When you’re young, you innocently believe that no force imaginable could ever tear you apart from your friends. And then in adulthood, you realise the truth about relationships: some endure the test of time while many others fail. Helen Razer ponders on a childish faith in unbreakable bonds.
By
Helen Razer

17 Aug 2017 - 9:14 AM  UPDATED 17 Aug 2017 - 9:38 AM

If we are very lucky and happen to be born to a family, a nation-state and cultural group that enjoy adequate comfort, our childhood will largely pass in optimism. We’ll have dreams and we'll see no reason that these won’t be fulfilled in time.

If we continue to be very lucky, we’ll have the strength to live in the space that comes to separate childhood dream from adult reality. We’ll think of our young, dreaming selves kindly, and move through waking disappointment. We won’t be pessimistic, but we will make peace with the truths that careers don’t always ascend, romantic partnerships aren’t always easy and that the families in which we were happily raised might not live happily-ever-after.

In other words: growing up, even for those of us who grow with all the rights and comforts every person should have, is hard. It means losing the extreme idealism of extreme youth and facing the occasional extremes of real life. There will be conflict and there will be disappointment. There will be the pain, for every one of us, of a personal relationship coming to a halt.

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For many Australians raised outside the dominant white culture, the pain, I imagine, is more complex and keen. If I, for example, have the irrits with a family member, I can simply stop talking to them and the only thing I have lost is a single relationship. What my friends from outside the dominant culture risk losing is much greater: a significant break with their cultural identity. All of which is to say that breaking any social bond is difficult, but it is far more difficult for some.

It's just been mildly difficult for me. When I was young, I accepted as truth that my friends would always be my friends and that there was no external force powerful enough to separate us. Then, as the people around me began to enter an adult world, external forces made themselves very evident, and sometimes found their intolerant expression in me, or toward me. I was 10 when I decided that atheism was my bag, and that this made it impossible for me to remain friends with my evangelical bestie. I was 13 when my closest pal decided that my ongoing interest in Lego and unconcern for shaving my legs had made me redundant. I was 23 when I dumped a person for what I saw as their terrible lack of professional ambition. I was 43 when I was dumped for…well, you get the picture.

What my friends from outside the dominant culture risk losing is much greater: a significant break with their cultural identity. All of which is to say that breaking any social bond is difficult, but it is far more difficult for some.

The world intervenes in all of our relationships. We can take social intolerance and make it our own. We can take past hurt and impose it on the present and end our connection to family, intimate partners and friends. But what persists in many of us, I think, is the noble hope of a child to keep these connections alive forever. Even as we fight and separate, we still dream of peace and unity.

Well, I do, at least, which is why I know I’ll watch the heck out of Look Me in the Eye, an SBS reality show in the “social experiment” style that seeks to reunite people who once shared a strong connection. Although, as an adult, I accept that some of my bonds are unlikely to be mended, I certainly like to entertain the idea that they could be.

I do fancy the hope that there are forms of therapy so effective or words so kind, a mother and child separated by decades of disagreement can find a way back together. But, more than this, I dream, in a more adult way, of a world that is not so harsh and socially divided that our chances at peace are greater from the outset.

But what persists in many of us, I think, is the noble hope of a child to keep these connections alive forever. Even as we fight and separate, we still dream of peace and unity.

If you find a way to mend your own relationships, you have my admiration. If we can all find a way to let relationships, and selves, flourish beyond the margins of cultural and religious difference, or shaved or hairy legs, then you have my solidarity. Yes, we can work individually to mend our own intimate bonds. To work collectively to build a world where bonds are not so easily broken is something, in my view, we should never lose childish faith in.

If you need help, or this story has raised issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or visit Relationships Australia

The ground-breaking new six-part documentary series, Look Me In The Eye, will debut on SBS on Wednesday 6 August at 8.30pm. Each episode, airing weekly on Wednesdays at 8.30pm, will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.  

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