If living through the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything–and it surely hasn’t–it would be the importance of friendship and community to our physical and emotional well-being.
For more on the subject of People Who Ought to Know Better Not Learning the Obvious Lessons from Misfortune, one needs look no further than social media.
One of the reoccurring topics of the Discourse on Furry Twitter is those gosh-darned popufurs–loosely defined as “anyone with a higher follower account than you”.
I’ve written an analysis post back when I posted on Medium that covered friendship and popufurs, which inspired Stormi to create a YouTube video about the topic:
I’ve never experienced popularity, but I’ve been close personal friends with a few people who do, and I’ve witnessed the fallout of parasocial relationships. Archantael did a really good video on that subject:
One of the most dangerous falsehoods that too many furries believe about popularity is that you can’t be popular and lonely at the same time.
Loneliness was already an epidemic before COVID-19, and the prolonged social isolation has led to a lot of relationship strain, to say the least.
In the past year, we’ve seen a lot of long-term, loving relationships end abruptly. We’ve seen people who were coping with mental health issues suddenly succumb to them. Tempers hasten. Patience shorten. It’s been a royal clusterfuck, and at least in America, there’s no end to it in sight.
I think a big problem that rarely gets talked about is that our society is plagued by weird beliefs about what friendship is or ought to be.
The “Friend Zone” Myth
One of the most deplorable myths about friendship is the so-called “friend zone”. The story goes something like this:
- When you meet someone, they’re a stranger. No arguments there.
- Once you and them start to gain familiarity, they become an acquaintance.
- After you’ve spent some time as an acquaintance, they become a friend.
- At this point, if your gender identities and sexual orientations are compatible, you’re expected to move onto some sort of romantic interest–be it a friendship “with benefits”, romantic partner, or something in-between.
- Once you’ve courted a number of flings, you progress towards a higher caliber of relationship. Namely: Marriage.
The reasoning goes: If you befriend a potential romantic partner, and remain friends, you’re somehow stuck on a less valuable step than what you should desire, and therefore should feel bad about it.
That’s what people say when they accuse someone of being in the “friend zone” by another person.
This mental model of viewing relationships is just dripping with the sort of hetero-normative patriarchy that feminists famously oppose, but not enough people actually listen to long enough to realize they also have your best interests in heart when they levy their critiques.
The belief in the Friend Zone leads to the cheapening of friendships in pursuit of sexual and romantic fulfillment. It’s inherently exclusionary to platonic expressions of love, asexuality, and polyamory.
Life sometimes sucks.
Sometimes, the only way to cope with the suckage of life is to commiserate to your friends.
A good friend will listen, empathize with your experiences, and maybe even share their own. Friendship is rooted in shared vulnerability and appreciation.
But sometimes you encounter one of the Toxic Positivity proponents. “You’re bringing me down.” “Why are you depressed all the time?” We’ve heard it all before.
But toxic positivity is often more subtle than that. I’ll give you an example:
A good friend will tell you when you’re being an asshole, and try to talk you down from making foolish mistakes that will only hurt your future happiness.
Sometimes these conversations are tense and stressful. Sometimes you have to seem cruel to be kind. People are complicated.
And while I can understand not wanting to deal with high levels of stress all the damn time, there comes a time when you have to deal with the problems in front of you. Negative peace leads to a net negative.
Social Climbing and Disposable Friends
This one’s straight out of the “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” genre, and often follows from toxic positivity.
Some people try to walk the social graph in order to position themselves near popular members of the community so they might benefit from others’ popularity.
Some people treat their friends as disposable and temporary, moving from group to group over the years, rather than face accountability for their own terrible behavior.
Some people do both of those things.
Friendship and community are essential for humans to be happy. This is the conclusion of The Happiness Hypothesis.
Happiness does not come from within. It’s not something that you can summon into existence through sheer force of will.
Happiness does not come from without. It’s not a lost treasure that you have to go forth and dig up somewhere.
Happiness comes from in-between; from the strong and weak bonds in our lives. It’s our sense of closeness and vulnerability to others within our close friendships and broader communities that lead to happiness.
Asking Ourselves “Why?”
Why do people pursue romance at the expense of friendships?
Why do people construct filter bubbles based on superficial positivity?
Why do people try to use others as stepping stones towards their ambitions or treat their friendships as disposable and temporary?
Why do we as a social species do all of this when we need friendships and communal bonds to be happy?
I think a lot of the time, the answer boils down to “ego”.
We as a species pay lip-service to friendship when it serves our self-interest, but discard its importance the second friendship becomes inconvenient.
Our ego–especially if we practice monogamous relationships–dictate that the only way to be “successful” in sex and love is to be in a committed relationship and friendship is just a stepping stone on the way to the real goal.
Our ego gets bruised when our friends show us tough love by speaking the truth.
Our ego drives us to strive for bigger numbers and stronger dopamine hits, even if it means using and abusing people along the way.
That’s what I take it to mean when Buddhists say that desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering.
We want things, and we don’t know why we want them, but we do. And we will destroy ourselves and everyone we profess to love in pursuit of it. We’ll even destroy the habitability of our only planet in service to these desires.
Or we could, simply, not do that. If there’s one thing our ego loves, it’s to be reminded that we have a choice. That we’re in control.
As a hacker, exploiting a mechanism to undermine its normal goals is something I find a lot of beauty in. Hijacking the self-destructive nature of your own ego in service of your better nature is a masterpiece.
You are the protagonist of your own story. You can’t control what the universe throws as you, but you do get to decide what it means for you. Why not choose a better lesson?
And that’s usually enough to lead us to making better decisions, showing greater affection and appreciation for the people in our lives, and being more capable at coping with the endless hellscape that is other, often shitty, people.
I’m fortunate to know a lot of excellent people, both within and without the furry fandom. Most of my closest friends don’t have enormous social media followings. Some of my friends do!
I believe it’s important for friendships to be genuine and not transactional.
Belmont / Doomalorian
My oldest friend recently made a fursona, so he can be more involved with my participation in the furry fandom.
Most of you don’t know him yet, but if you think I’m cool, you’ll almost certainly like him too. We’ve been friends for over 12 years and live together.
His furry account is @BelmontLion.
In the future, I’ll be picking up Twitch streaming again. I’ll probably play a bunch of games with my friends and generally just have a lot of fun with it. If that sort of thing interests you, stop by his streams and maybe give him a follow.