"Americans, who shocked pollsters in 1985 when they said they had only three close friends, today say they have just two."
This from the June 2006 issue of American Sociological Review.
(Literary aside: I am aware that as a citation, that deserves to have a big red "F" scratched across it...since it doesn't include vol., pg, author, ed. etc.
PLEASE DON'T TELL ANYONE I CITED LIKE THAT! If you really want to know, I will look it up later and I will cite in the format of your choice: AP, MLS, Bluebook, or that gawdawful Turabian. A pox on the Houston Chronicle for not providing proper citation format in the first place!)
Where were we?
A study at Duke entitled "Social Isolation in America" was defining a "close" friend as being someone with whom you could discuss important matters.
The study's author admitted there was some confusion on the part of those surveyed as to whether or not email friends count as close friends. Email provided a new slant since 1985: Do you count as a friend for the purposes of this study those people with whom you chat via email several times a day, or IM, or blog with, but live miles apart in terms of physical location.
(For the painfully young: Those electronic options didn't exist back then. We oldies actually remember back that far!)
But letters did exist back then. Letters used to fly around the world, to pen pals, service people, missionaries, and students. People fell in love with letters. People developed world changing opinions via letters. Adams and Jefferson come to mind, this being close to July 4th and all.
Why didn't anyone back then ask if letter friendships counted?
The study was looking at the question in terms of social networks to meet emergency needs. The Katrina evacuees had friends to help them get out. Those who got left behind usually had little or no social network. A email buddy, it was suggested, may not be able to come get you when your car goes kaput, or bring you some meds from the store when you are down with a fever. Or be able take you in when a hurricane/fire/earthquake/flood/boils/frogs is/are about to destroy your city.
I actually do have lots of friends with whom I feel comfortable discussing important matters. Outside of family, who I also count as friends, I have three friends in San Diego, two in Denver area, one in Portland, one in Orlando, a cluster in Houston (most of whom look great in hats; see picture above of that lot), and even one in far off Switzerland.
I wouldn't necessarily discuss all my "important" matters with every friend. I like Mark Twain's quote: "Everyone is ignorant, just on different subjects".
(Another inadequate citation. Sorry.)
Maybe everyone can be a friend, just on different subjects?
Didn't it used to be that everyone would stop and help you if your car went kaput, and your neighbor would "know" if you needed some chicken soup to get better? Yet those same helpers were rarely treated to the kinds of private musings and navel gazing angst that often fuels modern friendship. They delivered the goods, and were gone. They were dependable, if not intimate.
The above mentioned article has been in my mental ponder fodder file for seven days now. I felt it was time to let the partially digested thought food leak from my mind and out my finger tip and on down the line electronically to you.
By discussing something important together, we become, as defined by the study, "friends".
As they say in class: