Friendships are the foundation of a happy life. Romantic partners certainly can be friends, but there is something powerful about a relationship with someone who simply fills an emotional need of connection, support, and understanding – sometimes the most rewarding relationships of our lives. Research on highly stressed women, such as those raising high needs children, suggests that their cells age at a very rapid rate unless they have social support. It turns out that friendships do not just make us feel better, they strengthen our immunity and extend our lives. Being able to share a struggle with somebody who truly understands lightens our load in ways psychologists are just starting to understand.
What does friendship mean in the age of COVID-19 when some friends are isolating themselves within their households, some are social distancing with caution, or not following any guidelines for safety at all? It means we are not always getting the time and connection with friends that we truly need. This pandemic has led to some of the loneliest and most isolating times in our lives. It is inconvenient for some, devastating and solitary for others. We have never needed friends more.
So, we ask you, how much friend time do you need? How often do you see your friends? What is the primary form of communication? Is it exclusively text messaging? How has it changed in the pandemic? How often do you actually see your friend face-to-face? Is the amount and type of contact working?
In our practices, we hear a lot of loneliness, even before the pandemic. People have not spent the time and energy to nurture friendships. Many people fear rejection and avoid sticking their neck out to ask a potential friend to hang out. And if we are being truthful, sometimes friendship advances are spurned. Certainly, there are people who simply do not have the time beyond the obligations of their home life or jobs. We have all had our friendship rejected. That is not a reason to avoid seeking new friendships or readdressing old ones. Let’s not forget about those who need or want only a few friends, or perhaps get their friendship needs met within their families or through coworkers. They aren’t rejecting us, they simply don’t have the same need for friendship. We can’t take that personally.
One area our clients often discuss is their comfort or discomfort with self-disclosure in friendships. Self-disclosure is the road to emotional intimacy in most relationships, yet we all have different levels of comfort in terms of self-disclosure. Having a close friend does not mean that you share every private or sensitive thought. Sharing feelings and reactions to world and personal events is a form of self-disclosure. But sometimes friendships are best strengthened with laughter. Sometimes it is a matter of having someone to roll your eyes with over the absurdities in life or a boss.
Take stock of your current friendships. Which ones need work? Which ones need to fade? Do you need new ones? In upcoming articles, we will address what it takes to establish true friendships.