In "Friends of a Certain Age
," the New York Times Style Section
examines how life stages affect friendship, citing the college years as America's prime friendship-making time. Why? Because as we get older and "external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other."
Those changing "external conditions" include work, coupledom, and children, all of which play a part in diminishing the importance of friends: "Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins." Then, too, "[d]ifferences in professional status and income also complicate matters.... Once people start coupling up, the challenges only increase. Making friends with other couples “is like matchmaking for two.... Adding children to the mix muddles things further.... Even when parent friends develop a bond, the resulting friendships can be fleeting — and subject to the whims of the children themselves."
Maturation and psychology also factor in. According to Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book, “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore
”: "After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with."
But these are hardly the only explorations of the topic: A quick Amazon search for "friendship" yields 47,000
And should you want to improve your own lot in life, there are Websites as well as books to help. The Times
article links to four different social networking sites, all with the explicit goal of platonic matchmaking: Socialjane.com
functions very much like a traditional match site, only without the romance. Girlfriendcircles.com
encourages group get-togethers, while also offering speedfriending services. Girlfriendsocial.com
has space for classifieds and also hosts its own events, and Companiontree.com
stands out as the sole service willing to nurture "bromance" as well as BFFs. Meanwhile, if you seek a first-hand account of what meet-and-greet matches are like, see Rachel Bertsche's "MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend.
For a more political view of friendship, you might want to look for Giles Slade's forthcoming book, "The Big Disconnect
." Writing in the Times Comments Section,
he sees the demise of friendship as a result of late-stage capitalism: "Life has become increasingly isolated for more than a century now. This happened when we left the large extended agricultural family and community for the economic competition of our growing urban centers.
We are increasingly encouraged to live single lives and the single life has become a growing trend. Romantic coupledom and lifelong unions are decreasing radically in favor of serial monogamy. We are alone more often than ever before.
This is simply an economic condition of consumerism. Solitary consumers need more goods than family groups which shares its appliances, cars, housing...." And "[a]s everything in our lives becomes commodified (time, leisure and relationships) we become less generous and less skillful with others."
Finally, if you're interested in this topic, it's worth reading through the Comments at the bottom of the Times
article, as well as the forums, links, and blogs related to the Websites above. Many of the posts — as well as perhaps Metafilter itself — provide overt or covert testimony to the fact that friendship ain't easy, and many of us lead very lonely lives.