There is a lot of hardships to complain about concerning the experience of ‘growing up’. Financial independence, doing your own cooking and cleaning, remembering your own important upcoming events, communicating with health and service professionals- but what I wish to focus on here is the new difficulties of establishing close relationships (surprise, surprise).
First, I would like to point out that, though intimidated by it when in sour moods, I do generally embrace the responsibilities of a mature, civilized person. The issue that I wish to explore is less of a new responsibility and more of a new boundary. The older we are, the more established our existing relationships become. Our brains do have a capacity for the amount of people that we can care about on an individual level. Close friends exist in a social comfort zone; for many people it was difficult to build those relationships, and they hold a sense of permanence. We identify with our close relationships, and the longer we hold one identity (set of personality habits), the more difficult it is to modify it.
Basically, the idea that I wish to present here is that, the longer we live, the more difficult it is to form new friendships. This is not because we forget how, or some silly idea that only childhood friendships and blood relations can be strong and influential. It is simply because of competition. Adults are busy, typically have many more priorities than just friendship, and often find it more valuable to gain social pleasures and delights from previously established relationships in stead of pursuing new ones. Why give a new person the chance to prove that they can be more valuable to you than the friends that you already have? How are you supposed to tell your best friend of ten years, ‘Well, I’ve a new best friend. You’ve been bumped down to second’? Why risk disappointment when a new, fascinating person turns out to be flaky, a liar, or uncaring? Why risk infatuation with a new person who may never feel the same fluttery excitement for you? Putting time and effort in to new friendships is a risk, and, when one already has a good set of friends, a support group, a loving family, it may easily come off as a great risk with little pay-off. ‘I could wind up adding one new close friend to my circle of fifteen close friends, or I could wind up traumatized by their betrayal.’ What is the difference between fifteen close friends and sixteen close friends? When you look at those numbers, the difference seems trivial. Analogies secure this as trivial: Is a basket full of sixteen apples that much more valuable than a basket carrying sixteen? What risks would you take to add one dollar to the fifteen dollars on your wallet?
But there are no appropriate analogies to people in this way. In some ways people can be described as assets, but exactly what each personality asset provides is not so easily measured. People grow and change, or stagnate- it’s typical for them to alternate between flux and stagnation. It can be said that one person that matches you can offer an infinite supply of goodness, and this is tied to the morbid concept of ‘one true love’. A good question comes from that concept, though: why have more than one close companion? Allow me to lay out a list of reasons.
It is unlikely that any one person will fulfill all of your social needs. The person who matches you intellectually is not guaranteed to match you emotionally. Your favorite sex partner was probably not your most emotionally supportive friend. The one who will stop at no thing to see your favorite band with you every time they arrive on tour should not be expected, based on that pretext, to also share your love for your favorite film. The one who offers the most support may strike you as emotionally distant, so the positive behavior of them always being there for you does not comfort you as well as some one who is only occasionally there for you yet is significantly more passionate- and yet always having some one there to be supportive is still valuable to you.
It is unlikely that any one person will always have free time for you. May be your best friend works day shifts and you work nights. May be the one that you trust the most live in an other country. May be they have small children who require attention often, while you merely crave it. All of us have a hierarchy of needs, and we are trying to satisfy all of our needs, and our needs and the needs of others frequently clash, and that is just part of social living.
People change. Your favorite person today may develop terrible habits and refuse to observe them as terrible or be too stubborn or pathetic to accept your help in recovering. Your favorite person may lose interest in you. Any number of things could complicate or destroy any one relationship, and to go from happily friended to completely alone is not a burden any one should bear. To drive this fact home,
People die. Who is going to comfort you and keep you grounded when your only close relationship in the world is forced to end by the unfortunate nature of our frail, fleshy bodies?
You may not be your best friend’s best friend. Even without jealousy, without bitterness, having an unbalanced social life can wear a person down. No one is obligated to reciprocate your interest or love, certainly not to mimic it in return, and aside from the two of you having different social priorities because of this, there’s just that sense of not being equals that develops without any balance against other relationships.
Limiting your self to finding comfort in just one other person’s perspective makes/keeps you narrow-minded. The smaller the friend group, the less challenging the conversations will be. It is far easier to grow as a person when interested in a variety of different perspectives.
Your one close friend is not likely to be the best match for you. One of the problems with the ‘one true love’ or ‘soul mate’ concept is that it’s relative to your subjective perspective. In reality, we can always count one number higher. In other words, it’s much more likely that your single perfect match is still out there long after you’ve decided that you’ve found that person. There might be needs of yours that your best friend does not meet that you won’t realize are going unmet until you happen across some one who meets them. You might be a person’s favorite person in the whole world; they may be willing to sacrifice every thing for you, and yet there is likely some one else who can do a better job of it, or do or exemplify other things that will benefit you in ways you had never imagined.
In a society, two people can still feel lonely together. Groups of like-minded people can suffer from social isolation in unison, and this suffering will be greater, the smaller the group.
All of these concepts can be related to having two good friends. Or three. Even that group of fifteen- and speaking of groups, one can have fifteen close friends who do not get along with each other, or per haps there has just never been an easy way to get them all to know each other. A strong friend group of fifteen is very different from fifteen isolated strong friendships; the latter gives no sense of belonging to a social system.
One new person can make a world of difference. One new person can introduce an idea to a group that can improve all of their individual lives as well as the nature of the group. If this concept does not resonate with you, you are both unfortunate enough to not have your world rocked by an idea and fortunate enough to quite possibly still have that first rocking in your future. It’s a beautiful thing! There are too many perspectives, too many ideas, too many sentiments, too many skills for any group to be confident in its completion. It is possible to be related to too few like-minded and stimulating individuals; it is not possible to be related to too many.
The more friends you have, the more likely all of your social needs will be met, and the more likely they will be met all of the time. The more friends you have, the more support you will have when one of them falls away from you, whether it be due to betrayal, life paths separating, or death. The more friends you have, the less important it is that they favor you over their other friends, and the more likely that you are some one’s favorite (the treacherous desire to compare your friends or feel compared by your friends is naturally quieted). The more friends you have, the more perspectives you share, the greater variety of experiences you absorb (directly and by proxy), so the more stimuli you have for growth. You are unlikely to be perfectly matched with one person, but a group of like-minded people will have many more related traits, and so will have less sensitivity to clashing traits (this concept also applies to the ‘many individual friendships’ situation). Finally, even a person with many close friends can feel lonely, but the likelihood is reduced with every new friendship.
Presence is important. For some people, their best friends are simply the most accessible. Some character traits are more valuable in a friend than their presence is, though. Getting physical intimacy from some one who doesn’t strike you as very affectionate is still valuable as physical intimacy, but it is not a good stand-alone reason to abandon the prospect of physical intimacy from a more affectionate friend who will be away at university for a few more years. Good friends need not be replaced by more available friends, or better friends.
But it may seem practical to do so, and just as practical to cling to the friends that you currently have and resist any new bonds. As adults, time is precious, and, especially for those who favor the meaningful, purpose-driven life, there are higher priorities than relationships. It is a struggle to juggle many relationships, and introverts lose energy to social situations, and so lose extra time to them. With unavoidable sacrifice and risk, it is undeniable that the present point in a person’s life will not always be an appropriate one to be developing relationships. But when is it appropriate? When school is over and you have more time? After your kids have grown up? After you have finished your great, big, personal projects? Are you waiting for a ‘social era’ in the history of your life? It is up to the individual to decide, but the reasons for ensuring that it happens are undeniable. Expanded perspective encourages personal growth; love is a need; compassion is a necessary skill to practice; great happiness is a sure product of a great tribe, and a member of a great tribe has a large comfort zone. A large comfort zone allows for vast ability, confidence, and this all leads to a higher likelihood of personal accomplishment.
Some aspect of your being probably needs a new friend, even if you don’t know it yet. You know what else? Some aspect of some one else out there probably needs a new friend, may be a friend just like you, and their potential will for ever be squandered without your help.