A recent study by the Barna Research Group showed that many Americans (20%) are lonely, even though they report having a network of friends. So while they may be friendly, they are not experiencing the closeness in those relationships that dissipate loneliness.
As our society has changed over the last few decades, with an emphasis on social media, our interactions with others have shifted from in person to online, from real life to virtual. Add high mobility in people’s lives and crazy busy schedules and you have a recipe for loneliness.
As most of us know, you can have hundreds of Facebook friends but not really know any of them. Or perhaps you do know some of them but you rarely, if ever, see them in person. So while we think we have lots of friends, the reality is often not so.
As I have moved often throughout my adult life, I have had many friends in real life. However, I have found it difficult to maintain most of those relationships long distance. It is much easier to be close with someone you can see face to face, someone you can go to lunch or see a movie with.
You can try to keep a close friendship going long distance but it is challenging. You can call, text, and write but after time passes, the relationship tends to diminish if not cease to exist.
I have found another dynamic at work that I find interesting. When we know we are going to be living somewhere short-term, we tend to not even make the effort to make new friends. Or if we do make friends, we keep them at arm’s length to protect ourselves from future loss.
Also, as soon as we have plans to move to another city, we tend to begin to distance ourselves from people BEFORE we move. It is a natural, human coping mechanism to protect ourselves from the loss we will experience when we actually move.
But isn’t it interesting that we cause the loss before we really have to? You would think we would be savoring every moment we have with our friends but I have seen this happen over and over again, in my own life and in others.
The bottom line is that friendship is a choice and it takes time. When you move away from current friendships you now have to make choices about which relationships are worth maintaining and which are not. Technology has made it easier to stay in touch with the friends we’ve moved away from but the time and energy we use to maintain those relationships means time we don’t have to develop new relationships. It’s kind of a catch-22.
How important is having friends? There are some who would say they don’t really need friends, that they are satisfied with their work and home life without them. However, most people agree that having friends is an important part of a healthy and fulfilling life.
The quality of friendship in a person’s life can affect their levels of health and happiness. A recent study in the journal Personal Relationships states that friendship can become even more important than family as people age. The study found that when people said their friends were a source of strain, they reported having more chronic illnesses. But when their friends were a source of support, people were happier.
Throughout most of my married life, I have not lived close to my family so the friends I have made over the years have been very important to me. We have shared important life events together and made memories that I cherish. I have come to understand that many of those friendships were for a season, a particular time and place.
Rare is the person who is fortunate to have life-long friends in this day and age. If you are one of those people, cherish those special people in your life. Don’t take them for granted or neglect them. Make it a priority to reach out to show your love and appreciation for them.
Friendship is worth the effort it takes to make new friends and maintain some old ones. Yes, it takes time and energy but I believe it is important. Personally, I continue to struggle in this area but I am committed to finding ways to meet people and develop new friendships. I’m also reaching out to some friends from the past in hopes of rekindling those relationships.
“A good friend is a connection to life — a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.”