In this age of assertiveness, we are encouraged to be excessively choosy when picking friends or, even more so, romantic partners. Having one loyal friend who understands us and is there for us at all times sounds awesome but in many cases may not be entirely realistic. And even those lucky few who were fortunate enough to find “real friends” are essentially putting themselves at risk — change is the essence of our lives and there is no guarantee that their friends will be always available physically or emotionally. It is much healthier to have your interpersonal needs divided up so that you aren’t overly dependent on one person.
Losing a friend — for whatever reason — is indeed a unique type of pain comparable to a loss of a romantic relationship in its intensity. To make things worse, it’s actually harder to find a new friend than a new romantic partner because initiating contact with a potential romantic partner is perceived as much less awkward than being proactive with potential friends.
Making new friends becomes increasingly harder once we are done with school, and it doesn’t help that we naturally start to lose friends at the age of 25. In addition, it’s not rare for people to drift apart over time or we wouldn’t have books such as “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women” by Nina Gamby or “What Did I Do Wrong: When You Don’t Know Why the Friendship is Over” by Liz Pryor.
According to this study by Harvard University, having no friends could be as deadly as smoking, and there are very real physical consequences of social isolation. Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert and an accomplished public speaker, mentions in her book “Friendships Don’t Just Happen” a study commissioned by The National Lottery. The study compared happiness levels of lottery winners and non-lottery winners only to find that the number of friends correlated with higher happiness levels much better than the amount of money they had.
So do people with lots of friends have low standards when it comes to friendships? Are they just being superficial or is there something we could learn from them? On the one hand, we have this study that says that people we consider to be our friends reciprocate only about half the time. On the other hand, we instinctively know that overthinking things will surely leave us alone, study or no study. In addition, real friendships, the type where everyone reciprocates, take time to develop, but they all begin as just an acquaintance, a superficial relationship, a working relationship, or whatever you prefer to call it.
Other than having more chances to nurture one or two “real” friendships, there is another good reason to meet more people. Each of us is a unique mix of personality characteristics and preferences. Each of us has certain interests not all our friends share, which, when limited to only one or two relationships, can make our friendships less satisfying. Using myself as an example, here are some things I would love to see in my ideal friend:
- I am an ENTJ, and I really like ambitious and sophisticated people.
- I am originally Latvian but live abroad, so it would be nice to know someone who shares the same ethnic background with me and lives nearby.
- I am interested in psychology and psychiatry.
- I like to read.
- I am interested in Asia, particularly Asian pop culture.
- I spent most of my life in the Middle East, and it would be great if my friends could appreciate Arabic language, Lebanese cuisine and desert the way I do.
- I am a gym rat, and it would be perfect to have someone to work out with.
- I have a chronic illness, and I really need someone who understands what I am going through.
- I have a teenage son, so my ideal friend should have a teenage son too.
- I am a web developer, and being able to talk about the web and the technical side of things would be great.
- I travel a lot.
- I love shopping.
Each of us has their own list, and it’s not realistic to expect that one person can satisfy all our unique needs, be the same age as us and live nearby. This is the reason why giving a chance to more people makes so much sense and is so much better for our mental health and well-being.
Image source: @javi_indi via Freepik
Written by Elena Gorsvan
Online CBT Platform to Help Deal with Relationship Problems, Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, and More. Includes professional follow-up by a CBT therapist. Click here to get started.