“You’re lucky if you find one true friend in an entire lifetime.” Sure sounds familiar, but does this old adage still apply? For one thing, in recent years, scientific researchers have advised us that more friends means a happier, longer life. We’ve even reached a point whereby the platforms upon which we base our social networks allow us to rack up connections as if they were frequent flyer points. Yet, in the case of friendships, does more of less equal better? And, if so, how can we come to terms when those weaker links tear us apart emotionally?
Finding friends may be easier than ever but according to medical sociologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis, more is not better. His new book, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives,” analyzes the impact of friendships in the virtual world. And while the average user has 110 friends on Facebook®, of which only 6.6 are actually close friends, Christakis demonstrates that the majority of our online connections are so fragile that they simply do not measure up to one single real-world relationship.
No matter what the connection, when someone in your inner or outer circle of friends suddenly disengages, continuously disappoints or drifts away over time, the impact on the psyche can be as devastating as a break-up. In fact, a new body of evidence out of Manchester University tells us that “breaking up with friends is harder than losing a lover.” And apparently it’s harder for the ladies than men, as they tend to stand by their friends no matter how taxing and toxic those relationships may be.
It may help to know that this “cycle of friends” is normal. There is a life expectancy on the friendships we forge, at least the real ones according to researchers at Uterecht University in the Netherlands, and that transition happens every seven years. Historically such changeovers in friends were not an option, but the reality of fast moving life today is that we are more connected, mobile and world-wise. As a result our friendships move and change with us, wherever we go and however we evolve.
No one likes the feeling of a friendship gone sour, but here are some things to consider that may help keep things in perspective for you:
1. Friends fall into different categories. Work colleagues, party pals, shared-interest partners and virtual friends are different than the friends we know from our childhood or the ones with whom we bond on an emotional or intellectual level. If you set and gauge your expectations accordingly you will less likely be disappointed by the different people and the roles they play in your life.
2. Long-lasting friendships are rare and, like dating, finding the good ones is a numbers game. The broader the net you cast the more likely you are to develop situational relationships. Those are the people that come into your life based on where you are at a given point in your life whether it’s emotionally, socially or professionally. Embrace those friendships but do not get discouraged if they dissolve when circumstances change – short-lived friendships serve a purpose as long as you accept them for what they are.
3. If a friendship is broken it may or may not need fixing. That’s why it’s important to evaluate your relationship with each individual on a case-by-case basis. There is no telling what may be affecting someone else, so understand that erratic shifts in behaviour may have nothing to do with you. On the other hand, toxic relationships are not a healthy choice for anyone and those that have slowly faded may simply need time apart in order to reconnect later.