Sunday, August 15, 2010

Friendship Among the Self-Reliant

My college roommate Marianne sent me this Wilson Quarterly article by Daniel Akst calling for Americans to value friendship more. We are more disconnected from each other than ever before: though half of American adults are unmarried and over a quarter live alone, we have only one third the number of non-family confidants than we did two decades ago--and a quarter have "no such confidants at all."

In the article, Akst provides hypotheses for why friendship has become so weak. A major reason is the rise of false friendship: University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo say that Americans are lonely "not because we have fewer social contacts, but because the ones we have are more harried and less meaningful." Other factors include the tendency for people to buy what they need (therapy, pets), the "cult of busyness" (people are too busy to develop meaningful intimate relationships), the culture's "reverence for self-sufficiency," the "remorseless eroticization of human relations" (providing a context where "bromance" is a legitimate concept), divorce, and the "wildly inflated view of matrimony to subsume much of the territory once occupied by friendship."

I particularly like the way Akst addresses the phenomenon of viewing one's significant other as the one-stop shop for social needs. He writes, "Your BFF nowadays—at least until the divorce—is supposed to be your spouse... except that spouses and friends fill different needs, and cultivating some close extramarital friendships might even take some of the pressure off at home."

This article provides an excellent reminder for us not to let work or a significant other distract us from developing meaningful friendships. Sadly, too many people forget that friends are important for providing stability and happiness.

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