Less friends? You too?

Coming from the Washington Post is news of a study that reveals people keep far fewer close friends these days.

I’ve seen this at work in my life and I’ve tried to rationalize it. I thought, possibly my work, and our growing family, were pressures here, but when faced honestly, this was gnawing at me for a long while. It sometimes seems the only friends I have are those who I personally reach out to, and I keep a short list I must admit, but now it seems far fewer confide back. A while ago I tried to meditate on what a friend was, thinking my definition was maybe too narrow. But possibly this is just a sign of the times. Of our increasingly busy and less trusting natures. Our electrons may meet in hyperspace for a while, but our hearts miss each other completely.

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.

“That image of people on roofs after Katrina resonates with me, because those people did not know someone with a car,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study. “There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants.”

If close social relationships support people in the same way that beams hold up buildings, more and more Americans appear to be dependent on a single beam.

Compared with 1985, nearly 50 percent more people in 2004 reported that their spouse is the only person they can confide in. But if people face trouble in that relationship, or if a spouse falls sick, that means these people have no one to turn to for help, Smith-Lovin said.

“We know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times,” she said. “We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com [a popular networking Web site] and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

3 thoughts on “Less friends? You too?

  1. I have better friends now at 26 as opposed to when I was in high school so I guess I’m in the minority. I’ve also actively pushed to meet new people on and offline for the two years I’ve lived here in Philly adding to my network of close friends [adding to those I’ve kept since high school].

    It doesn’t help that our government is constantly pushing and shoving us to be greedy and not think for our neighbors. They want us to think about our children, not our neighbor’s children. They want us to think of our tax return and not where the phony “rebates” would do the most good. Being self-sufficient is great – being able to grow some of your own veggies, know how to change your oil, develop your own film… But collectively, we have to think more for ‘we’ than ‘me’.

  2. You’re an extraordinary social person Albert. I wish I had a few ounces of your get up and go.

  3. Karl,

    I think one key is that these relationships take work — you have to cultivate them and seek them out and value and nourish them, and a lot of time we don’t want to put that effort into something that produces no immediate tangible results. One other key is perhaps that in the past there was a presumption that a confidence would be kept. There weren’t picture phones and recording devices and blogs, etc. You didn’t have to worry that anything you said or did was being captured and could be broadcast anywhere anytime to all and sundry. Last weekend I went grocery shopping and walked out of the store with another women. We were talking and comparing notes on something that had happened in the store. As we got to our cars someone in a jeep with the top down in front of us held up a cell phone and snapped a picture. I have no idea who it was and why a photo was taken. Was it of her or me or us or something else altogether? If you go out with a group of friends and start talking about your family or job, will one of those people or someone at the next table who overhears post it on a blog somewhere? You just don’t know….

    I’ve been working on this myself lately, trying to strengthen offline ties, and it does take thought and time.

Comments are closed.