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Make Family Out of Friends

The day after my husband and I had a couple we know quite well over for dinner, she emailed her thanks, including the heartwarming sentiment that they enjoyed spending time with us because we felt like family. I was enormously touched. Growing up as an only child, this was as meaningful a compliment as she could make and it got me thinking about how important close friends are in our lives—and, often, to our eating.

Too often, intimate friendships are sadly lacking in the lives of dysregulated eaters. Many complain of being lonely and so they eat to feel better. As adults halfway through life, many don’t want to stay as (overly) attached to their parents as they are, but can’t seem to break away because they have so little outside support. Some have never known how to make friends while others have been so burned by disappointments and betrayals that they’re afraid to chance getting close to people.

What a shame, as only use people and food as each should be used will each take their rightful place in our lives. The truth is that we are meant to shift our closeness from family to friends along the way into maturity so that, when our parents die, we will not be without intimate attachments. I know a client that lived in terror that when her mother died, she’d want to jump into her grave and be buried with her. This is no way to live. We need to know that we’ll miss our parents when they die, but can get along without them because we have a solid support network.

Family certainly has its place. In the best of worlds, we love that members have known us seemingly forever and that we have so many shared memories with them. We enjoy family traditions whether conventional or quirky because they were part of our growing up. Whether we realize it or not, we value the feeling of belonging and being in what British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called a “holding environment,” one that is nurturing, caring and supportive.

What works is finding holding environments as we move through life. Sometimes we find one at work or in the school dorm, or through political meetings or shared hobbies. We can find friends by bonding with long-term neighbors or by accident chatting with the person sitting next to us on a long flight. The idea is to create family not of relatives but of friends who were once strangers. This is no small task and takes skill, patience, and practice. It involves making a host of overtures and getting one or two compadres out of all the effort you put in. It means being able to let go of friends because they no longer serve us. One thing for sure, though, just as food feeds us, so do friendships.  



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