The older I get, the more I’m persuaded that the only true, completely gratuitous, completely selfless form of love is friendship.
Of course I mean friendship in the stronger sense: a friendship like the one of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, not the many social relationships that we use to call “friendship” just out of laziness, or for lack of a better word, but that are just acquaintances, more or less close, more or less useful or important.
A friend - a true friend - is a person with whom you know you can share EVERYTHING; a person who might as well scold you, or disapprove you, and give you advices you won’t like and/or won’t follow, or tell you unpleasant truths (and he/she WILL be the one to tell you these), but who will never JUDGE you, in the sense of applying a label to you. You’ll always remain a PERSON to him/her, as well as he/her will always be a PERSON to you, no matter what. And more than just A person, he/she’ll always remain that unique, irreplaceable person you love and will always love exactly the way he/she is, with all his/her merits, but also all his/her defects. You don’t expect anything, from a friend; don’t want anything, from a friend; there are no duties, between the two of you; you both JUST KNOW that you’ll be always there one for the other. Just because this is how things ARE between the two of you - not because you know that this is how things MUST or SHOULD be. Friendship is a NECESSARY love in an Aristotelian, and not in a Kantian, way.
Because true friendship is purely a matter of CHOICE. Choice is, of course, a component of any human relationship, albeit in different degrees; but friendship is pure choice, the choice of two persons that perceive an affinity and choose each other, for life.
There is nothing more (and nothing less), and this is the reason why friendship is the strongest and most pure form of love.
Because in any other form of love relationships, there are always other things, that may end up breaking, or at least twisting and damaging, the love bond, sooner or later.
Take for example a romantic relationship: of course, here the component of choice is strong, too. But in such kind of relationship the primary trigger is attraction, love comes - if and when it comes - later. And even when a couple is bounded not only by attraction, but by love, too, this remains a complex, fragile relationship. Each partner has - and can’t help having - expectancies, regarding the other, their relationship, their future togheter. It’s so easy to disappoint or hurt one’s partner, even without the intent to (and I’m not taking into account all those so called “romantic” relationships which are not even grounded on some form of love, but on very different - and generally pathological - things, such as domination, or dependence, or others). A romantic relationship is always born from som kind of passion, but passion is volatile, it sooner or later ends, and when nothing else has been built in the meantime, even that kind of love perishes. Sex, too, can both strenghten the love bond, and weaken and undermine it: when, for whatever reason, one of the partners begins to doubt that what the other wants from him/her is not love, but just sex, the relationship is crumbling. Not to talk about all the issues related to possible betrayals, or loss of interest, ecc., on one or both parts. The couples which manage to live happily togheter and love each other for an entire life are the ones - the fews - which are able to built something more upon the first foundation of a romantic love - being this something more either a form of comradeship, or a strong “team spirit”, or (more rarely) a true friendship.
In short, a partner in a romantic relationship could always betray you, or leave you, or let you down; a true friend won’t.
Even more so when it comes to family. Family is much less a matter of choice - actually, it isn’t almost at all. You are born and you find your family already there, like it or not. And the thing is reciprocal: when you have a child, or your parents give you a sibling, you have to take what the destiny sent to you, like him/her or not. It’s not that there can’t be love in a family, even between two or more members that don’t like each other, that don’t get along well: love (a form of love) comes from instinct (you share the same blood, the same genes), as well as from sheer intimacy. Families are normally kept together by boundaries of love of some sort, but the point is, that even when that love is missing, or is flawed, or is twisted, families exist because they are in the first place social institutions, social groups that are necessary to each human being in order to be born, to grow and to survive. A family is at least as much a matter of duty as it is a matter of love. Family is the first - and in some places on this planet almost the only - solidarity relationship to bound different human beings. Solidarity, too, is a form of love, but certainly it’s not a completely gratuitous one. Then, if you’re lucky, you may discover ALSO an affinity with one or more or your relatives: you’lle be therefore friends, as well as family, and this will make it a full and fulfilling affective relationship. But not everyone on this earth can be so lucky. And besides, it’s more easy with family members different from parents: siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, even grandparents; while too much duties in the same time bound and divide parents and their children. It doesn’t matter how much a parent loves a child, or how much a child loves a parent: that one is, and will always be, at least partly a hierarchical relationship, and a relationship heavily founded on duties.
So, again in short, you might or might not find love in your family, depending on how lucky you are. Certainly, you can’t choose your family, and, if you’re not lucky, and your family brings you more suffering than love, nonetheless, whaterver your choices in life will be (even if you choose to cut that bond), you’ll always be forced to deal with family issues, sooner or later, in a way or another, like it or not, want to or not.
These are the reasons why friendship - true friendship - remains the only unblemished, unbreakable, unselfish form of love, the higher form of love that a human being could experience (if he/she is very lucky). It’s not that we don’t need the others form of love: we need them, and we generally feel that our lives are lacking something, when we can’t get the love of a partner or the love of a family. But the point is: if you have no family, or even if your family makes you suffer, you’ll still be able to resist, and even be happy, if you can count on a true friend; the same is true for romantic relationships: even if one or more go wrong, and maybe hurt you, you’ll never feel completely lost, or alone, when you have a true friend.
End of the rambling.