Friendship Throughout the Lifespan

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

Some of the most important people in our lives are friends.  While some friends last a lifetime, others may come and go.  Some friends may even vary by season. As summer time approaches, through activities like soccer, golf, backyard barbeques, and visiting the local playground with our children, we may rebuild or create friendships that may have been dormant through the winter season. Regardless of when our friends join us; friendship during any period in our lifetime is invaluable.  In fact, having a confidante and an active social support systemare powerful buffers to depression!

Throughout the lifespan, whether at 5 years or 85 years, and regardless of whether the quantity or quality of contact varies, people maintain friendships. On average, we are likely to have more acquaintances and friends during young adulthood than any other time in our life.  As older adults, despite health concerns and increased disabilities, our life satisfaction is largely related to the quantity and quality of contact with friends.  The nature of our friendship is also likely to vary by our gender.  For women, friendships are often based on emotional sharing and confiding in each other.  For men, friendships are often based on shared activities or interests.

What does friendship mean to you? Do you seek out friends when you need to share important events in your life? Do you view a friend as someone who you can rely on to tell you the truth about situations and be with you through difficult times? Do you turn to a friend as someone to have fun with?

Whether it is to expandour circle of existing friends or to create a new network of support, friendships typically grow in three stages.  Each stage in the friendship reflects different levels of involvement.  First, people notice each other and make some judgments.  Here, they havemutual awareness. It is during this stage that we decide that this is a person that we would like to get to know more.  Second, we may choose to have surface contact. We may choose to have minimal self-disclosure and to be guided by social norms (e.g., set up a golf game, register for the same soccer team, etc.).  Joining classes, teams, and other common activity groups provides a comfortable structure as we expand our friendships.  These two stages of friendship building include the people most of us might call acquaintances.  However, in order to have a true and deeper level of friendship, we must move into a third stage ¾ from acquaintanceship to mutuality.  That is, with increased self-disclosure, we begin to develop a sense of commitment to each other, a set of private norms, and characteristics that we may associate with close friendships such as honesty, sincerity, and emotional support.  Friendship, like any other intimate relationship, requires time and nurturance to flourish.

Whether we have to work hard at making friends or even if it comes effortlessly, being aware that true friendship increases with self-disclosure may help you to challenge yourself to take the next step ¾ to be and have a true friend!

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