A lot of my friends based primarily on experience their knowledge of what category the relationship they are experiencing belongs to. I do too, but perhaps I do a bit more generalization of experience and put it into words no abstracter than action. I have not been approaching knowledge from wider experience for a long time since childhood, but in these recent years something has changed me to respect experience more than I did, but I will do the sharing some time later. A point to make now is that some friends are mistaken in still believing that I am as “off-grounded” or idealistic as some months before. And maybe because they don’t reflect in the same way I do. But, well, on experience I reflect. I have reflected on what love ideally, typically and basically is, and a blog entry has been published. I have reflected on some other things as well. Particularly, for now, on the ultimate differences between romantic relationship and friendship. And perhaps it is high time I shared this view of mine.
There is, for long, an ambiguity between friendship and romantic relationship or in transitions between the two. (Watch two Cantonese videos from Stakk for street interviews for a sense of this ambiguity.  ) They cannot simply be different in degree and are not the two poles within a continuum, because the interconnections of power relations or meaning-making directions within a relationship structure entails its irreducible structural, systemic and functional complexity.  Basically, for now I think C.S. Lewis (C.S. 路易斯) is right in understanding relationship in terms of whether it is an inclusive one or an exclusive one , since even during and after years of search, I could not see any alternatives with the same ultimacy (on the socio-culturo-psychological level) in describing the ontological difference of the two relationships at hand. (If you can think of any, please, you must inform me.) On the one hand, friends often appear in our minds as a group, or two or a few more people opening their arms to others so that more of them can join hands together. The Chinese phrase of “friends”, “朋友”, involves two word characters, the first (“朋”) meaning those with the same (or similar) virtues and the second (“友”) meaning those with the same (or similar) orientation of the will (i.e. to where to head in life). So, theoretically speaking, the number of friends with similar virtues and orientation of the will can form a group of friends. It is in this sense how friendship is, or can be, inclusive. On the other hand, people who are in romantic love with each other always appear as two persons, but they are too onto each other (e.g. building their own little living spaces at home which outsiders cannot enter publicly) so that no more persons can join their exclusive love towards each other, at least as TVB soap dramas often depict. (But I believe this mutual signification of targets of exclusive love is malign, unless it is grounded on the unconditional love linked to the community and eventually reality, in forms such as donating monthly to a charitable organization for the poor because both the husband and the wife had been in poverty and are empathetic to people in similar situations, and they both would like to oriented their will to the monthly donation.) So, it is in the first place reasonable to see that romantic relationship is generally exclusive. But it is a bit too neat for me to assign the inclusive relationship to friendship and the exclusive relationship to modern romantic relationship (some of which will ideally and eventually lead to marriage, presumably the personal (or whole-person) union of two complementary genders (or even sexes)).
An example for a (more-or-less) benign form of friendship that is exclusive: Two friends share the same virtues and orientation of the will, but the way they share them (e.g. the way they communicate involving jargons or words that are not familiar to outsiders) are excluding others from joining the relationship, because their way of sharing the virtues and orientation of the will makes themselves more cohesive and consistent (in terms of beliefs and values) with each other and at the same time makes themselves less approachable by others. So, there can be friendship that is not at all times inclusive but sometimes exclusive. An example of a (more-or-less) benign form of romantic relationship that is inclusive: Two people in romantic love mutually see themselves in each other and see the other in themselves best in modern times (i.e. to be precisely, after 16th-century English nationalism), but the way they mutually see themselves in each other and see the other in themselves can also more-or-less be the way they relate to a third party (and maybe also a fourth party and so on). Thousands and thousands of extramarital affairs often start like this, I believe. So, there can be romantic relationship that is not all at times exclusive but sometimes inclusive.
People have been giving explanations to help us understand more about the ambiguity problem of identifying relationship or the non-correspondance problem of inclusiveness or exclusiveness mapping to friendship or romantic relationship. Some theo-religious explanations would be that it is the human non-optimal condition (e.g. in their terms, original and/or actual sin) that defies these God-given stable relationship structure, but they often dismiss the God-responsible reality of the structural mobility within these relationships. And some poststructuralist (or poststructuralist-friendly) explanations would be that they are the worldwide movements since 1960s that have liberated people from authoritarian male-dominated (social) structures, of which relationship structure is one kind, giving more social freedom to people such that they can now choose their own friends and own love with less normative bound imposed on them by traditional social forces, or that they can at least choose another structural frame of reference according to which their lives can orient, but they often disregard that dynamics and freedom can still actually be present within structures in a God-centered premodern social order or a Nation-centered modern social order only if those social orders base their structural focal point on exemplified personhood (i.e. personhood embodied by an individual or a concrete social unit). Those explanations are, at least to me, inadequate in helping us understand our lived experience of encountering the ambiguity abovementioned.
How can we understand relationship so that relationships can no longer be categorically ambiguous when we will it to be? There are some points to note: We probably do not want relationship to be static, dead and without mobility, but we do want a dynamically stable relationship that incorporates freedom, passion and sense of excitement in its formation, development and healthy degeneration, if any, and at the same time is situated and grounded so that its stability can engender senses of security in love and willing commitment. Then, with this dynamic transition, we doubtlessly want relationship to be sufficiently ambiguous and unpredictable such that we can be constantly guided to a state of personal welfare of whole-person betterment out of our experiential expectation so that the passivity of a healthy relationship can bring us self-knowledge that we previously do not possess, but still not too ambiguous in a sense that as longer as we want to make sense of this relationship in terms of categories or concepts, we have the tools to make this relationship structure conceivable. So what is a solution of mine? As I believe that personhood is central to our existential experience of all times, we have to dig deeper into what relationship means to personhood.
A relationship is healthy if and only if it, as a causal result of nurture by the members in that relationship, coheres with reality, or in this case best characteristic of guided nature on the broadest level on which the relationship ecosystem lies, which is in turn respectfully read or interpreted by the subjects in that relationship. (For example, a family relationship is healthy if and only if the family members ABC involving in advancing the relationship nourishes the relationship in whatever ways that is in accordance with what reality treated as one sovereign subject or one thing of its own kind we can relate to is respectfully interpretatively perceived to be (i.e. what realistically (and idealistically ) makes a family a family according to the reality one perceive). On this basis, say, people who endorse deontological Kantian ethics who think it is most realistic and idealistic to treat others as one wants to be treated and in this way adhere to the golden rule of ethics and morality will naturally endorse that it is best and healthiest for a family ABC to work on, in general, what a family member would expect another family member to do and, in particular, what the other family members B and C would expect this family member A to do which would respect A’s autonomy as a person such that when this family member A expects the other family members B and C to fulfil certain duties, he or she would reciprocally respect their autonomies as different persons.) Given this intuitive and uncontroversial description of a healthy relationship, it is best a relationship directs towards where reality treated as one sovereign subject or one thing of its own kind we can relate to lies. Some established religions usually have simpler formulations of the one sovereign reality, because religious people of those religions can possibly respectfully read or interpret reality as a personal God. Other religions and total or primary worldviews (i.e. views about reality or the world that can explain all phenomena experienced by humanity actually and/or potentially in the future) would have more complex formulations, which exclude a personal God as a ontological posit, but the explanatory power of which may not be inferior to established religions.
A person’s course of life would involve his or her engaging in different relationships, be them friendship, romance or others. There would likely be one or a few of them on which the person devotes most of his or her lifetime, but which of them are or should be those? I follow Liah Greenfeld’s analysis of modern passions that our emotional repertoire (or the way we feel) determines our existential experience (or the way we experience reality as existent subjects) , and modernity primarily implies the primacy of romance over friendship or fellowship that is often called into attention in Western premodern times. Since the primacy of romance is still very evident in our modern (late-modern or even post-modern) times, it can be safely said that in a paradigmatic (late-)modern life, it is a (or several) romantic relationship(s) which one devotes most time in sustaining and developing. We would see romantic relationships as the most meaningful relationship in a life, but it could just be a modern phenomenon related first and foremost to the emotional repertoire we get. An example of premodern emphasis would be priestly fellowship in a religious order, where priests hold on to celibacy and value friendship and brotherhood in the union with God over marriage between the sexes. Also, independent of whether or not the most meaningful relationship in a life must be romance in modern times, these relationships would probably be, in most of the times, benignly or healthily exclusive or limitedly inclusive yet still aiming at (A1) coherence and union with reality per se (and thus automatically also social reality) and as a natural consequence, (A2) projection of this love onto reality (including social reality) as unconditional as possible (so that up till this point, both forms are possible to cohere best with reality). An example of how the projection of this love unconditionally on reality makes a couple’s life meaningful: a couple AB caring exclusively for each other’s academic career, during a double dating, care for another couple CD whose exclusiveness are similar to them as all of them rest their attention on academic career, but without presuppositions and predispositions on prohibiting their scope of care, on the dining table, they also talk about the recent economic crisis when the discussions on academic career naturally transit to this new topic the couple AB is originally feeling bored about. Precisely because the relationship structure of AB relate to the social reality in a good way, they naturally feel interested in the economic topic because it relates to CD, as they can know more of CD by talking about the economic topic they are disinterested in. And there would consider the knowledge of CD is meaningful enough to contribute to their standing as persons and a couple, as they relate to one another for their endeavour for meaning and meaningfulness of their life and lives. It shows that relationship is integral to the sustenance of personhood, as human beings are primarily social beings and beings of reality, and it is at least historically impossible that they live a meaningful personhood without being in a society and in reality.
Therefore, the distinction between romance and friendship has to relate ultimately to the need to achieve (A1) the coherence of a person’s course of life with reality (and the social reality thereof) to lead a good life consisting of healthy relationships. And hence, it is by the nature of relationship itself insufficient to be determined as rightful, healthy and benign without considering the context, scope of operation or environment in which the relationship situates. Therefore, my solution is twofold. The first part of my solution is a dissolution: The need of the distinction is dissolved by replacing this need with another more urgent and important need the satisfaction of which will automatically mean the settlement of this need of distinction. In fact, the need of the distinction between romantic relationship and friendship is dissolved by replacing this need with another more urgent and important need: the need to achieve (A1) the coherence of a person’s course of life with reality (and the social reality thereof) so as to lead a good life consisting of healthy relationships. Moreover, as this need is satisfied, the need of distinction is settled; there is no more need to distinguish the two. But people who still feel the need of distinguishment even after the need to achieve the coherence of a person’s course of life with reality (and the social reality thereof) requires not this part of the solution. Maybe they are curious about whether it conforms more to the one sovereign reality that this or that particular relationship be regarded as romance or friendship. Here is the second part of my solution:
Every individual relationship counts. And it is in the first place that the subject counts the particular relationship at hand. If the subject as the member of the relationship experiences the relationship, they must have a certain tendency to characterize it. The key is just to be true to oneself, and one would know whether one is true to oneself when one is given enough perceptual space (i.e. space to perceive one’s internal state or to introspect) and a glacial temporality (i.e. time with a glacial or slow pace). These can be provided by parents for a child, by teachers for a student, by counsellors for a client, by friends for a friend and by partners for a beloved. There are two identifiable problems these people who still feel the need of distinguishment of the kinds of relationship after their focus has been tuned back to the work for achieving (A1) would encounter:
(P1) There is insufficient suitable vocabulary to describe the relationship as the subject wants to make sense of it.
(P2) The subject as the member of the relationship is not self-conscious enough to conceptualize his or her internal feelings or sensations of, about, in and towards the relationship.
My solution to (P1) would be: (S1) Exhaust the currently available symbolic devices or vehicles (i.e. languages, signs, actions, activities and other expressions) to express their feelings if their primary aim is to communicate their experiences, and they would like others to understand. Or else, invent their own language or words, just as some people who are diagnosed as mentally disabled would do (as they inevitably tend to self-refer to their own semiotic world or reality), and signal others to understand them. My solution for (P2) would be: (S2) If some of them are conscious of the ambiguity but not of the experience, they would have to be led by the elder to discover their experiential internal state during their process of maturity; otherwise, they probably would not even be self-conscious of both the ambiguity and the experience, and then there will be no problem to be dealt with in the first place.
If every individual relationship long and relatable enough to be meaningful in one’s course of life counts, then the focus during individual contemplation should be on the individual, particular relationship instead of the abstract type of relationship or relationship structure. After all, exclusiveness/inclusiveness and romance/friendship are just notions helping one decipher the relations with the other part(ies) within a relationship. Distinguishing the concepts clearly is not an end for a meaningful life of sociality. There is no need per se to drag along the conceptual distinction just for the sake of individual contemplation on some particular relationship.
However, if reality treated as one sovereign subject or one thing of its own kind we can relate to presents to us such that there are some types of relationships or some forms of expressions of relationships (no matter which types the relationships) which it repels (that is, holding those relationships or having those expressions would be regarded as at all times evil or anti-realistic), then it is of course necessary to avoid those for maintaining a rightful, healthy and meaningful life. It must nevertheless be stressed that careful and respectful discernment upon which types of relationships or forms of expressions of relationships reality repels is essential to such life in which one develops a truthful relationship with reality as such. The ambiguity problem now switches to one of the most important topics of realist epistemology on how discernment is to be done. And it suffices to say here that I temporarily halt the exploration of another topic now.
But still, if the problem extends to a societal level, the biggest part of this extended problem will remain unanswered. Socio-political administrative needs and pastoral needs require a clear distinction of the two relationship structures or institutions so that resources can be better allocated to each type of them, or that rights and responsibilities (including sins) can be better assigned to each type of them etc. It is but a necessity to answer in what manner or ways we should classify one relationship structure as a social institution just for the sake of resource, right and responsibility allocation etc. If this article plans to solving the problem on an individual level, I believe it has done its job. Because I have not yet had an answer for this societal question, my sharing shall end here. Other thoughts are experiences are reserved for next time.
What do you think about my solution?
 A Cantonese video from Stakk on whether to Hong Kong young people there is true friendship between people of two sexes/genders: https://www.facebook.com/StakkFactory/videos/660295510845970/
 A Cantonese video from Stakk on how Hong Kong young people would feel and think if friends of the same sex confess their feelings towards them and would like to transform their friendship into further, possibly romantic, relationship: https://www.facebook.com/StakkFactory/videos/640667446142110/
 The relationship types, friendship and romantic relationship, cannot simply be different in degree and are the two poles within a continuum, because as there are interconnections of power relations or meaning-making directions within a relationship structure, the relationship is said to be arranging in a certain way. The very fact that it is the arrangement of those interconnections that makes the relationship a relationship structure guarantees the impossibility to abandon the systemic complexity and reduce the whole structure into its parts or the parts into the whole structure, so friendship and romantic relationship are categorically distinct because of its systemic, functional complexity. So they are different in kind. (Note: seeing relationship as structure is not necessarily a view that I adopt here, but it is provisional and could be seen as metaphorical.)
 Read Lewis, C.S. (1960). The Four Loves.
 If reality is not believed to be static but developing, in some sense we can say that what is expected of reality of the future and/or of the imagination of the non-actual would be ideal; seeing reality ideally is to be idealistic. Sometimes being idealistic would be used in contrast to being realistic (i.e. seeing reality as it has been in the past and is at the present and/or as it will normally be in its actuality), but here I am talking about the cases where the idealistic and the realistic points of view overlap in reality.
 Greenfeld, L. (2016). Advanced Introduction to Nationalism, (pp.112). Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
Finished writing at 18:51 on 31 January 2017.