Hibernation over! Friends reunited at last
Is friendship our most basic human need? Friends have survived three long months of separation under strict lockdown rules. Now we can meet again, will we appreciate our friendships more?
All over the world, if lockdown has taught us anything, it is how much we need friendship.
Life under quarantine has been about maintaining physiological needs of food and shelter, at the expense of our social need for a close circle of friends.
Social scientists take this very seriously. “Your wellbeing, happiness, your physical and mental health, even your risk of dying are all affected by the number of close friends that you have,” says evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar.
Dunbar suggests we need between three and five close friends. But what makes the perfect friendship? A major study at Cardiff University found that the most important characteristic is a good sense of humour.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said the purest friend is one who values you for who you are, and not what you can do for them.
Ever since then, humans have distinguished between true and fake friends. We’re suspicious of ulterior motives and feel uncomfortable that friendship may have a purpose beyond the pleasure of each other’s company. We have developed a sophisticated and ever-changing language to describe the complexity of friendship, from bromance to frenemies and the friendzone.
Is friendship our most basic human need?
The greatest love
Yes. Friendship is fundamental. We need friends to make us laugh when we feel low, talk through our problems when we are confused, and to give us a sense of social belonging and meaning. With friends, we live longer, healthier, and happier lives.
No. Friendship is obviously not a basic human need like food and water. Throughout history, many spiritual people have actively chosen solitude and found a deeper sense of belonging away from human contact. Many others have no friends at all, and are perfectly happy with family. Friends are over-rated!
- What is the most important quality in a friend?
- Draw a picture of you with one of your best friends, showing what makes your friendship special.
Some People Say...
“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”Aristotle (384-322BC), Greek philosopher
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Most agree that humans are social animals. On our own, we would not survive very long in the wild. For all of human history, we have lived in groups wider than our immediate family, and we evolved specific social skills – laughter, eye-contact, speech, and play – in order to build relationships in large groups.
- What do we not know?
- When these relationships deserve to be called friendship. Do we try to be like Aristotle, striving for an ideal, perfect kind of selfless friendship between two independent individuals? Or do we accept that all our actions are selfish, and friendship is a complex transaction between two people who depend on one another?
- The US psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) devised Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to show how we prioritise life decisions. He saw finding food, water, and shelter as the most important, followed by safety and security, then friendship and, finally, prestige and creative expression.
- Major study
- Researchers asked students aged between 10 and 17 to choose the three more important qualities in a friend. After a good sense of humour (82%), students picked honesty (67%) and kindness (61%) as essential characteristics.
- Ulterior motives
- Hidden reasons.
- From 1990s skater culture to Hollywood comedy films, the intimate, non-sexual friendship between two men is, in fact, part of a much older tradition. Medieval male friends took vows of faithfulness similar to marriage rituals, and the first friendship in Western literature between Achilles and Patroclus in Homer’s Iliad was perhaps the first bromance.
- The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), wrote that often “friend and enemy have coincided in the same person”. But this term describing a love-hate relationship based on rivalry and mutual dislike was probably popularised by the sitcom Sex and the City (1997-2004).
- First used in a 1994 episode of Friends, this term refers to a friendship where romantic love felt by one friend is met by only friendly affection of the other.
- The state of being alone.