The participants a study of older adults who thought friendship was something that just happened based on luck tended to be less socially active and to feel lonelier when the researchers caught up with them five years later. By contrast, those who thought friendship took effort actually made more effort – for example, by showing up at church, synagogue or at community groups – and this paid dividends, in that they felt less lonely at the five-year follow-up.
But it’s not just showing up that matters, it’s saying ‘hello’ when you get there. This means introducing yourself to other people, asking them for their phone numbers, following up and asking them to hang out. Initiating is a process, one that we must do over and over again to make new friendships.
Acquaintances/Friends are a treasure. In an uncertain world, they provide a comforting sense of stability and connection. We laugh together and cry together, sharing our good times and supporting each other through the bad. Yet a defining feature of friendship is that it’s voluntary. We’re not wedded together by law, or through blood, or via monthly payments into our bank accounts. It is a relationship of great freedom, one that we retain only because we want to.
But the downside of all this freedom, this lack of formal commitment, is that friendship often falls by the wayside. Friendships crumble, not because of any deliberate decision to let them go, but because we have other priorities, ones that aren’t quite as voluntary.