Friendship

By Saul Levine, MD

Photography by Ron Henggeler

 

I have always loved Carole King’s song, You’ve Got a Friend, and, of course, Barbra Streisand’s People “…who need people”. Friendship obviously refers to that close personal and positive bond between people. We are a social species, and we need that feeling of being a valued part of a community, which I call a sense of belonging. The majority of us have been blessed by having close friends in our lives; we have received, and hopefully we have given, support and caring in these vital relationships.

Friends share each other’s lives. They are on the same wave length, sharing viewpoints and values, witnessing and participating in highs and lows, sadnesses and celebrations. Conversely, people without friends often experience the excruciating pain of vulnerability and loneliness, which you have surely felt at some point in your lives.

Learning how to get along with people is built on a foundation laid down during childhood. Children learn to interact with others, how to agree and disagree, exchange meaningful words and gestures, and how to accommodate to others’ temperaments and feelings. These play a major role in how they make and keep friends throughout their lives.

When we get blue or depressed, we tend to withdraw from human contact, often thinking that we are not likable or worthy of friendship. Paradoxically, this is when we are most in need of social supports and demonstrations of caring.

In a major study of young adults followed throughout their lives, one of the key discoveries was that those who had close, long-term friends fared better over time than those who were less social or more isolated. Close friendships enhance moods and functioning, and are highly correlated with better emotional and even physical health. Friends exchange caring, solace and celebration. I have gained immeasurably from close friends who have been part of my life since childhood, and hopefully I have given them as much in return. Friendship has to be cultivated and nurtured for a meaningful relationship to last for many years.

The Internet enables people to find old friends and supposedly make new friends via social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, and myriad others. I find some of these online friendships to be more “virtual” than authentic. Usually these bonds are anything but meaningful; they are often like excuses not to engage deeply with other human beings. In the guise of generating friendships, the Internet ironically serves to keep people apart. Online friendships can never replace the meaningfulness and intimacy of face-to-face interaction.

Shared thoughts and feelings with friends during good times and bad are cherished experiences. Good friends are open, genuine and honest with each other, tolerant of each other’s frailties and appreciative of their differences. They join in each other’s celebrations, and later on, in their children’s, and grandchildren’s milestones. They are there for each other during illnesses and setbacks, and they participate in the marriages of their loved ones. Some are left to mourn the losses of their dearest old friends, almost as a loss of a part of themselves.

As Stephen Sondheim poignantly put it in his song Old Friends: “Here’s to us, who’s like us?” Simply put, good friendships are some of the best stuff of life.





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