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Why Friendships Are Not Optional

Friends aren't always forever. They're still worth the effort.

Key points

  • Having a “bestie” is aspirational but, as an adult, not always possible.
  • Quality, not quantity of time, matters most when it comes to friendships.
  • Friends are not always forever. Outgrowing people and places is a natural part of life.
Victoria Chudinova/Shutterstock
Source: Victoria Chudinova/Shutterstock

Friendships are not a luxury. They are as important to our well-being as water and oxygen.

The statistics on the health risks associated with a lack of friendships are shocking. People with no friends or poor-quality friendships are twice as likely to die prematurely, according to Holt-Lunstad’s meta-analysis of more than 308,000 people—a risk factor even greater than the effects of smoking 20 cigarettes per day.

More simply put: Adult friendships are not optional if we want health and happiness. Ultra runner, master life coach, and doctoral student in somatic psychology (and a dear friend) Nicole Whiting writes, “What if we celebrated our friendship stories in the same way we celebrate our love stories? We can. We should.”

While academic literature is full of why we need adult friendships, there is a dearth of information on how to do it. It can be helpful to sort fact from fiction when it comes to friendships, and I’ve identified what I believe are the top four myths of adult friendships that contribute to keeping us stuck in dangerous isolation patterns.

4 Myths of Adult Friendships

1. You need a best friend.

Having a “bestie” is aspirational but, as an adult, not always possible. Childhood “best friends” are often easier to access due to proximity and frequency of contact, which are factors more difficult to sustain into adulthood.

Luckily, it is not necessary to have a best friend to fully reap the benefits of social connection. Relationship expert Esther Perel writes in Mating in Captivity, “Today we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity… is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”

Though she was talking about romantic relationships in that quote, the concept also applies to friendships. You do not need to find your one-and-only best friend to reap the health benefits of connection.

2. If you don’t invest a lot of time, the friendship isn’t worth it.

Whiting writes, "The reality is that friendship, any relationship, cannot be built without some sort of foundation that requires time, energy, and intentionally, but we do not need to define what those are. Each relationship is unique. Intimacy can be built in moments and in years."

With life's complexity and the demands on our days, it is unreasonable and unnecessary to expect a friendship to require all of our time. Many deep and rich friendships can exist with little day-to-day contact. Quality, not quantity of time, matters most when it comes to friendships.

3. Social media friends don’t count as friends.

When dating sites first became popular, most people would’ve preferred to gnaw off their own fingers rather than admit they met their partner online. We may have normalized online dating, but the stigma continues to permeate online friendships.

I have incredible friends who exist only within the digital squares of Zoom or Facetime. Your life, your rules. If social media is a space where you feel connected, seen, validated, and supported, there is no reason to discount your online friends.

Being in person comes with perks not found in online relationships, such as the ability to hug, but the overall benefits of friendships do not demand that you meet in person.

4. Friends are forever.

Friends are not always forever. Staying in a relationship out of fear of appearing disloyal is a form of self-betrayal. Outgrowing people and places is a natural part of life.

Sometimes the journey means evolving our limits, saying “no,” or stepping back from friendships. There is no rule that says you have to keep people in your life “just because” they’ve always been there. While it can be sad to leave friendships behind, you are allowed to be both sad and unwilling to remain in an unhealthy relationship.

Whiting writes:

"If you find a friendship changing or dissolving, remember, nothing has necessarily gone 'wrong.' Life and people are moving in different directions, ebbing and flowing, and this is part of being human, even if it may feel painful and confusing."

There are a million friendship concepts that could occupy real estate in this post. Setting boundaries, how to say no, how to navigate conflict, how to worry about your friends without sacrificing your serenity—all useful and important topics.

But the biggest takeaway I hope you’ll grab is said best by friendship expert and author Lydia Denworth: “The science of friendship gives you permission to hang out with your friends and call it healthy.”

Facebook image: Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

LinkedIn image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock


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