Love, Actually: A Valentine’s celebration of friendship

Doll-like figures holding hands
Ashley Zhang/Staff

I am the ultimate romantic. I can quote “When Harry Met Sally…” “Notting Hill,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Love Actually” backward and forward without hesitation. My bedroom at home is still decorated with “Little Mermaid” merchandise, and my copies of Jane Austen novels are tattered and worn from endless rereads. I am entranced by the notion that one other person can wholly understand you, with all of your nuances; provide you with unwavering support, care, and affirmation; stand by you with a commitment that wavers as vastly as “I do.” I have grown up believing that romance fulfills the longing of the soul for completion outside of itself, the sense that there must be something more, and, aha, there they are! Your soul mate, standing outside of your window hoisting a boombox, shouting, “It’s me, the one you’ve been waiting for! I do exist!”

My time at UC Berkeley has slowly chipped away at this vision, of the lover with the boombox who holds the answers to my life’s questions. Yet for me, the vision has been replaced with something more glorious, something I never would have dreamed of.

I have found my salvation in friendship. The special bond I have created with the people I have encountered since coming to UC Berkeley — in the residence halls, in my feminist theater company, in the Armenian community — has provided me with solace in times of hardship and with unexpected joy. I am eternally in debt to the individuals who have carried me, raised me and empowered me on every step of our shared journey.

I am entranced by the notion that one other person can wholly understand you, with all of your nuances…

My sophomore year at Cal, my friends, my found family, threw not one, but two surprise parties for my birthday. The first, they later informed me, was a mock surprise party so that I would be really surprised at the second one. The night of my birthday, we ran down the street, shouting rap lyrics from “Hamilton” for no one but ourselves and the stars.

I have discovered in my friendships a profound fulfillment — an elevation of the soul to new, sparkling heights. The support, affirmation, understanding and joy I experience in my friendships prove, for me, that friendship is the most underrated form of wonder that life can offer.

Nobody but my friends would take a study break at midnight every evening to dance to “God is a woman” by Ariana Grande, like the words are a revelation every time. Nobody but my friends would make studying in the library for hours feel like the best of times, as we stop every 20 minutes to remind one another, “Yes, you are brilliant; no, this work does not define you; yes, I love you.”

Nobody but my friends would offer to sleep in my bed when I feel too lonely in my own skin, pulling me close to them to remind me that I have a home within theirs.   

Who but my friends could I speak to about the experiences of my own womanhood, with all of its glories and pains? When I travel to other countries, they are the ones who will comfort me after particularly harrowing sexist encounters as we watch “Queer Eye,” drink wine and bash the patriarchy. It is they who will lie with me under the stars as we proclaim our dreams to make this earth safer and more inclusive for all, vibrating with the excited anticipation of our shared careers. When I was sexually assaulted last year, it was my friends whose touch I trusted, whose unwavering, selfless demonstrations of love allowed me, piece by piece, to reclaim the sanctity of my body.

…my friendships prove, for me, that friendship is the most underrated form of wonder that life can offer.

All of the traditional benefits one expects from romance are present in friendship! I am an infinitely better person for every friendship I have cultivated, as my friends irreversibly transform my worldview with their kindness, thoughtfulness and empathy. I could never appreciate the immensity of other people if it were not for the ways my friends awe me with their brilliance and insight. I could never have learned to trust, to place my heart in the hand of another person and say, “This is yours as much as it is mine.”

Friends can inspire one another to grow and change for the better.

And friendship can be exciting! I still feel stupidly giddy whenever my friends ask me to hang out, even if it is just to lie on the couch — where I am doomed to one day rot — and to listen to the same Nat King Cole playlist. It is also filled with adventure, both in exploring the world together and in exploring one another’s depths. We peel back the layers of the earth together as we embark on each new journey, much as we peel back the layers that encase the cores of our souls. Tell me your dreams, I will tell you mine, and we will make them happen, together.

We build things together! We build clubs, we build homes, we build communities, we build pies. We make up our own kind of family, giving back to society by creating that which is new and a unique reflection of our relationship.

This all may seem too good to be true. And perhaps it is. I have chronicled here the best of friendship, deliberately setting aside all that has hurt and saddened me. Frankly, more often than not, I feel devastatingly lonely and isolated within my own mind, lamenting the difficulties of authentic communication and wondering whether it is possible to be wholly understood by others. Yet whenever I fear I may drown in my worries and insecurities, there is a friend standing next to me, placing their head on my shoulder, reminding me, “I am right here, just as you are.”

This, ultimately, is friendship: the giving of oneself without expectation of anything in return. Love, expressed and received, without any grander schemes or objectives — none, outside of the hope that our love will affirm, at least in this moment, that we belong to one another. And suddenly, all else becomes easier to bear. It is imperfect, yet it is more than enough.

Tell me your dreams, I will tell you mine, and we will make them happen, together.

The image of the lover with the boombox flickers and fades from view when I think of all that my friends have done for me. Romance can be wonderful and fulfilling for those who desire it, yet I refuse to accept that romance is somehow superior to friendship, in light of the selflessness, empathy, joy and adventure I have experienced from my found family. This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate a different kind of love: I celebrate friendship.

To my friends in life: This one’s for you, my dears. Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.

Contact Lillian Avedian at [email protected]