Friendshifts: Keeping Close Through Life's Changes

Friendship can determine where you live and how you live. A survey by the Roper Organization reported by Diane Crispell in The Wall Street Journal discovered that Americans chose friends as saying the most about them (39%)---way ahead of their homes (26%), their jobs (12%), or their clothes (12%).

Consider these additional facts about friendship:

  • Children with friends do better in school.
  • Medical researchers found that those with friends are more likely to survive a heart attack or major surgery and less likely to get respiratory infections or cancer.
  • Friends offer a continuous relationship to singles, according them the high status once given only to family.
  • A nine-year study of thousands of Californians by Berkman and Syme discovered that those with friends live longer.


    There are reasons friendship is more important than ever before, and will continue to grow in significance:

    1.The trend toward smaller nuclear families is continuing. I know personally five women and men in their 30s or 40s who have seven to eleven siblings; it is rare for anyone of my generation or Younger to have more than five children of their own. Only children, or two, at the most three, is more the norm.

    For the only child, friendship offers an opportunity for intimate peer interaction unavailable in the home. "I would die without my friends," says only child and mother Carol Ann Finkelstein, whose parents died within a year of each other in the late 1970s, when Carol was not even 30. "I couldn't function without my friends, even now that I'm married," she adds.

    2. Retirees as well as other nuclear family members are increasingly relocating due to work, educational, or romantic choices. Because of the relocation to another town, state, or country of working and retirement-age relatives, parents, grandparents, and siblings, family members may not be around in adult years for frequent contact. Although you cannot replace members of your family when someone moves, you can always form new friendships.

    3. The number of working mothers of school-age children continues to rise. Friendship offers these children an alternative intimate relationship--at school or after-school play-to the maternal one.

    4. Friendship offers the elderly opportunities for close relationships. As life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of living a decade or more cut off from the day-to-day interaction offered by a job, or the intimacy provided by a wife or husband who may predecease his or her mate. Friendship may mean feeling wanted and useful in your older years instead of alone and isolated.

    5. Friendship offers intimacy to singles. For unattached and unmarried, divorced, or widowed singles, friendship will impact on your mental health until you start a family of your own, or if you remain or become single for much or all of your adult years.

    6. Even the best marriages may benefit from the emotional and intellectual stimulation of friendship. For the married man or woman, friends may offer "another self' to those who need to relate intimately to others outside the all-consuming and sometimes one dimensional roles of parent, spouse, or worker.

    7. Friends provide each other some of the career continuity once offered by lifetime employers. As companies downsize and few people have the guarantee of lifetime employment, friends offer continuity to a career or even the inside scoop on available jobs.
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