Friends are more important than ever.
Friendship is a survival tactic as old as eating. When we were cavemen, and woolly mammoths attacked, nobody got out alive on his or her own. We ganged up on the suckers and barbecued the weak ones for dinner. You can’t kill and eat a mammoth by yourself.
And now, there are more woolly mammoths than ever. Our paychecks are getting slashed, or we’re losing them altogether. Another coworker packs up his desk every day. We can’t afford to celebrate our own birthdays, and we’re breaking up (or cracking up) from the stress.
And yet we insist on fighting off the mammoths on our own.
“[We] have fewer people we identify as friends and confidants than we did 25 years ago,” sociologist Michael Farrell says. The reasons are multiple. We’re working more. We’re spending more time wrapped up in our families. We’re fading into our televisions, our iPhones and, ironically, the Facebook pages of the virtual “friends” we desperately need offline.
So: more mammoths, fewer people to help us slay them. We fight alone. It sucks, and it’s stupid, but we do it anyway. And alone, we succumb to the mammoths. We trip, we fall, and before we know it we’re in the air, staked on the tusks, flailing our limbs and calling out for…who? Our mothers?
Our mothers live in Toledo.
Besides, our mothers haven’t lived through times like these. Our grandmothers might have, but that was back when people had more friends—safety nets in the form of close-knit ethnic enclaves.
“Not only could they socialize with one another, they knew when somebody needed something,” Farrell says. “That was an enormous shock absorber.”
Lucky Depression-era folks. These days, the Bernie Madoffs of the world use those ethnic ties to build their Ponzi schemes.
The good news is, the remedy lies right in front of us: It’s the drink with that guy from high school, a burger with that girl from camp. It’s connecting to that coworker next to (or no longer next to) you or the roommate who stole your yogurt. One hour together, and the awkwardness of human interaction begins to fade into the beginnings of comfort.
Two hours, we’re swapping mammoth stories.
Three, and we’re making bad mammoth puns. They’re not funny. We know that. But at the time they’re hilarious.
More hours pass. Physically, we’re in the same place. And yet we’re someplace else. As Farrell says, “Friendships are places where people give meaning to the events that have happened in their lives.”
It doesn’t change the events of our lives, of course. Those mammoths aren’t extinct. They’re going to attack again.
But when they do, we’ll all pick up our cocktail glasses and our iPhones and we’ll throw them at the mammoths together.
And then we’ll charge, keeping a protective eye on the friend beside us.