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Friendships: The Good and Bad and What to Look for in Them

Since Covid-19 entered our world we have learned many lessons which essentially reminded us not to take things for granted. Speaking for myself, for example in pre Covid-19 days, I would never have imagined to one day see empty grocery shelves in the developed world. Or to think toilet paper might run out! I also thought ‘fast fashion’ was economically healthy and well…normal – although who ever needed so much clothes?? I could go on with the surprises and normalized absurdities, but you get the drift. The point is, in the past we didn’t question things that seemed to be habitual and or present in abundance. The same applied to our interactions with people.

Suddenly we found ourselves in a series of lockdowns, working and schooling from home, socially distancing, and covering two-thirds of our face in public with a mask (encouraging anonymity) significantly reducing our overall social interactions. Many of my friends were ‘downgraded’ to acquaintance status due to lack of contact and effort (from both sides, mind you). I mean it’s only natural that some of us have fallen out of touch due to the pandemic circumstances. Consequently, we found ourselves interacting with a smaller group of people than before, and the intimate circle we remained in close contact with (whether friends and/or family members) became our lifeboat for social stimulus and emotional support. In other words, the ones who ‘stuck around’ are kind of precious and that this pandemic has shown us how deeply our real and loyal friendships enrich our lives. So let us take up some space here to explore friendships: what they mean, the real versus the fake kinds, and how to make and nurture them.

Friendship Benefits

Many will claim that friends make life more meaningful, not to mention fun. After all, they can provide social and emotional support. They take away loneliness and can make us feel happier too. Hanging out with good friends can relieve stress and provide comfort and joy. Whether it’s sharing stories, having a shoulder to cry on, or doing an activity together, time with friends can really be that comfort we are seeking. In fact, experts say lack of social connections (isolation) may also pose as much of a risk as smoking, drinking too much or leading a sedentary lifestyle. It’s also important to remember that friendship is a two-way street (50/50) what you get from the companionship must be reciprocated. And when we give back to a friendship, it also adds to our own sense of self worth. Often times when we are there for our friends during hard times, it makes us feel needed and adds purpose to our lives.

According to Psychology Today, studies that were performed around the longest lived cultures around the world, all show a common denominator: people who live exceptionally longer as a community, have lives that center on meaningful social relationships. In addition to longevity, the Mayo Clinic also reported that adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depressions, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Clearly, having good ties with close knit people is good for our well-being!

On Line Friends

While we cannot deny the increase in social interactions on-line, especially due to the pandemic restricting our movements, having tons of friends on line, as in Facebook and other popular social media platforms, is not the same as having a close friend you can spend time with in person. Sure, it is satisfying to chat with a friend or to even engage in a group discussion with multiple friends or with strangers on line, however, there are set backs to spending too much time socializing on the net versus in real life. If a crisis hits you, on line friends can’t hug you, visit you when you are sick or celebrate a happy occasion with you. You might also meet people on-line who are not who they claim to be. You may be duped by a person who has a ‘false identity’ or find yourself spending too much time on-line making it hard to face people in real life. In other words, on-line socializing becomes too much of a comfort zone and you miss out on real face to face relationships, which is our most important and powerful connections we make in our lives.

Again, while on-line socializing is not all bad, and it certainly can tick many boxes for people, such as for on-line dating (meeting on-line initially, then pursuing the courtship in person), easily communicating with friends living far away and so forth, it is important to always keep a reality check and look out for suspicious people and situations on the web. We should also balance our time with quality face to face interactions with friends.

Picture credit: https://www.wellesley.edu/news/2020/stories/node/180596

Toxic Friends

Let me elaborate a little on the wrong type of friendships that we all may have found ourselves part of at some point in our lives (and maybe even currently). There are many telltale signs when a friendship is toxic or simply too one-sided. These type of friendships can drain us mentally and have a way of bringing us down instead of building us up. Let’s look at some of the common signs that may indicate that a friend is not right for us and that we may need to re-evaluate their friendship:

  • Make you feel lonely and isolated. Time spend with friends should increase your sense of connection, and give you support and not make you feel sad. However, if you are always being left out of plans with your so-called friend and find that being in their company is all about them, then it’s probably not right for you.
  • Your stress increases. Having strong friendships should reduce your stress level. Of course, seeing friends will not miraculously make you better, but you’ll notice some improvement. On the other hand, a toxic friend can add stress for you by what they say or do when you spend time together. You may even continue to think back to your negative interactions even when you aren’t with them. Who needs that, right?
  • You blame yourself for their behavior. Some toxic friendships can be manipulative making you feel that you are always in the wrong. As in Stockholm syndrome you start to believe that their negative behavior is okay and you have positive feelings towards this ‘abuser type’ friend. For example, if they are verbally aggressive you might believe that you deserved it. Or that you might decide that they never offer support because you ask for help to often. You might even feel grateful they spend any time with you since, after all, they pointed out so many of your flaws.
  • Your other relationships suffer. One bad friendship can eventually negatively influence other close relationships. A manipulative friend may criticize your other other friends and encourage you to stop seeing them. A bad friend can also make you doubt yourself leading you to find it difficult to trust others. This can keep you from seeking support from people who genuinely do care, leaving you further isolated and alone.

The bottom line is: You don’t want a friend that tries to control you, criticize you, abuses your generosity or brings unwanted drama or negative influences in your life. A good friend does not make you compromise your values, always agree with them or disregard your own needs.

If you have a friend that wasn’t always toxic or doesn’t seem to understand how their actions affect you, you might need to speak up and clear up matters. Be open about how their behavior makes you feel and consider setting boundaries for future interactions. Make it clear that you won’t accept certain behaviors, such as gossiping, lying, overly criticizing you or flaking out on plans for no reason. You might consider explaining how these behaviors affect you and how you’ll respond.

What to Look for in a Friend

Now let’s look at qualities we should find in a friend, that promotes healthy relationships good for our well-being. A friend should be someone we trust and with whom we share a deep level of understanding and communication. Here is what a good friend will do:

  • Accept you unequivocally for who you are
  • Show a true interest in what is going on in your life, what you have to say and how you think and feel.
  • Listen to you without judging you, telling you how to think or feel or trying to change the subject each time you share something important and intimate.
  • Feel comfortable sharing things about themselves with you; being open and honest.

The bottom line here is: if a friendship makes you feel good, then most likely it is good! You can read more about good qualities in a companion here: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-be-a-good-friend

Want to Meet New Friends? Where to Start?

We tend to make friends with people we cross paths with regularly: people we go to school with, work with, or live close to. The more frequently we see someone the more likely a friendship will develop. However, if we move to a new city or country or just fall out with former friends and find ourselves eager to make new friends there are many ways to meet people and seek potential amigos. Here are some ways to break the ice with new people:

  • Volunteering. Yes, be part of a group that helps others. You will be meeting new people and have the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills too.
  • Take a class or join a club. Maybe a book club, chess club, or even a dinner club (where they organize dinners or drinks at a public venue, such as Meetup https://www.meetup.com or InterNations www.internations.org and others with the same agenda.
  • Walk a dog. You might find it strange unless you walk a dog regularly, but many dog owners often stop and chat with other canine owners, while their dogs sniff and play with each other. After numerous encounters you might find yourselves becoming friends! If you are not prepared to adopt a pet, you can volunteer to walk dogs from your local dog shelter or rescue group.

Picture credit: https://www.petguide.com/blog/dog/want-to-meet-new-people-survey-says-get-a-dog/

  • Attend an event such as a book reading, art gallery opening, lecture, a music recital or other events in your city or community where you can meet people with similar interests.
  • Invite a casual acquaintance for a coffee or for a meal. You may only know a handful of acquaintances in the new town you have been recently relocated to. Why don’t you break the ice and ask your neighbor or work colleague out?
  • Join a gym and try an offered exercise class. Joining a gym is a great way to stay fit and get social. If you are regularly attending a class, you have more chances to make work out buddies that can also become friends outside the gym.
  • Track down friends via social media. See who lives in your area from friends on-line or those from an on-line group you are part of. You can post: ‘Who wants to meet up for a coffee’? Even if you end up having one person show up – it could be a person who turns out to be a good friend.

Remember no matter how old you are it is never too late to build new friendships or even reconnect with old friends. Invest time in making friends and nurture the good friendships you already have. It will pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for the future. If you lose old friends or get snubbed by someone you considered a friend, don’t lose heart or hope. We evolve over time and so does our circle of friends. There’s plenty of other friendly fish in the sea, just make sure you catch the ones that are good for you! Surround yourself with like-minded people who lift you up. Life can be tough so let’s spent our time with people who have positive vibes and make us feel good!

References:

First Picture Credit: https://www.thelily.com/somehow-new-friendships-formed-in-the-pandemic-theyre-here-to-stay/

https://www.healthline.com/health/toxic-friendships

https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-friendship#emotional-support

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860

https://pathwayshealth.org/hospice-topics/are-best-friends-the-key-to-longevity/