Do you have a true friend? What is a true friend to you, anyway? To me, a true friend is someone you can count on—to be there for you, to help you out of trouble, to believe in you, to keep your secrets, to have your back, to tell you the truth, to love your family and friends, and to have fun with.
Such friendships, even in marriage, are more and more rare. Increasingly people are lonely for a friend who really knows them. An excellent journal study found that “Americans have been experiencing a loss of friendships since 1985, both in the quality and quantity of confidants.” Now 25% of all Americans have no confidants, and the average total number of confidants per citizen has dropped from four to two in the last 25 years.
Several trends in society are working against genuine friendship that doesn’t play games. We’re spending more and more time watching TV and movies. We’re watching others live lives and have friendships that our own real lives can’t compete with. As with life in general, friendship has become for too many people a spectator sport.
Technology is seducing us all into virtual relationships. In cyberspace and by cell phone, we relate to people’s images and expressions without actually doing things with them. We have so many virtual friends we don’t feel our need for a true friend.
Mobility is another enemy of true friendship. People are changing marriage partners, jobs, churches, and houses so much more often that friendships are being pulled up by the roots and lost in the shuffle.
We work too much. Americans work longer hours and years and careers than nearly all other developed countries. As the pace of life keeps quickening, little time is left for the talks and activities of a true friendship.
More Americans leaving home to work has popularized an old kind of companion, the work buddy. Fine, but the problem is that more and more folks are friendly at work, and once they clock out, they become painfully private at home. The need to keep one’s job makes honesty and loyalty secondary assets to entertainment. Looking for true friendship at work is like trying to shop out in the woods, or looking for serenity at a mall.
Besides the Hollywood friendship, the work buddy and the virtual techno-friendship, another counterfeit version of a true friendship has emerged in the last two generations—the rising popularity of opposite-sex friendships. Like friendships in school with people who do drugs, you don’t have to look for opposite-sex friendships. They will find you when you don’t have a true friend, and offer a fun, pain-killing escape from the reality of facing your problems head-on. The jealousy and emotional dependency inherent in opposite-sex relationships also make them natural enemies of the true friendships you can make with the same sex, and especially with your main squeeze at home.
But next to faith in God, living in a free country, and perhaps health, I don’t think of anything that contributes as much to the quality of life than having at least one true friend, in your marriage, or in a same-sex friendship.
To find true friendship, establish your motivation first. Look again at your life and at this society. Instead of seeing them as providing alternatives to friendship, look at them as injuring your heart and soul. Then they become incentives for working all the harder to start, build and renew genuine friendships.
To find a true friend, you have to be a true friend. Pick a candidate like your spouse or an old buddy. Start showing appreciation for the good old times you have had together in the past. Begin again to share with each other the gifts of friendship mentioned in the first paragraph.
Then crank up the volume. Make some time available to renew your investment in these things. Winter is a lonely time when people feel the need for friends more than usual. To strike while the iron is hot, make friends while the weather’s not.
So if you have an old friendship that once was golden, or the haunting memory of a once-rich emotional bond with your spouse that has gotten lost in the rubble of your busy lives, you may well have a buried treasure, right in your backyard. This would be a good time to dig it up.