Scrolling through Instagram recently, I came across a video depicting a typical day in the life of a single person. A peaceful morning, followed by some time working from home, then an evening with friends. A simple video in which the person focussed on enjoyable aspects of their day. Underneath the video, there was a comment from someone who wanted to “call them out” on their dishonesty. The comment went on to say that the person couldn’t possibly be genuinely happy without a partner.
This comment bothered me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it invalidated the person’s experience. Secondly, it perpetuated the dominant narrative in society, which puts forward the idea that the only way you can be happy and feel love is to be in a romantic relationship. The person made a clear point in the video about how much they valued time spent with their friends and that part of their day was a rewarding experience. Yet, this particular viewer’s comment confirmed that many in society still view being single and only having friends for a company as a sad situation to be in. Friendships are considered a consolation prize or a poor substitute for a superior romantic relationship.
However, friendships actually play a vital role in boosting our good health. As young children, the first relationships we start to navigate outside of our families are friendships, and friendships will be with us our entire lives in one way or another. Who we decide to spend our time with influences our personal, emotional, mental and spiritual development in significant ways. One research study even showed that social interaction could lengthen our lives, and older adults with a wide network have better memory and brain functioning. All this evidence shows that friendships are far from being second best to more romantic connections.
Five signs of healthy friendships and the benefits they provide:
- Support: Having someone to call on when you’re struggling or facing challenges in your life is invaluable. Good friends can help by listening to your difficulties and offering advice and solutions when needed.
- Laughter: You usually have shared humour with friends and will be able to remember fun times you had together. Recalling memories can evoke the same joy and sense of connection you felt at the time, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Companionship: With friends, you always have someone to go to for a coffee with or on holidays, day trips, meals out, theatre shows, sporting events and shopping trips. Someone who will come to your home and spend an evening talking or just being with you.
- Acceptance: You can make mistakes, say something inadvertently insensitive on occasion, forget to fulfil a request, or need to change your plans at the last minute, and they will still be your friend. They will have seen you at your worst, accept your flaws, and understand that you’re a human being trying your best.
- Trust: You can be vulnerable with good friends and feel safe sharing your innermost secrets and desires.
If you’re struggling to make friends or would like to increase your network, here are three ideas to try:
- Interests: Find a group of people who share the same interest as you, and if a group doesn’t exist, maybe start one. People who join groups want to pursue an interest in a social environment, so they are more likely to be open to new friendships. The group you join could be anything from an informal gathering of parents at the school gates to timetabled evening classes and gym sessions.
- Work: You’ll probably spend a lot of time at work and meet various people along the way. Although you may not click with everyone in the workplace, there will be people you feel comfortable around and whose company you enjoy. Taking into account any professional and personal boundaries, ask if they want to have lunch with you or a shared tea break to start the ball rolling on a potential new friendship.
- Reconnect: If it seems daunting to try and make new friends, start by seeking out old friends whom you’ve lost regular contact with. Dormant relationships can be a source of new social links. A study carried out by students in the USA showed that contacting old friends via social media worked out favourably and had comparable results to existing friendships.
If we can start to look upon our friendships in the same way we do romantic relationships, the benefits to our health will be invaluable and long-lasting.
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