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When did Relationships Become Transactional?

Do you get all of those "hey girl" emails on Facebook where people pretend to be interested in your life, only to try to sell you something? This transactional attitude towards relationships can be off-putting, and make you not want to put yourself out there.

When did just sharing good company with someone stop being enough, or stop being a priority? Has our desire to "keep up with the Jones's" left us with an empty hole where our friendships used to be? We didn't used to just 'network' with people, we used to build meaningful connections.

Recently, the Surgeon General of the United States declared that there is an epidemic of loneliness. I have to wonder, is it because our relationships with people are so surface level now?

When I was growing up, I had a close-knit group of friends that I would see outside of school several times a week. We would chat on the phone for hours, spend time at each other's houses, or go out for coffee together. We all thought that we would be friends forever. But somehow, over the years, contact became less and less frequent.

We rely too much on our love relationships as our sole support for our emotional needs, and as a result, we have a tendency to find our relationships unfulfilling. Perhaps it's because we shouldn't be relying on only one person to meet all of our needs.

According to The Mayo Clinic,

Friends prevent isolation and loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too. Friends can also:

  • Increase your sense of belonging and purpose

  • Boost your happiness and reduce your stress

  • Improve your self-confidence and self-worth

  • Help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one

  • Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise

Having more close relationships in your life allows you to feel happier, more connected and more confident. Knowing that someone has your back no matter what happens can create a sense of emotional safety. Humans are social animals, and we aren't meant to spend all of our time alone.

Why do we have less friends today?

As we get older, we have a tendency to drift away from our school friends, as we get caught up in work and family responsibilities. Due to rising inflation and stagnant wages, people have to work longer hours now than in the past. We are more tired, more stressed, and we just crash down on the couch and watch TV. Maintaining friendships takes work.

According to Big Think,

Americans, especially those who are highly educated and high-earning, work longer hours and are more likely to move for work than ever before. Parents also spend twice as much time with their children than previous generations. This saps the ability to maintain close friendships.

We can try to make friends with other moms at our kids' schools, however we may have nothing in common except the kids, and find it difficult to make a genuine connection. Making small talk when you don't feel like you can connect can be difficult, and sometimes you might sit on your phone watching the kids play.

Smartphones themselves may also play a role in our lack of close friendships. Although they can connect us across greater distances than ever before, we use social media to connect at a more shallow level. We read postings that are geared toward a group of people instead of individualized. We like instead of commenting. We watch people's lives from the outside. We text instead of calling. Making time for other people feels difficult.

People are becoming passively social instead of actively social. We accept the illusions of connection instead of seeking out something genuine. Real, meaningful relationships take work. We don't want to work for something, so we spend the time alone instead.

Big Think continues,

Unlike family relatives, developing and maintaining friendships requires sustained contact. One famous study found that a top predictor of friendship formation was merely how close people lived together (and by extension how often they saw each other), regardless of shared interests or other personal factors. Another recent study estimates that at least 11 interactions over five months are needed to solidify a friendship.

This means, we have to take time out of our schedules on a regular basis to spend time with the same person, or people. It can be a weekly coffee date, movie night, or card game. Any of these can allow you to regularly connect with the same people, so that you can bring your group closer together.

Unfortunately, if you are constantly feeling tired and stressed out, it can be difficult to make time in your schedule for someone new. It is hard to have the deep kind of sharing that is needed to go below a surface level friendship when you are too tired or too untrusting to open up. It is hard to open up to new people. So we just don't.

Making new friends as an adult

Since proximity helps you to make close friendships, going to local community activities can help you connect with people who live nearby. If you have a shared activity or interest with someone, then it makes it more likely that you will enjoy spending time with them.

If you want to make new friends, Very Well Mind suggests:

  • Volunteer for something: Find an organization or cause that you care about. Spending time working on something that is important to you is a great way to meet like-minded people who share your interests and passions.

  • Explore a new hobby: One of the best ways to meet new people is to simply pursue the things that you enjoy. Sign up for a community class devoted to something you want to learn more about, whether it’s cooking, painting, or computer coding. Joining a hiking group, joining a sports team, or attending a book club at your local library are just a few ideas that can help you build new connections with people who may become great friends.

  • Find friends at work: The workplace is where 54% of adults report meeting their closest friends. Shared time and experiences often serve as the basis for strong friendships.

If you are spending a lot of time at work every day, it may be the easiest to connect with other people at work. You can consider asking someone at your office to go to lunch, or to go for drinks after work.

It is important to remember that friendship is its own reward. We don't make friends to fill our unmet needs, but to be able to enrich our lives. Don't make friends because you are feeling desperate, but because you are generally interested in someone else.

There are always people out there that you meet and feel a good energy right away. When you do, you can make the first move and offer to get together again sometime. It can be scary to "make the first move" even when it comes to friendships, because we are afraid of getting rejected.

Overcoming our fears is important, so that we can get out of our comfort zone and meet new people. It is normal to be afraid, and to doubt ourselves. That is why making small talk with people in person is important. Any time you are out in the community, don't be afraid to smile at someone and say hi. You never know, they could wind up being your new best friend.

Making time

In order to make time in our lives for more friendships, we need to learn to prioritize our lives better. Maybe, it means taking a job closer to home so that we have a shorter commute. Maybe it means making friends with others with kids your own age.

Deep down though, we have a need for connection that outshines our need for possessions and success. We fill our time with work because we want to have nicer things, and it makes us end up making us lonely and isolated. There are more important things in our lives than money. We just have to open our hearts up to them.

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