Friendship, Loyalty, Love

The Claddagh ring. In existence since the 17th century, belongs to a group of rings called, fede rings, derived from the Italian phrase, “mani in fede”, meaning “hands joined in faith”.  The gesture of clasping hands goes back to the times of Ancient Rome where it was indicative of an exchange of vows. A powerful meaning. 

There are traditionally three images in the claddagh ring: two hands holding a heart, bearing a crown. These three images stand for 3 basic components of the strongest romantic relationships: friendship, loyalty and love and are traditionally a sign of wholehearted commitment to another. 

I was having a little fun diving into the meaning of these specific three words and  I discovered a sort of progression in commitment that I thought was a beautiful example of the progression of mature relationship, one building on the other. I like to think of them as the three legs of a three-legged stool. Each is equally necessary in supporting the relationship and if one gives out, the structure will wobble and likely fall. 

Friendship. Noun.  A state of being, rooted in the condition of mutual good-will that is based on feelings of personal regard and preference between two persons. The theme here is FEELING. Now feelings can come and go, which perhaps is why friendships can come and go, but we also know that feelings can be quite strong and long-lasting and I believe this happens when they are based on a much deeper conviction and belief. I posit that it is a mutual interest that sparks any relationship, and, I believe, is the essential component of fun and life in a long-term relationship. If the mutual interest in a friendship is of something timeless, such as “mutual good-will”, then this relationship too has the capacity to stand the test of time, otherwise, the zest fades. Zest fading is natural in the progression of any relationship, but I’m referring to a baseline buzz of cherishing and honoring the existence of the other person in your life. For this to exist, I believe it is necessary for there to be Friendship. 

Loyalty. Noun. Faithfulness – steadfastness in affection or allegiance. A matter of both principle and sentiment, conduct and feeling; it implies enthusiasm and devotion …[Century Dictionary, 1897]”. The theme of the ring progresses to both CONDUCT & FEELING. Action resulting from enthusiastic emotion. The phrase comes to mind, “faith without works is dead”, well, quite frankly, if you regard me highly in your mind but never show it, in the immortal words of Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Loyalty is the part of relationship in which we get to show how much we care as a matter of allegiance and devotion. If the feelings are the flutter, then loyalty is the beat. It’s where the rubber hits the road.  You honor an agreement that was made, whether that means to call if you are running late for the agreed upon dinner time, or that we stick it out “till death do us part.” Loyalty is action based on justice, fueled by affection.

Love – Merriam Webster failed me on this one, limiting love to emotion only, so I had to go back to the Big Green, the CCC. “To will the good of the other”.  The relationship is literally crowned, solidified by CONDUCT. Love, the crown, is a choice. It is action based on an unshakeable decision of the heart. “I swear to will your good no matter what.” No matter how you smell, how you age, how grumpy you are when you’re sick or how you’ve hurt or failed me in the past. No doubt I have offended you in just as many ways over the years, but we both, each hand, commits to this vow. 

I think the Irish got it right. There are separate elements to a flourishing relationship. I think the encapsulation of all three is what we typically think of when we say we love another person, but truly, it is much more specific to understand these three pillars and to notice how they build and support another. There are strong elements of affection and excitement at the other’s presence in any good marriage, but that is not love itself. It is friendship. This is what fosters and motivates couples to spend time together and inspires them to seek ways to enjoy each other’s company. Although loyalty is assumed, it is not unnoticed, and it sustains and grows the bond as repeated action confirms it. And for each to truly love the other as the foundation of your union’s existence, removes all doubt of a fracture. 

I think I’m going to start wearing my Claddagh ring again…it’s no longer just a pretty piece of Irish jewelry that reminds me of my roots. It keeps me rooted in my now, in why I continue to choose my husband each day. It reminds me of the tender care I can choose to give to each leg of the stool and of the necessity to provide attention to each. And with that I will leave you with a favorite Irish saying,

“ May the Lord keep you in His hand, and never close His fist too tight.” 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day Everyone!

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