As you’re probably aware, many family-orientated holidays have just passed. During the holidays, at least here in the U.S., there is an overwhelming emphasis on families during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but how exactly is a family defined? What is the difference between a friendship and a family?
In my experience, I have learned that there are many different kinds of families. There are families who stick together and there are families who don’t. There are families that you find yourself in and families that you create. There are families who are related and families who are not.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, family has about 11 different definitions. Most of these definitions talk about households, relations and kinship.
The word “friend,” however, has about eight definitions; each having to do with enjoying one another’s company, being attached to one another or favoring one another.
These may only be dictionary definitions, but I feel like there is disconnect between what is loyalty and what is love. Why is the word “family”, only defined by who we’re related to and yet we have holidays surrounding these people? We hear all the time, “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends!”
I can honestly say that my friends have been there for me when I was at my worst and my best. This is what true love looks like. My friends have been an example of this far more than my family ever has. I know I’m not the only person in the world who has experienced this. So why is our society so structured around family?
What can we actually do about this? What if we switched the definitions of these two words? Would it really make a difference as to the meaning? After all, “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
The issue does not lie in the words themselves, but how society emphasizes one over the other. A famous psychologist, Erik Erikson, recognizes this important shift in one’s way of thinking during a stage he calls “Intimacy vs. Isolation.” In this stage from the ages 20-25, we find our sense of identity in our peers and friends rather than in the family we were born into.
I know I will always have a place among my friends. I know I will always be loved and accepted no matter what I have or have not done. This is the difference between love and loyalty. They choose to stick by me, while families don’t always have that choice.