Friendship

The importance of friendships

What is friendship?

A friendship can be defined in many ways. Indeed, some friendships are unique and defy any form of definition. That said, most people agree that a friendship is a relationship which means mutual respect and affection is enjoyed between individuals. As such, friends can come together in very different ways. Sometimes, people are friends with colleagues while others like to keep their friendship groups away from work and professional situations. Some people like to keep loose associations with their friends while others will want to interact with their buddies on a daily basis. The commonality between all of these forms of relationship is mutual amity and respect even if friends might disagree with one another here and there.

 Why does friendship matter?

Unlike other forms of relationship – such as romantic relationships and familial ties – friendships do not come with so much 'baggage'. They tend to be somewhat more relaxed relationships where people feel they can truly express themselves, including some of their frustrations, without any fear of judgement. In very close friendships, some people will be able to be more honest about themselves than in virtually any other format. As such, a friendship is important to human psychology to be able to express ourselves more fully. In some cases, pets can fulfil the role of a friend in a significant way, too.

Can a friendship develop into a deeper relationship?

Yes, when friendships are overlaid with a feeling of attraction, they can often blossom into something more than a platonic friendship. Many people have found love in a relationship that previously only consisted of a friendship, perhaps partly because they already know the other person well on a deeper level, and feel safe with them. Of course, the reverse may be so, too. Sometimes sexual partners only develop a more romantic relationship after they have got to know one another more fully and become friends. For some people, however, keeping platonic friendships and romantic or sexual relationship distinct is very important.

Are friendships important for children?

Yes, they are – as most developmental psychologists would agree. Young children will often only be capable of playing on their own, but as they get into their toddlerhood, more and more interactions with other children will help them to develop their first attempts at friendship. Although these may be short-lived, it will encourage them to learn how to cooperate and have empathy with others. A typical way this will come about is by learning the concept of sharing - both with children inside a friendship circle and outside of it. Children who don't form friendships easily can sometimes suffer in later life as it is considered a key part of development, nowadays.

What is spiritual friendship?

Kalyana-mittata is a Buddhist idea which roughly translates as spiritual friendship. This concept conveys a sense of community through spiritual life. For instance, a community that comes together through shared values might be said to have a spiritual friendship. In Buddhist terms, it also tends to include the special type of rapport that is formed in a student-teacher relationship rather than a peer to peer type of friendship. Having a spiritual friend can be helpful on the journey to spiritual awakening and for someone's spiritual growth, and is common in many religions. The teacher can help the student stay on the right path and avoid misunderstandings of practices.

Why does friendship end?

Although being loyal to friends is a big part of what makes it work, there are times when these interpersonal relationships simply break down. The reasons why you may no longer be friends with someone are numerous. Sometimes, it simply comes down to proximity. If your friend no longer lives close to you, then it might be that you start to feel less connected to one another, especially if you no longer keep in touch. That said, some friendships will cease because of something altogether more abrupt. This could be a falling out over an issue that cannot be patched up for whatever reason. Although there is usually some mental anguish that is associated with friendship breakdown, it is important to remember that people can choose who they want to be friends with and there should never be a sense of obligation on either party. It is a part of life that not all friendships will be lifelong. However, if you still have a mutual friend with the other party, it is important not to pressurise them to choose between you and to respect them if they wish to carry on being friends with you both.

What is Friendship Day?

Sometimes also referred to as International Friend's Day, Friendship Day is a celebration that takes place in many parts of the world to highlight the relationships that friends have with one another. Initially, it was promoted by the greetings card industry in the hope that it would promote more sales of their products, but it has since morphed, largely due to its presence on social media nowadays. The practise first began in Paraguay in the late 1950s, and it soon took hold the United States and much of South America. Some countries, such as Finland and Estonia, celebrate it in February but most countries opt for a date in August or July. Some places have fixed dates while others shift their day of friendly celebration around so that it always falls on the same day of the week.

Which developmental conditions affect friendship?

Psychologists agree that some childhood development issues can arrest the usual pathways to forming childhood friendships. It seems to be that getting people to be our friends takes skill which means it needs to be practised. As such, some conditions will mean that these skills take longer to acquire or may never fully develop at all. People with attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders will frequently fall into this category, as will some individuals who are on the autism range of disorders. Autism spectrum disorder tends to make picking up on social norms and cues trickier, which is why it is thought to impact on how many friends someone with such a disorder will have. Equally, some people with Down's syndrome also find making friends tougher than the general population. This is something that is often put down to the later language acquisition that is noted with this condition, but there are competing theories as to why it may be the case.

Can friendship be one-sided?

Yes, it can. Although many people view a true friendship as a two-way street that is based on equanimity and mutual respect, it is not always this clear cut. Some people will enjoy fulfilling, and long-lasting friendships with people they know do not give as much back. Equally, some people will enjoy having a more casual relationship with one or more of their friends even though they know the other party would like more out of it. In most cases, this can work out so long as both friends know exactly where they stand and what they can reasonably expect of the other person. However, it can lead to trouble, too, especially when one friend is always seeming to do all of the 'work' needed to keep the relationship going. In such cases, it is not uncommon for friends to slowly drift apart from one another.

Can friendship exist without trust?

Although it is certainly possible for some friendships to get along without a full level of trust between both parties, it will necessarily be harder to maintain the relationship. Once trust has broken down to some degree with a friend, then it will not be easy to earn back. All that you can do is to allow the trust to develop over time. Whatever caused the mistrust in the first place will eventually recede in importance that, in truth, it may never be forgotten. Some friends will make an active decision to forgive one another following a breach of trust, and forgiveness can definitely help to speed up the process, however. When trust is breached multiple times, it is likely that the two friends will end up deciding to dissolve their relationship, which may be the right course of action in these circumstances.

Which gender differences impact on friendship?

There have been plenty of theorists who have written about the nature of friendship among men compared with that among women. In part, this has been an attempt to explain how friendly relationships work between men and women, at least insofar as heterosexual friends are concerned. Despite this, no definitive way of describing two or more women as friends exists as distinct from a group of male friends. Platonic friendship is often used to describe friends who are male and female but where there is little or no sexual chemistry, and this can also apply to similar situations among groups of gay men and lesbians. Although some studies try to point out overall characteristics among friends being different with males compared to females, few offer genuine insights. The exception is with geriatric men who, on the whole, find it harder to find friends in later life compared to women.

What is a friendship with benefits?

This is a euphemistic term for a casual sexual relationship between two – or more – people who, first and foremost, consider themselves to be friends. Unlike most friendships, however, one that has 'benefits' will involve sexual intercourse once in a while. Generally speaking, the term will apply to two single people who hook up from time to time to satisfy their sexual needs without feeling the need to enter into a formal relationship or to develop their feelings for one another beyond what they are. That said, some people who have friends with benefits will start to feel more loving, protective and even possessive so the situation can alter into something more deeply felt in some cases.

How does friendship affect mental health?

Generally speaking, friendships are good for our mental health. They provide support, a sounding board for our ideas and emotions and help us to feel socially connected. That said, some friends may cause problems, such as encouraging substance abuse or excessive drinking. In such cases, it is possible that the relationship could push us into undesirable outcomes that impact negatively on our mental health. Outside of this sort of negative friendship, people who lose their friends for whatever reason can experience a sense of loss and even kindness of another friend then it, too, can have a detrimental effect on mental health, even leading to depression in some cases.

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