7 wisdoms about friendship

Why do you remain friends with one and not the other for years? Is friendship useful? And men and women, can they be friends or not? “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” Sociologist Beate Volker (56) agrees with this proverb and shares her insights about friendship. “We choose friends who are like us.”

“The special thing about friendships is that they are relationships that you have chosen yourself. You get your neighbours, family and colleagues, and the content of your partner relationship is already largely socially shaped,” says Beate. “Friends, on the other hand, you select yourself and you also determine the content of those friendships yourself. How? By choosing people who are like you. That’s why friends are often mirrors of each other. This starts with characteristics such as education, age, ethnicity and gender. But sometimes that goes much further, and people choose friends who are symmetrical down to their clothing style and way of speaking.” 

Wisdom 1: Timing

The ideal time to make friends, according to Beate, is your student days. “When you start a course, you are open and you meet all kinds of people who are in the same situation and who are also open. In addition, you often leave your existing network and friends behind and now want to build something new. What also contributes is that you meet your fellow students in different settings. In the lecture hall, but also in the café or at the sports club. Friendships develop unnoticed. You meet once, drink a cup of coffee together. Gradually something happens that makes you think after a while: hey, how nice!” How we go from ‘hey, how nice’ to ‘you’re my friend’ is a dynamic process. “It’s not that you get closer and closer, it goes in leaps and bounds. 

New research shows that there is a wave in friendships. It’s only natural that the friend you’re very close to now will fade into the background over time and come back later. That dynamic is part of it.” Beate explains how you are pre-sorted in society to meet people who look like you. “At school you meet people who have the same level of education and the same interests and when you go to work you end up again in an environment with like-minded people. Once you have settled in, you often no longer meet anyone who is fundamentally different from you.” 

Wisdom 2: Trust and Selflessness

According to Beate, the basis for a good friendship can be summed up in one word: trust. In a friendship you should both feel the security to show your true self. This also includes selflessness. This means that you want the best for each other. Beate: “If it’s good, you can feel it when you talk to each other. That the other wants you to blossom, that you are doing well. That selfless basic feeling makes a friendship valuable.” The ideal number of friends does not exist, according to Beate. “You can have up to two or three best friends. What is ideal depends on who you are.” Multiple friends sometimes make friendships difficult. “Love relationships are exclusive, you usually only have one man or woman at a time. This does not apply to friendships. 

Wisdom 3: Identity

“You used to need friends to help you find a house or if you were sick. That is much less the case now. Of course, friends can temporarily help you with the groceries if you have broken your leg, but it are not carers,” says Beate. “Characteristic for friendships these days, is that identity confirmation plays a major role. Nowadays you have to determine your position in an ever-expanding world, with complex issues about migration and the climate. Where do you stand? Friendships are needed to find that out. What’s really important? What choices do I make? How do I separate the important from the unimportant in this jungle of information and complexity?” The influence of friends can go both ways, explains Beate. On the one hand, a group of friends can act as a sounding board, after which you make your own choices as an individual. On the other hand, friends can greatly confirm each other. “That’s why friends within a group often have the same opinions. People shape each other.” 

Wisdom 4: Healthy

“Science isn’t quite sure how it works, but a plausible theory is that being around friends makes you feel good and reduces stress,” Beate says of the positive effects of friendship on your health. “And because friends tell you what they’ve been through and ask for your opinion, you stay more mentally active.” Beate therefore advises the elderly to regularly do things with friends. “That’s how you keep your brain fit.” 

Wisdom 5: male-female friendship

“Of course men and women can be friends. Yet it is unlikely. As mentioned, you choose friends based on similarities, including gender.” It can also be explained from the perspective of imaging why male-female friendships are rare. “If you’re friends, you go out together. The outside world sees you as a couple, which can be a bit strange. And when one of the two friends gets a partner, it often happens that he or she does not understand: ‘Are you going out with that boyfriend or girlfriend again?’ Good friends like to do things in pairs and that is quickly suspicious if you have a partner at the same time.” Male-female friendships are not yet socially accepted as far as Beate is concerned. “In the end, male-female friendships often come under pressure.” It does happen, she emphasizes, “But it’s the exceptions that prove the rule. Like friends ten years older or younger, you don’t have many of them. Or friends from a different ethnic background. Apparently there are social limits to our networks.” 

Wisdom 6: Get out of your comfort zone

The older you get, the harder it can feel to make new friends. Beate: “In old age you have to step out of your comfort zone to meet new people. The best thing you can do is do something you enjoy and do with others. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the knitting club, a book circle or a choir. Choose an activity that takes place regularly so you can meet like-minded people. Even then it is scary to invite someone once: after all, you run the risk that the other person will say ‘no’.” 

Another way to increase your network is by  organizing a so-called second degree dinner  . That’s a dinner where you invite three people you know well and ask those three people to bring someone you don’t know yet. “The chance that it will be fun is very high.” 

Wisdom 7: Rediscovering Friends

Many people recognize that friends come and go. “Sometimes you suddenly find out that you haven’t had any contact for two years.” According to Beate, in such a case it is best to send a message with ‘not heard from you for a long time, do you want to catch up again?’ “This way you give yourself and the other the chance to reconnect. It really happens that friendships blossom again. You have to remember that there was once a reason why you two became friends. It could just be that that reason is still a good reason to be friends.” 

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