More and more of us appear to have fewer and fewer people in our lives whom we would consider friends. And lest the word friend be left too ambiguous, let a friend be defined as someone with whom you have confided matters that are truly important to you within the past six months.
In the June issue of the American Sociological Review, researchers cite evidence that Americans have a third fewer close friends than just a couple of decades ago. More disturbing still, the data seem to indicate that the number of us who have nobody to count as a close personal friend has more than doubled.
The findings hold for both males and females. They are consistent for people of all races, ages, and educational levels. Even within families, the degree of intimacy has diminished considerably. All this information can’t be good news, for it translates into people who feel lonelier and more isolated than ever.
Emotionally healthy people form meaningful ties with other human beings. They don’t just exchange information but share personal things. They talk about likes and dislikes, their joys and fears. They extend themselves to help others and know how to accept assistance when they get in over their heads. When they have important decisions to make, they get insight and support from their friends.
Everybody needs a handful of people with whom to connect in these intimate ways. Nobody is smart enough, strong enough, or competent enough to negotiate something as complicated as this human adventure called life alone. John Donne protested the idea that men and women could function in splendid isolation from one another. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” he wrote.
I know. You’re busy! So is everybody else – including the people who are healthy enough to have emotional ties. You don’t have time for the obligations in your life already? I understand that excuse too. But the issue here is priorities. Which is more important? Playing computer games or having a friend? Getting a bigger house or loving (and being loved by) the people in the house you have now? Making extra cash or having a real life?
The same research shows not only that people have fewer friends these days but that more and more of us are feeling the need for them. With the circle drawn so tiny, people are feeling lonely. Everybody needs people to count on.
If you are one of those people in need of friends, the best advice I can give you is this: Don’t go looking to find friends but to be one to somebody else. Would you care to guess what dividend is returned on such an investment?
Reprinted, with permission, from Rubel Shelly’s FAX of Life.