I’ve been thinking about how to write this post for a few weeks after reading Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make–and Keep–Friends by Marisa Franco. (Affiliate link)
In addition to giving the reader a solid explanation of Attachment Theory, Marisa also talks a lot about the history of friendships in American Society. She talks about letters written between friends in early American history that are quite affectionate, warm, and loving. We wouldn’t dare to say these things to someone we are “just” friends with these days. She even does a pretty good teardown of the term I used, “just friends,” which immediately places less value on our friendships when compared to romantic and familial relationships. This is even though our friendships can have more of an impact on our lives and our mental health than any other relationship. She even points out that one of the reasons breakups can be so tricky is that we place so much value on romantic relationships compared to other relationships in our lives that could provide a buffer for those breakups.
A lot of science says we should be paying more attention to our friendships. Much of it you’ll find in the book, but I found more recently online. Let me share some quotes from articles on the topic that have appeared recently online:
From improved moods to better cardiovascular health, friendships have clear benefits for our minds and bodies – even if historically they’ve been treated as less valuable than romantic and family relationships…
…In some cases, friendship may actually be more protective than marriage or family. One analysis drawing on data from 97 countries found that while valuing family and friends was linked to better health and more happiness overall, for older adults, friendships were even more important to health and happiness…
…The quality of our friendships matters, especially as people get older. But even casual friendships are helpful across the lifespan. Weak ties are more helpful for broadening our access to information, while strong friendships are the ones that provide key support.
A diversity of friendships is helpful as well. Having a wider variety of social relationships appears to be better for our health, and may even enhance our ability to ward off a cold.
Friendships are essential for our well-being, providing a support system that helps us navigate through life’s challenges. They play a significant role in our mental and physical health, with numerous studies suggesting that having close friends can positively impact our overall well-being.
On the flip side, being without friends or feeling lonely can be as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The news for men is especially bad, as we have grown to shun close friendships. For many, having close, intimate friends is considered unmanly. This belief is probably doing much more harm than we realize. Here are a couple of articles specifically about men:
Over the last 100 years, there has been a dramatic decline in truly meaningful friendships between males—that which we call enduring supportive friendships. The consequences of their decline may include increases in felt alienation, depression, substance misuse, violence, and even suicide.
The article offers some advice for changing this in our lives. You would do well to read it.
Why do men have fewer friends these days? Declining involvement in civic or religious organizations, lower marriage rates, and changes in the workplace—such as remote work opportunities and longer commutes—are likely contributing to missed opportunities for men to develop friendships with other men. No doubt the pandemic didn’t help, as so many men (and women) found themselves isolated.
But men also have fewer close male friends for other reasons, too. Societal pressures to conform to a particular model of masculinity can hamper the development of intimacy with others. This starts at a young age, when boys are given the message they should not express their emotions or seek emotional comfort from other boys lest they be condemned for being too “soft,” “feminine,” or “gay.”
When you add up all those reasons, it’s pretty amazing that any men have close male friends. A male sexually abused me, I have very few men who I would count as friends, and I know my history plays a role on top of these societal pressures. With that said, I have many female friends. The research, however, suggests that I don’t have many genuinely close and supportive friends. I have some, but it’s not a large group; they mostly live far away. I don’t spend much time in the presence of friends, which has contributed to my increasing anxiety and depression over these last few years.
This is a nice segue into the last article I wanted to share. Anne Helen Peterson recently asked this question, and it’s worth your time to read it:
I’m not even going to quote her. This link is worth your time reading and setting aside some time to think about.
It’s worth considering your friends and recognizing that we need all kinds of friends. We need loose connections, and we need tight connections. We need long-term friends, and we need friends for a season of our lives.
In short, we need each other. I’m afraid this is something that has gotten lost in our culture. It’s certainly gotten lost in our priorities, and I consider myself as guilty as anyone.
I also know that being guilty of not prioritizing friendships has hurt me. It’s likely hurting you. It is hurting all of society. It’s time we started valuing close friendships again. I asked in the Substack chat this week about friendships, and to no surprise, the handful of responses I got from fellow survivors indicated that they didn’t feel like they had close friends. This is not good for our healing at all. The benefits we get from time spent with friends can go a long way when we struggle with healing. I fear that without that support, many of us don’t heal at all.
I’m going to text some friends this weekend and let them know I miss them. At least that’s a start. What will you do?