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The Friendship Challenge: First and Second Tier Friends

High-quality friends are beneficial; low-quality friendships produce anxiety.

Source: Yann Forget/Wikimedia Commons
Children enjoying friendship.
Source: Yann Forget/Wikimedia Commons

Whether in a neighborhood, school, or workplace, you very possibly have a few second-tier friendships—that is, friends by association, not necessarily by choice. Having spent years in academia, I can unashamedly say that I have had my share of both. At any stage in life, making friends can be difficult. While sometimes you meet a person and there is an instant spark of understanding between the two of you—or even more in a small group—oftentimes friendships can be a struggle.

Just recently, I was asked to take a photo of four people in their 40s who had come to visit a neighbor. The friends knew each other from the time their mothers pushed them in their prams. Such relationships, especially in cities, are rare.

However, the research tells us that "friendship is a relationship that can endure across the entire lifespan, serving a vital role for sustaining social connectedness in late life when other relationships may become unavailable." (Friendship in Later Life, 2019.)

A recent study on Italians living as couples has shown that friendship relationships, beyond those within an individual’s family, are an important source of support." (Social Relationships and Life Satisfaction, 2018.)

Researchers used "data from Aspects of Daily Life, the Italian National Statistical Institute’s 2012 multipurpose survey, to analyze the relation between friendship ties and life satisfaction. Our results show that friendship, in terms of intensity (measured by the frequency with which individuals see their friends) and quality (measured by the satisfaction with friendship relationships), is positively associated to life satisfaction ... the role of friendship relations on the life satisfaction of people aged 18–65, was conducted."

The researchers concluded:

"High-quality friendships are more likely to be characterized by support, reciprocity, and intimacy. Conversely, low-quality relations and/or the lack of positive interaction may elicit anxiety."

Why low-quality friendships? For people trapped in a job or living situation in which there are relatively “slim pickings” in terms of compatibility, it is easy to gravitate towards someone with whom you can talk with over coffee and maybe even share a dinner. However, you may not want to share personal details of your life. When in a new situation, while some people easily fall into a groove, it is wise to proceed with caution.

How to recognize a less than ideal “friend.”

  • You are guarded with the information you share.
  • You groan when you see his or her name on caller ID.
  • You find excuses when asked about getting together.
  • You adjust your schedule so as not to spend time with them.

As the researchers determined: “low-quality relations and/or the lack of positive interaction may elicit anxiety.”

Finding friends

If you are in an anxiety-producing friendship, ask yourself this one question: Is this a person to whom I would ask advice? If the answer is no, then seek out a high-quality friendship. In the absence of childhood friends:

  • Seek out friends you have made through your children or family.
  • Make new friends through organizations of which you are a member—an arts council, a business association, a church, a fitness center, a music group, or a political group.
  • Start a group of people with similar interests: books, birdwatching, crocheting, knitting, or walking.
  • Attend special events at the local library.

Eventually, people emerge who seem to think like you, dress like you, or simply share the same sense of creativity, passion, even outrage at society’s direction. Socialization is important at every age. According to Art Markham, in the PT post "Does the Quality of Social Interactions Affect Happiness?", researchers found:

"...engaging in substantive discussions was associated with a greater sense of well-being, but small talk was actually negatively related to well-being. The researchers interpreted this as evidence that the depth of people’s interactions affects their sense of connection to others, which leads to happiness and life satisfaction."

Copyright 2019 Rita Watson.