Participants in a recent study (published by the Public Library of Science – PLoS ONE) identified people whom they regarded as friends. Astonishingly, only half of those identified felt the same way about their participant “friends.” As surprising (even shocking) as this may be, what does this mean, and what can we learn from it?
Descriptions of friendship vary, from the simple definition in the Webster Dictionary of “a person you like and enjoy being with” to Wikipedia’s “short” list of characteristics, including “affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding, and compassion, enjoyment of each other’s company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend.”
Not everyone defines “friend” the same way. Take today’s superficial Facebook “friending” of acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors and friends of friends vs. the deeper personal sharing of heart and soul as well as common interests. Unfortunately, these days many people have precious little time to nurture deep, lasting friendships that provide support and continuity and not necessarily practical rewards or recognition on social media.
Because tried and true friendships take time, presence and emotional capital that lead to oneness, an individual does well to have one or two very close friends and three or four close ones. Others may be, at most, casual friends or acquaintances brought together by common interests or values.
Studies show that loneliness and isolation can be as risky to our health and well being as smoking, alcoholism and obesity. Each person does well to discover her or his best balance of close friends, social activities and time purposely spent alone. For many, it is a lifelong balancing act to maintain and deepen close friendships, to grieve lost friendships, and to explore possible new ones.
It is a fact of friendship that some whither away. In some cases, one friend does all the initiating and comes to question the mutuality and meaningfulness of the friendship. A decision eventually is made to let it wane and fade away, or perhaps to confront the negligent person and clarify whether there is potential to balance the weights of give and take.
For many of us there is the challenge that living in two countries presents, namely nurturing enduring friendships in our country of origin, and exploring new ones in another country. Such divided living can challenge the need for enough time and continuity to sustain the friendships both nearby and afar.
There is no single, easy way to manage friendships in such dual lives. We do the best we can while reminding ourselves that it takes two to tango. When all is said and done, many of us prize a few close friends in both countries, and we count our blessings to have casual, part-time (if you will) friends here and there as well.
We will close with two special quotes about friendship: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou) “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” (John Leonard)
Roger Cormier and Sandy Cohen – [email protected]