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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 41
Ask Michael: Friends as family
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Ask Michael: Friends as family

by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer

Sometimes we forget our strengths as individuals and as a community until we are placed in a life circumstance that challenges us to reflect upon our situation and values. Yet, again, I was reminded of this as I just spent the last six months with another dear friend as he finished the final stages of his life. I was reminded on a daily basis that family is crucial. However, for far too many in our community, our friends become our family as a result of unfortunate circumstances. This is both wonderful and painful.

The frustrating truth is that still today too many in the LGBTQ community don't have blood relations to rely on any more because their families have cast them out in anger over irrational fears, distorted values, and hatred. Although it still happens today, I am hopeful that it is happening less. Regardless of my hopes, for those it happens to, it is very painful and leaves them in situations where they seek out emotional ties that were supposed to exist with their family.

Also, let us not forget an older generation who lost their biological families many years ago because, in previous decades, coming out of the closet and living as an openly Gay woman or man was far less common and far more problematic. It was out of this context that the community began to develop values and skills that created friends as family. This was certainly reinforced through the early years of the AIDS epidemic. We found ourselves in family roles for the friends we loved because their families were gone.

Family bonds are very important. We are biologically wired to make loving connections beginning before birth and families are the social construct that supports this. This biological drive compels us to recreate relationships when the primary relationships we have are distressed or have ended.

There are some important components of these close relationships. The first is openness. We connect more with those we feel we can be ourselves around and who accept us as we are. Beyond acceptance, a big piece of this is trust! When we are open, we begin to trust that the other who loves us won't intentionally hurt us or reject us.

Trust develops when someone is reliable. Reliability is another quality that forms a good, healthy bond between people. When someone is there for you consistently, you trust more. When you trust more, you become closer.

Reciprocity is another key ingredient to the bonds that make friends family. Reciprocity means that if you've been giving, you get something back - not because you deserve it or you want something. Rather, you get something back because the other recognizes what you bring to their life and they want to express their appreciation, values, and bond through their actions towards you. They want to do for you, as they can, in a way that represents what you've done for them.

Reciprocity and reliability, ideally, show up on a day-to-day basis in one form or another. They are surely there in time of need and crisis. You know there is a bond when someone is there with you through a rough spot! When you've got reciprocity and reliability, you have trust! This interplay makes a loving bond and this is how friends become family.

Take a moment to reflect upon the kind of friend you are and how you value and appreciate the close friends that you have. Honestly assess how reliability, reciprocity, and openness influence the strength of the bonds that you have.

I know that our culture pushes the belief that blood is thicker than water. For some in our community, this isn't a true statement. However, never forget that our strength lies in those we make connections with, and the quality of those connections determine the strength and longevity of the bond. This is how friends become family.

Michael Raitt, M.A., LMHC, is a therapist and a contributing writer to SGN. He writes a bi-monthly column. If you would like to comment on this column or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at askingmichael@comcast.net.

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