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Best Friends Forever?: Are Friendships Becoming Shorter

Best friends forever, it’s something that we 90s kids drew on our hands with markers and ink. Most people I knew had at least one BFF. Perhaps we imagined each other at weddings, meeting each other’s kids, and going on vacations to Antarctica someday.

These simple understandings of friendship are challenged as we grow. Geographical moves, personality changes, and conflict are a few reasons we drift apart. Nonetheless, it does appear that the number of long-term friendships is decreasing.

Our sense of social connection has decreased to a level that a loneliness epidemic has been declared in America, leading the U.S. Surgeon General to release a health advisory on the topic in 2023. Loneliness is linked to 32 health outcomes ranging from depression to heart health and even mortality (Hong et al., 2023).

A review of the literature has also uncovered a striking link between social isolation and suicide (Shoib et al., 2023). With rates of death by suicide higher than ever, this is of particular concern.

Why Are Friendships Becoming Shorter?

As opposed to the ideal of lifelong friendships, more and more friendships seem limited in time. Sometimes, it is as simple as lost contact. With more people working remotely and fewer “third” spaces existing in the community, we see each other less, which can lead to losing touch.

Another reason may be less tolerance for conflict. Whereas at a time, it seemed that waxes and wanes in friendship were expected. Most of these were not the end of the friendship. Today, there is much less tolerance. We are quicker to block each other out or label one another “toxic,” even when the friendship might be valuable to us.

Social media trends have certainly sent a message that cutting someone off when they aren’t making you feel good is a positive thing to do. Yet, is this always the case?

Connect-Break-Repair

Sometimes, the end of a friendship is a good thing. For example, when you are seeking recovery, and someone is encouraging you to use substances, or when a “friend” has acted in abusive ways. Still, this is an extreme.

There is a natural cycle in relationships involving connection, breaks, and repair. Relationship expert John Gottman has identified this reconnection as perhaps the most important part of the cycle because conflict is inevitable and can ultimately bring us closer (2000).

In friendships, we get close (connect), have times of conflict (break), and then work through that conflict through a reconnection (repair). Or the friendship ends. At a time, it seemed that we could work through these. More and more, the friendships are ending before repair is given any possibility.

Continuing a friendship through conflict can also help us learn things about ourselves that can be difficult to face, but which enhance our lives. When we repeatedly disconnect from people who tell us things we don’t want to hear, we are vulnerable to an echo chamber of our own thoughts.

Three Steps to Repair

If you are looking to build capacities in repair, it’s a skill that requires practice. Here’s a three-step method

1. Let Your Friend Know

Sometimes, conflicts exist without one party knowing until we realize our friend is ghosting us. Discussing conflicts early on is key to maintaining the friendship.

2. Ask for the Change You Need

If you are angry with someone, it can be tempting to rant about the ways they have wronged you. Yet, asking directly for the change you need has a greater chance of success. If you can, ask for something specific.

For example, if you notice you and your friend do the same things repeatedly, you might say, “Can we check out the Cat Cafe this weekend? It’s something different, and I’d like to try doing some new things.”

3. Be Kind to Your Friend as a Fellow Human

Our friends will inevitably let us down at times. Similarly, we will let our friends down at times. Giving some grace without assuming the worst can go a long way toward friendship preservation.

In Closing

Friendships do appear to be less long-lasting in recent years. While some may choose to accept this, it doesn’t have to be the case if we don’t wish it to be. Taking a few small steps can help us to repair and preserve friendships.

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