Friendship – by Relate’s Sue Reed

4 June 2014

I was recently running some school sessions with a group of sixteen year olds about relationships. We were talking about friendship and what makes a good friend, and got into a discussion on how many Facebook friends they had.

Many of the group had over 300 contacts on Facebook, but is this real friendship?

In a recent Facebook survey 2863 adults aged eighteen and over were asked about the friendships on Facebook. Over a third said they had Facebook “friends” they disliked and would avoid in real life.

More than half of these said that they kept these people as “friends” to keep up with their photos and status and check up on what they are doing. Just under half of the respondents kept people on their contact lists out of a sense of duty, and a scarey 17% of respondents were worried about the consequences of deleting contacts.

Facebook, Twitter and texting enable us to make quick responses and can be a way of building and maintaining relationships, but they are not the same as face to face communication. Human communication is more than words; body language and proximity are also very important.

Skype goes one stage further, and we can see the face and place, but this also has its limitations. Social media is a brilliant way of keeping in touch with old friends and distant family members but it isn’t a substitute for real friendship.

A research team from Oxford University have been making discoveries about how humans make and break friendship bonds. They found that we only have the emotional capacity to have between five and eight really good friends. The next circle of friends may have interests in common or share experiences but do not have the close emotional bond of the inner circle.

This inner circle of friends remains consistent in number but people will change over time. As our lives change and we come into new phases of experience – leaving home, changing job, having a child – the friendships may change and friends who have been on the inner circle are relegated to the next layer and may even disappear over time.

So what are the characteristics of real close friendship? The young people in the Relationship session seemed to know. These are some of the things they said.

A true friend:

  • really listens and tries to understand
  • doesn’t judge you but is prepared to tell the truth even if it is difficult
  • is someone you feel comfortable with all the time, even in silence
  • loves and respects you even when they don’t agree with you or some of your choices
  • is your equal and doesn’t put you down
  • shares fun and laughter, and tears and painful experiences

We may have a great many friends over a lifetime but they will come and go. If we can be a good, true friend, it is a great gift and if we experience good true friendship we are very blessed.

-Sue Reed

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