In Praise of Boring Friendships

What we gain when we love someone without regard for accomplishment

This Thursday, I’ll be sharing your thoughts on which women set a new standard for you, expanding how you felt you could exist as a woman. And, today, my husband Alexi and I launched a Tolkien-inspired storytelling game on Kickstarter.

Back Again from the Broken Land is a game about small adventurers walking home from a big war, and reckoning with the burdens they carry. It’s meant to be friendly to players who are new to games—I enjoyed running it for Haley Stewart, and her seven and nine year old daughters, all three of them new to role-playing games. She says, “[The girls and I] had so much fun diving into Back Again from the Broken Land. They are desperate to play again.”

And now, back again to Other Feminisms…

I was delighted to contribute a guest-essay for Grace Olmstead’s Granola newsletter this month. Previously, I got to interview her about food for my Tiny Book Club, and she interviewed me about feminism and interdependence for Mere Orthodoxy. All her work is marked by a care for small details, and I’m looking forward to her first book, Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We've Left Behind.

I’m excerpting my essay in praise of storge and quiet moments below, and adding a little reflection on how it relates to the project of Other Feminisms. You can read the full essay at Granola.

In the absence of friends to share [chores and errands] with, some people turn to YouTube. “Clean with Me” videos show people doing the ordinary work of cleaning their house—not as a tutorial, but simply as the unspooling of an ordinary chore. When New York Times reporter Ronda Kaysen interviewed fans about what drew them to the videos, many told her that “they watch the videos while cleaning their own homes, playing them on their television as a sort of inspirational soundtrack so they feel less alone.”

Inviting people into the quotidian parts of your day isn’t just, as I used to think of it, a way of staving off boredom or loneliness. It’s a pledge of affection. In the Greek typology of loves, it’s an expression of storge, which tends to be translated as “affection,” though I’ll confess I usually gloss it as “fondness.” In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes:

Affection has a very homely face. So have many of those for whom we feel it. It is no proof of our refinement or perceptiveness that we love them; nor that they love us. What I have called Appreciative Love is no basic element in Affection. It usually needs absence or bereavement to set us praising those to whom only Affection binds us. We take them for granted; and this taking for granted, which is an outrage in erotic love, is here right and proper to a point. It fits the comfortable, quiet nature of the feeling.

Storge sometimes feels like the most counter-cultural of the four loves, because of its smallness. An errand friendship cuts against the culture of striving and hustling that asks us to account for the usefulness of every moment of our time. Instead, it depends on leisure, on being able and willing to waste time. 

When a friend goes with you to pick up your library books, or to drop off your mail, you aren’t stepping into the role of hostess or entertainer. You simply are, and so is your friend, and it’s enough to enjoy each other’s company without working to prove your worth to each other.

The pandemic has cut us off from some of these comfortable, fond moments in friendship. But it has opened up another possibility for growth in storge. As we are cut off from our favorite friends, we have the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the unchosen people around us. It is our neighbors whom we ask for help or who are simply the only people we see regularly anymore. We can love them for their particular virtues as we get to know them, but we start by simply being grateful that they are there.

Errands, cleaning, meal preparation—this is all work most often done by women. It’s the work of maintenance rather than creating things de novo. (Cooking strains this distinction the most, but since the fruits of the work are, necessarily, quickly consumed, it still is hard to point to as a lasting accomplishment).

I feel a little bad treating it as boring, since there is a kind of romance in beating the bounds of your life, keeping everything in order. Part of Jordan Peterson’s appeal comes from describing work like making your bed as fighting the Dragon of Chaos. He translates quiet, faithful work into martial metaphors. In truth, it’s much more like digging latrines than charging into the mines of No-Man’s-Land.

There’s a real gift in company for this work, and in resting in the confidence that your friend simply wants to be with you, rather than be entertained by you. But I do also hope we find more ways to genuinely admire the patient presence that the work requires.


I’ll leave you with the same questions with which I concluded my essay at Granola:

Where do you get practice in loving people because they are, not for what they do?

Where do you have that experience of being loved, neither for your merits or despite your flaws, but simply because you are there?

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