of an ache in my chest for what could’ve been.

I’m gonna go reread my copy of Avengers Prime: Volume 5 and cry into the lovely illustrations…

‘Damien’ starts out slow but delivers a solid pilot

From playing Prince of Camelot to starring as Prince of Hell, Bradley James has certainly built up quite the resume. I tuned into the Damien premiere this week for two reasons: (1) I was (and still am) a total BBC Merlin geek, and (2) I love a good scare. The Omen is a great film and I was very excited to see the new, present-day twist on the story. Overall, I was impressed–the show is well-shot and has great potential, even if it’s a little slow getting started.

Episode 1, “The Beast Rises,” is set 25-ish years after The Omen and follows Damien Thorn, quite literally just-turned-30 and pursuing a very promising career in war photography. It appears he’s kept his job so long–despite getting in trouble on location in Syria in the first five minutes of the episode–because he’s “the only one” who can get so “close” to the action. Why is it, the viewer is led to wonder, that Damien can get so “close”–physically and otherwise–to the ruin and chaos of war? Why does it follow him?

Well, because he’s the Antichrist. He doesn’t really know that yet, though. So the audience is meant to follow grown-up Damien over the course of ten episodes in his discovery of himself.

Remember the creepy kid with the tricycle? He got hot.

What’s particularly gripping about Episode 1 is that, on the outset, Damien appears to lead a very normal life. We learn he’s had love interests, he has friends, he regrets the loss of his parents (even though he can’t remember what really happened to them, or much of his childhood with them, for that matter). But he’s experienced some pretty weird things over the course of his life, too. In this episode, the writers lay the groundwork for his making sense of those pieces that don’t seem to fit–and because of these realizations, Damien’s world begins to crumble. The writers have done a great job in just one episode of creating sympathy for a character about whom we previously knew very little besides the aforementioned creepiness. The show humanizes a classic figure of paranormal horror, which is a hard thing to do, especially with a film that’s been around for so long.

But Damien also pays tribute to its inspiration with a plethora of references (the three hounds lurking in the dark, flashbacks to the iconic hanging scene in The Omen), as well as significantly spooky religious imagery. One of the final scenes in which Damien confronts the crucifix statue in the Church is particularly disturbing and definitely sets the tone for the series. Damien also thrives in cinematography and coloring as a whole. Visually, it’s quite captivating and overall shot very well. Add a creepy old lady speaking Latin and you’ve got the recipe for the significant spooks. Those looking for spidery, subtle scares over hide-under-the-covers tropes will be impressed.

What Damien lacks so far seems to be acting strength and effective pacing. I’m extremely pleasantly surprised with Bradley James as an actor (he’s grown so much since his early days in Merlin–holy American accent, Batman!), but the other actors and characters fell flat to me. I hope these ten episodes allow for recurring characters to grow by the efforts of actors and writers alike. Furthermore, overall Episode 1 is, like most pilot episodes, quite exposition-heavy. Damien faces the challenge of both captivating its audience and providing the Cliffsnotes version of the Omen trilogy’s lore in 43 minutes. So far it seems to focus on the latter, choosing to tell rather than show what Damien’s been up to since we last saw him and winding on about Biblical explanations that just happen to fit what he’s going through. I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be some more creative storytelling, because the premise has such promise. There are many opportunities to expand on Damien’s character and on the lore without getting too dense, and I hope the writers take them up.

Overall, I give the Damien premiere a solid 3 stars out of 5. I look forward to tuning in again next week. Despite my nitpicking, the episode left me with a shudder running down my spine–so I can’t deny it achieved its goal!

You can watch Damien Mondays on A&E at 10pm ET.