A couple days ago I finally got past my resistance to reading an academic journal that had been sitting on my desk since summer (their political biases were the turn-off—after 35 years I’ve decided to let my subscription lapse), and read a fascinating article about Americans’ need to rediscover the value of friendship.
The author, Daniel Akst, wrote that “Americans have been engaged in wholesale flight from one another, decamping for suburbs and Sunbelt, splintering into ever smaller households, and conducting more and more of their relationships online, where avatars flourish. The churn rate of domestic relations is especially remarkable, and has rendered family life in the United States uniquely unstable,” the most transient of any other comparable nation in the world.
Facebook “friends” notwithstanding—the average Facebook user has 130 of them—friendship appears to be a dying art and a quaint, anachronistic pastime.
Today, he says, we live in a social climate in which friends appear dispensable, and that we have come to demand of ourselves “truly radical levels of self-sufficiency.” He buttresses this observation with research which suggests Americans have a third fewer nonfamily confidants than twenty years ago; an average of only four “close social contacts” (of whom half are spouses and/or children and close relatives); that a quarter of us have no confidants at all; that half of us are unmarried and a quarter of us live alone. Akst observed that greater numbers of us are relying on our pets for companionship and buying our confidants by the hour in the form of professional therapy.
As I read this article it drove home the realization that I am, by normative standards, a very odd duck indeed. I long ago took a fork in the road and made the conscious decision to make significant ongoing investments in friendships that are more-than-casual, nonfleeting and, preferably, intense. As Holly said shortly before she died, friends and family are the only wealth that lasts, the only wealth that matters.
I have been disappointed along the way when some people reveal themselves to be friends of the “fair weather” variety, or are too harried and busy or selfish to reciprocate my attentions, or turn out to be users or takers or unfaithful and disloyal in certain ways. Yet on balance I cannot say that I regret having taken the chance and put myself out there for them. Even when I do get burned, I come away from such encounters more experienced and wiser—and I am thankful at least for that.
The thing I found so valuable about this article is that it has helped remind me that a lot of people do not exercise their friendship muscles, and are out of shape in that respect. Some people simply ‘know not what they do’ and, as my mother used to say, it’s easier and better in the long run to sometimes just play dumb and not take offense at the slights and stumbles and shortcomings of others.
It has reminded me that empathy, patience and kindness are among the greatest virtues in making and keeping friends (and for building up this particular form of equity).
Here’s wishing you a Truly Prosperous 2011. Thank you for our friendship!
Groove of the Day