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Friday, June 26, 2009

Friendships

Friendship has been something I have taken for granted. Circles of friends have been a part of my life since very early days when I entered organizations such as the Cub Scouts or structured environments like school. Making many friends proved neither complicated nor difficult as I progressed through the years. As an extrovert, I enjoyed the opportunities of serving leadership positions in curricular and extracurricular activities. I was president of my high school class for four years and voted "best all-around" senior superlative. The number of my close acquaintances buoyed my confidence and, of course, fed my ego. I treasured my relationships with my old friends, and I still do. My circle of friends has grown smaller due to various reasons including distance, obligations, maturation, and death. Luckily, new friends stood in place of old friends who were pursuing their own careers, making their own families, and finding their own destinies. Friendships have remained an important part of my life as I travel my own road of turns and twists. Throughout my years I have never really stopped to consider how to make new friends. Though this process may seem frightening to others, the engagements seemed natural to me. Friends inherently grew out of living my life as I stepped into new situations and new surroundings. True, I have tried to be outgoing and accepting of others, but most people share these general qualities. I just never worried about popularity. Recently, I have used time and distance to add perspective to my view of friendship. Reality has marked a definite degeneration of friendship in my life. I find myself turned inward as I age. Certainly, some self-imposed isolation and stubborn disagreement have contributed to loss of friendships. And, I suppose, everyone, to a certain extent, deals with these misfortunes. Just, for some people used to the adornment, the drop seems very profound. As I mature, I fine fewer opportunities for forming and reciprocating friendships. Other than my own personal attributes contributing to the decline of my loss of friends, I have found a general trend in society for fewer close relationships. According to a 2006 study documented in the journal the American Sociological Review, Americans are thought to be suffering a loss in the quality and quantity of close friendships since at least 1985. The study states 25% of Americans have no close confidants, and the average total number of confidants per citizen has dropped from four to two. Although the same study found there is more dependence on family (57%-80%) and spouse (5%-9%), research has found a link between fewer friendships (especially in quality) and psychological and physiological regression. One opinion is that fear of being, or being seen as, homosexual has killed off western man's ability to form close friendships with other men. (Doi Takeo, psychologist; Henning Bech, sociologist; and others) This fear seems to be an underlying cause of fewer man to man friendships. Don O'Meara, Ph.D., identifies the following challenges to male-female friendship: defining it, dealing with sexual attraction, seeing each other as equals, facing people's responses to the relationship and meeting in the first place. Society views that almost every time you see a male-female friendship, it winds up turning into romance. O'Meara disagrees that male-female friendships are always romantic. Likewise, Linda Sapadin, psychologist states, "The belief that men and women can't be friends comes from another era in which women were at home and men were in the workplace, and the only way they could get together was for romance." Some believe that in the absence of modern social and commercial pressures, male-female friendship would be complementary rather than divisive. According to George Elliot "Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words." I think that giving a friend the benefit of a doubt has become much harder for most people. Unconditional, mutual respect often seems absent in friendships today. Possibly, like young children, we choose some wrong peers or lack socialization and this causes distrust. In children, we know this can lead to severe psychological traumas and disorders, finally leading to social maladjustment. Perhaps, as we age, we should realize that the same maladjustment can result at any stage in life. I am certain that friendships are as important to the older person as the youngster. We tend to become callous and indifferent as we limit our socialization. Experience and society often whisper words of distrust in our aging ears: we listen and react accordingly. The meaning of friendship lies within our hearts because true friendship can only be felt, and not expressed in fifty words or less. Something so pure and essential is not always visible to the eye, but is felt by the heart.
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