“Because you are an important part of their lives, James and Jannae* ask you to save the date.” The upscale wedding invitation with professional photos of the vibrant, 20-something couple exuded romance, love, and promise.

Problem-I didn’t know these two lovely people. Passing the invitation around the dinner table, six family members creatively contorted memories to make the blissful couple fit somehow.

Maybe a co-worker’s daughter, perhaps the son of distant friend? Maybe that neighbor down the street? We studied the return address for clues, the shape of their noses, and even did a Facebook search. No question, we were definitely not an important part of their lives.

We finally solved the mystery. James and Jannae borrowed a database from their siblings’ recent wedding, never bothering to check the names. Your friends are our friends, was the implied sentiment.

I faced a moral dilemma. Should I scold them, buy a gift, friend them on Facebook, or crash the wedding? It started a rousing conversation and raised a critical question. Who are our real friends? The decade you were born may determine the answer.

Historically, life-long friendships came from extended families within close-knit communities. Those friend sources are quickly eroding. US Census figures state 37.1 million Americans move annually with the average family moving every five years. Mobility brings isolation.

My husband jokes, the best way to make new friends is to have more children. Turns out he was partially right. Barna research reports 70% of Americans identify family as their only real friendships. The destruction of families is fast creating the loneliest generation in history.

We all need friends. Studies show people with intimate friendships enjoy better health, increased fulfillment, and longer lives.

Isolation brings the opposite. With less time to invest in long-lasting friendships, many stop trying. Twenty-five percent of adults report that they have no close friends. Statistics indicate friendship networks are shrinking quickly because of the Internet and fewer opportunities to develop real relationships. Social networks have deceived an entire generation into believing virtual friends are actually friends. The irony of our high tech world indicates having access to millions of people actually causes fiercer isolation.

I know two teenagers who took their own lives because of Internet ‘friends.’ A note left by an eleven-year old said, “My friends hate me. I will never be who they want.” The grieving mother told me her daughter had never met the girls who posted the comments that pushed her to end her life.

Seeking to understand friendship trends, I took an informal survey of the under 30 crowd. The overwhelming consensus screamed ‘the one with the most friends wins.’ It didn’t matter if they had never met these new friends, or didn’t even know who they were. Everyone I interviewed agreed; opinions these ‘friends’ had of them were extremely important even though they were virtual strangers. Therein lies the danger.

As evidenced by our wedding invitation faux pas, this generation has bought into the lie that any relationship is a good relationship. A dear friend once told me you are blessed if you have one soul friend, two intimate friends, and four close friends in your lifetime. Another close friend says he only needs enough true friends who will show up to carry his casket. Claiming fewer than seven close friends won’t impress anyone under 30, or rate high on Facebook, but true friendships can make all the difference in life.

Consider these ideas about real friendships.

WHAT IS A FRIEND? Define what friendship means to you. Look for those characteristics to nurture intimate, healthy, and successful friendships. Pursue new friends and work to improve the relationships you have.
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY: Don’t have more friends than you can love well. In our busyness, we often miss beautiful friendship opportunities. In our quantity- not-quality world, where friendships are concerned, less may be more.
CHOOSE CAREFULLY. Avoid friends who prevent meaningful life-giving relationships. Instead, ponder this. If you could invite seven of your closest friends on a cruise, whom would you choose? Why? Would different friendship choices make a difference in your life?
LEARN TO TRUST. When people hurt us, we tend to shut them out. If the wounds are extremely painful, we may shut everyone out. Take a chance and reach out. Your new best friend may be waiting on the other side of fear.
BE THE FRIEND YOU WANT. A friend is someone who knows you and chooses you anyway. Be a quality friend to others and watch your friendships flourish.
No matter your age, pursuing true and lasting friendships, may provide a better life filled with contentment knowing we love and are loved by that special group of people we call friends.

*Names have been changed to protect the embarrassed


Barna Research Update-Friendships 3/17/08
Geographical Mobility/Migration Main: 2009
US Census Update, 2011
Pew Research Center, Internet Report 2012