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.”