A raucous celebration of friendship

Cover of The Vone’s latest single “You Let Me Rant”. Left: me; right: my great friend Kathryn McCartin. Photo by Barbara Groves.

“You Let Me Rant” is the second of my poems to become the lyrics of a song by British rock band, The Vone. This poem is a raucous celebration of one of the lesser celebrated forms of love: friendship. It explores the liberation and clarity that friendship can give you, that romantic love sometimes can’t.

Listen to the song here.

However, by talking about what passionate, sexual love often isn’t, this poem unintentionally becomes an exploration of all the things romantic love is. A little bit like 10cc’s classic “I’m Not in Love, by trying to bolster this protest, the singer ends up entering a discussion on the signs of emerging love.

The opening line “You let me rant and rave and roar” gives thanks to the person who allows you to express your emotions and opinions freely. This person will not immediately confuse passion about a subject, with pain. Even though you may be exploring the negative aspects of a topic, this does not necessarily inflict pain. Sometimes this self expression is liberating and can lead to discoveries and creativity. You do not need to be immediately “soothed” or “tamed”. The person you are talking to does not need to find “a solution”. They do not need to “fix” the situation, or, even worse, you. They should not love you despite these outbursts, but possibly, because of them.

“Hidden Treasure” by Mary Sparrow

Jumping onto the sea imagery, the idea of an oyster came to my mind when I wrote the line “You let the grit grow in my shell”. If an irritant or parasite enters its shell, the oyster produces a substance: mother-of-pearl. This encases the intruder and protects the mollusc from it — this ends up becoming a pearl. I wanted to emphasise how a friend can see that some of our “flaws”, hardships or messier parts are what make us unique and valuable.

“When you haven’t answered me, I’ve assumed that time wasn’t on your side, not that you aren’t on mine.”

This was inspired by a line from one of my favourite poems, Wislawa Szymborkska’s “Thank-You Note”. This is a thank-you note to all the people she hasn’t loved, or as I interpret it, hasn’t felt romantic or sexual love for.

I wanted to honour a love that isn’t demanding or jealous. There is a pleasure in each other’s affection and attention, but not a need for it or an ownership of it. In someone’s need for attention, they can lose their ability to understand or empathise. This sense of entitlement can be found within familial dynamics too. “Blood is thicker than water”, “You should put your family first no matter what”. This idea of always prioritising your family, is noble in theory, but can lead to unintentional emotional blackmail and deeply ingrained feelings of guilt and shame. In addition, blurred parental boundaries can be “cool” and “modern”, but used selfishly, can lead to unfair expectations and intrusive, suffocating behaviour. This lack of respect for someone’s need for space (physically, mentally or emotionally) can become even more problematic when romantic partners are added to the equation.

Additionally, this line relates to the insecurity someone can feel, especially at the beginning of a romantic entanglement. Someone second guessing every text message they send, assuming that if the other person doesn’t get back to them immediately, it must be because of something they have said or done. Did I put one “x” too many? Maybe I shouldn’t have sent an “x” at all! Why did I put “lol”?! In these moments we forget to take into consideration the practicalities and curve balls that everyday life can throw at us, preventing us from responding to people immediately.

A phrase such as, “Sometimes I forget that you exist” could initially be interpreted as an insult. However, once delved into, we realise that some of the things most fundamental to our existence are ones that we don’t often think about. For example, air.

“We will never have a special day” highlights the idea of romantic love over other types of love being celebrated. I think most people have felt the pressure to dedicate time and money, not just to mark milestones in their own romantic relationships, but that of others too. For example, hen parties, stag parties, wedding gifts, travel to weddings, engagement parties… the list seems to be forever growing. By not having these goalposts, does friendship offer us a more liberating type of love? With out these obvious markers, it is harder, and there is less temptation, to compare your friendships with other people’s friendships, or even to compare them to friendships from your past.

If you want to be part of the traditional, two person monogamous relationship, you have to eliminate other options; close open loops in order to fully commit mentally and emotionally. These open loops have many different manifestations, including, but not limited to:

A) The option of sexual encounters with other people (Snacks);

B) Untied loose ends with former lovers (The One That Got Away);

C) The person you have a crush on who’s given you just enough hope to keep the fire burning (The Personal Everest).

Usually the untasted fruit is the most difficult to give-up on. You have not had to see their worst qualities (although you may have convinced yourself you have). Or not even as dramatically as that, you’ve not had to live through the mundanity and irritations of everyday life with them. They have not demanded anything from you, and in certain circumstances, it is easy to equate this with a confident, easy-going personality, when actually, it has far more to do with the role they currently play in your life. Other times it might not be specific people, but certain life choices you are giving up. I wanted to celebrate the fact that in friendships, we do not demand anything from each other, no sacrifices are expected to be made.

When we meet a possible lover all our senses go into overdrive in their attempt to process the other person in order to rate their attractiveness. This activates parts of the brain widely believed to have been around before we even evolved into mammals. This activation not only floods us with positive feelings, but also endows us with an almost addictive urge to keep getting these positive feelings. We do things so we’ll keep getting compliments and praise. This can lead to a positive drive towards self improvement, an effort to be our best selves, throwing ourselves into books, hobbies, healthy habits etc. The activity in the Prefrontal Cortex of the brain, which is very active in depression, is dialled down during early romantic love. This part of the brain plays an important role in our ability to discern between good and bad and analyse the future outcomes of present activities. We are simultaneously driven to present the best version of ourselves, whilst another part of our brain causes us to downplay some of the more negative qualities in our partner, and paint them in the best light possible.

The Dopamine released can also enable obsessive focus and mania. This means we are more likely to ascribe significance to minor events and interactions. This can lead to projecting onto someone, raising them to greater heights than perhaps in reality they live. The reference to the literary device, a “pathetic fallacy”, meaning when we attribute human characteristics to something non-human, links to the idea of romance causing us to see things that are perhaps not really there. I wanted to celebrate how a platonic friendship can ground us, in a good way, letting us live in real space and time. Not only does this ecstasy aspect of attraction lead us to live on a more fantastical plane, it is also consuming and can lead us to perhaps pay less attention to other important areas of our life. I wanted to celebrate the stable ground that a deep friendship offers. There is none of the extreme highs and lows of love, no “agony and ecstasy”.

Poster for the film “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. One of the inspirations behind the line, “No wish for you and me and all we’ve been to disappear into the dark”.

On the subject of agony, similar to addiction, there can be the devastating emptiness we feel when withdrawal occurs. There is also the danger of relapse, the temptation to enter back into a situation that we already know is “bad” for us, because we have felt its dizzying heights. Sometimes, in the immediate aftermath of a break up it can feel so painful you can long for selective amnesia. This particular idea is explored in the film “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, in which the central characters played by Jim Carey and Kate Winslet pay to have all memories of each other erased. What makes it even more difficult when you are suffering from heartache, is that everything reminds you of that person, and they can even infiltrate your dreams. Memories and nostalgia that you once seeked refuge in can feel tainted, and you have nowhere to flee to. It is almost like you are being haunted by them, and you are in need of some type of exorcism.

The idea of “haunting” can also link to someone’s presence being domineering in some way. There can be a sinister element to the relationship that could be due to someone trying to impose control over the other person. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that in a great friendship you have the knowledge that the person is there for you, but their presence is never pressurising or controlling.

Photo from the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort

The term “petite mort” is an expression found in a lot of French poetry, and in some ways reiterates the contrast of the “agony and the ecstasy”. Directly translated as “little death”, it is often used to signify an orgasm. This association perhaps comes from the fact that in some cases, after orgasm, people can feel like they have released in some way (physically, emotionally or even spiritually). Some people feel like literally going to sleep or passing out straight after sex. On a less physical level “the death” could also be associated with feelings of shame, disgust or guilt that might be related to sex. Platonic love doesn’t have any of these burdens attached to it.

This poem is a love letter dedicated to the friends that encourage me to be my most authentic self. And now that it’s been made into a rock song, I look forward to being able to dance to this friendship anthem someday soon, “in real space and time”, with my loves.

Irish actress, singer-songwriter, eejit and poet. Often found turning films into musicals with my girl gang Notflix:The Improvised Musical.