Humans are not solitary creatures. Oh yes, there are those among us who for a variety of reasons choose to live their lives in near hermit-like conditions. But it is not our natural way. We are communal animals, not necessarily like the herd mammals, but we form smaller groups naturally.

I was fairly astounded some days ago when a Facebook discussion about homosexuality elicited this general thought: “If God is okay with homosexuals, then how come they can’t have a family?”

Can’t have a family?

This person’s narrowness of vision is simply astounding. From our earliest beginnings, our kind has grouped together in small numbers of related and non-related members, and called it a family.

The generation before mine defined family as the core parents and children, but with often grandparents and a stray aunt or uncle who was unmarried.

Nuns and brothers in convents surely consider themselves family. As do other groups who work and live in close proximity.

We consider family those who are “related by blood” to us and those related by marriage.

To think of family as only the procreative process is simply out of line with human history. Family is any group of people who feel connected to one another, who help each other, who love each other, and who forgive and forget.

Similarly, relationships are more than the man or woman you are romantically involved with. Relationships exist in all kinds of formats and levels. We have people we just barely know, and those whom we share a sexual bond with, and everything in between.

It is easy for the widowed, the elderly, and those who live far away from others to lose contact with others of their kind. We become isolated in our homes and apartments. Those who live in remote areas do as well.

But our emotional and psychological well-being depends, I believe, on health relationships. It is important to us, whether we admit it or not, that we believe that someone or some ones care about us, would feel our loss, and considers us a “friend”. Although a healthy emotional life is dependent on self-love, it is not the end all of our existence.

We want to matter to others, and frankly to a wider audience as well. It is why most of us, abused and pained in so many personal relationships, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again. We remarry, we seek new friends. Most of us know that these things called relationships are essential to our well-being, and they are.

We need that sounding board if you will. It is all too easy to get off track. A friendly admonishment helps us to re-evaluate and course correct. We need encouragement. We need a pat on the back. We need to know that we are not alone in our pain, or our joy. We need to share quite simply.

We can go for long periods without it, but we are eventually drawn back to it.

Much is said about the failings of the social media. We are told that these “relationships” are somehow false and pretence. They can be. But they are not that by definition, and they can serve anyone well in those times when more face-to-face contact is unavailable for any reason. They cannot be a permanent substitute or the only means of communication with others. They add to the richness of our lives by providing new and sometimes unusual contexts of lifestyle and location.

Relationships don’t need always to be about humans either. Our pets are relationships in many ways, and we can learn a great deal about good living from them. Such things as patience, unconditional love, and forgiveness, are their great gifts to us.

Even if you are a reticent person by nature, and have few ways of meeting new people, every effort should be made to reach out. You need not let a stranger walk by and remain anonymous. You can smile, and say “good morning!” Such efforts are small and will be met with a smile most times. Speak to service personnel during your day, not at them. Make them real. Smile, make eye contact.

Engage in volunteer work that appeals to you. You will meet people who share one thing in common with you–their passion for serving others. You will meet lots of new people, and you will strengthen your empathetic and compassionate tendencies.

Your relationships need not be numerous, they just need to be authentic. No air kisses and platitudes need apply here. They can be romantic or platonic, revolve around shared interests or an interest, be scheduled or impromptu. At least one and hopefully a couple will be deep and broad, allowing you to feel safe enough to share your most intimate of thoughts. A friend is one who makes a safe place for you to let down your hair, sure that you will be upheld, but most of all sure that you will be told the truth from.

We cannot develop our personalities in a vacuum. We need these relationships in order to grow into the best that we can be.

Relationships: build one, and nurture it, and it will return to your many times over. You are who you are, in part, from the people who you have known. They have molded you as you have molded them.

It’s a process that is forever.