Like romantic love, when we think of friendship, we think of a relationship blooming from the ether. But friendship doesn’t just happen. Research suggests that the birth of a friendship comes about with the help of a lot of subconscious decision-making patterns that help us carefully choose the people we allow into our social circle.
Many of us think of our friendships as extensions of our family lineage and the life-blood of our happiness. Most people would say they wouldn’t be where they are now because of their friends, so it’s no surprise that the forces behind these meaningful relationships have long been the subject of scrutiny. Thankfully, psychological and sociological research has some interesting answers for us.
Why Do We Seek Out Friendship?
It’s no doubt that friendship is essential to our way of living. The phrase “it takes a village” exists for a reason. Communities are the building blocks to our entire society, so it is very much genetically ingrained in us to seek the support of others with similar beliefs and backgrounds, so that we may work together and weather the storm of life, and seek pleasurable blips in time that distract us from its worries.
Friends help us create a sense of belonging in the universe, a sense of purpose. This encourages us to take better care of ourselves and avoid putting ourselves at risk of danger, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University.
Spending time with our friends also releases feel-good chemicals in our brains, oxytocin, that reduces stress levels and builds the emotional attachment we feel to them.
There’s also nothing more rewarding after a hard day than a hug from a friend, and anthropologist Robin Dunbar reinforces this through his research that details how physical touch greatly benefits individuals experiencing feelings of loneliness.
How Do We Select Our Friends?
Not all the reasons we can envision someone as a good friend are based on their character; it can also depend on the circumstances in which the friendship begins to form. Two main factors influence how we choose our friends; external and individual. The external factors are extraneous circumstances that make a friendship easier to exist, such as close geographical location or a major life event. Individual factors are those characteristics that we judge other people based on how we relate to them, such as approachability and similar interests.
Essentially, this means that platonic attraction is very much dependent on how our friends tend to mirror us in some capacity.
Interestingly, Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D. also explains that we tend to gravitate toward more attractive people because we tend to associate beautiful people with the same values, even if we don’t consciously think we rank similarly with them in beauty. However, in general, just like with our romantic partners, we tend to choose friends who are similar to us in the level of attractiveness.
How To Build Lasting Friendships
Life happens, and sometimes the time and energy it takes to maintain a friendship can be too much to bear when we’re being stretched so thin in the rest of our lives. But that’s just it; all it takes is being present. Things that make a good friend hold true in childhood or the retirement home.
Self-disclosure and supportiveness are the pillars of intimacy. They are two of the behaviors essential to a long-lasting friendship, according to Debra Oswald, a psychologist at Marquette University who’s studied the nature of high school best friends, as well as interaction and positivity.
As long as you’re making an effort to catch up, whether it’s through a phone call or an in-person visit, as long as you’re interacting, you’re strengthening your bond. And ultimately, seeking out positive experiences with your friends and bringing a positive attitude to your interactions to create a more rewarding experience for everyone involved motivate us to keep the friendship alive.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.