Community, especially friendship, is a prevalent discussion in mental health counseling.
Though many of us are back to embracing outside interaction after the pandemic, we’re still riddled with anxieties around our health and how to socially re-engage.
This coupled with a national financial crisis and disheartening news cycle, it creates a less than optimal environment for openness and connection.
Research supports that regardless of culture, gender, socioeconomic status or race, community is fundamental to individual well-being and longevity. So what’s the hold up?! Why aren’t we able to connect?
Establishing abundant and healthy friendships is hard work- especially in adulthood when financial, family, and health obligations often take priority.
While social networking provides an aspect of community, research supports this is not enough to keep feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction at bay.
We yearn for a community that is real, tangible, and accessible. However, we now struggle to engage with the very thing we desire.
A recent study found that higher withdrawal behaviors resulted in lower quality and quantity of friends later on for adolescents. We can infer this is connected to a lack of social skills, conflict resilience, and self-esteem, traits that usually develop through socialization.
When we observe quarantine trends throughout the last two years, we see a similar thread of withdrawal and isolation impacting our social perception of self and others.
So, the challenge is to take the risk of stepping outside of yourself to truly embrace others. More often than not, people are looking for the same real connection, but we must all re-evaluate our willingness to put in the work.
Tips for engaging and identifying friendships/community:
Most community outside of family can be broken down into the subcategories of best/close friends, social acquaintances/casual friends, and interest groups. Evaluate what level of friendship you need at this time and how to maximize the interpersonal resources you already have.
Quality v. quantity
49% of Americans report having three or fewer close friends. Positive and long lasting relationships are an investment that take time. Developing 1-2 relationships at a time may be more successful/fulfilling than trying to build various connections at once.
Manage your expectations
Identifying your personal boundaries and essential needs (not idealized wants) in a friendship are key to establishing a good foundation. Avoid approaching potential friendships with an all or nothing mentality.
Additional Friend Facts:
Students need 57 hours (acquired gradually not consecutively) to transition from casual friends to friends. Adults need, on average, 164 hours.
For students, friends became good or best friends after about 119 hours. Adults need an additional 100 hours to make that happen.
Studies show people become closer when they engage in certain types of talking (i.e., catching up about their lives, talking playfully, having serious conversations, and showing love, attention, and affection).
Shared activities don’t always help us bond. Studies show that spending time on shared interests or projects (i.e., traveling or exercising, partying or shopping, joining teams or groups, or going to church) don’t move the needle on feelings of closeness. Nor did spending time together at places you’re obligated to be anyway. A few activities are more common in closer friendships: relaxing and hanging out and (for adults) watching movies and playing video games.