“The silly thing about adults,” my friend said, “ is that everyone is lonely, but no one wants to be the one to stick their hand out of their cave and reach out.” We were discussing her difficulty adjusting to the new city over an aging cup of coffee. She’s not the only adult that I’ve seen who has trouble finding friends, but most of us don’t want to admit it. However, according to Harvard researcher, Robert Waldinger, this one component of our lives— having meaningful relationships—may be the most crucial one to improving our health . Waldinger’s 75 year study showed that those who had cultivated meaningful relationships were both happier and healthier than those who lacked such relationships. Longer life was also correlated with relationship quality and may be an additional perk. The cruciality of friendship to health and even reproductive success has led psychologists like Robert M. Seyfarth at the University of Pennsylvania, to propose that humans evolved to have the basic need for friendship ingrained in our DNA .
Most of us know intuitively that it is important to have friendships, but after a day of running around picking up the kids from school, the groceries from Harris Teeter, and the cheerios from the floor, who has the time and energy to go out and meet people? Still, what is the alternative? Something’s got to give when the last stimulating conversation that you had consisted of yelling at Ross on Friends to get his act together. (Because it doesn’t matter that he and Rachel were on a break). The sad thing is, that this may actually be true for more people than we think. Those of us in the modern world seem to be staying in more and going out less than ever before. For example, subscribers watched Netflix on their computers alone for a total of 12 billion hours between October and December of last year, and their overall watching time increased by fifty percent between 2014 and 2015 . That’s twelve billion hours spent connecting with technology rather than connecting with people.
In friendship studies, researchers often question subjects about the time that they spend and the important matters that they discuss with people in order to determine who are their friends . What strikes me about this is, if our most important friendships are defined by the time we spend investing in them and the importance of the matters that we entrust them with, many of us have non-human friendships. We spend hours surfing the web. We endow the container of Ben and Jerry’s with our tears and whispered secrets. We can’t allow the material to dupe us into believing that it can provide the immaterial, because despite what the commercials might say, a chocolate bar can’t love you. So eat your cake, but you can have it, too, in the form of a messy but beautiful friendship that may disappoint at times, but is nurturing, giving, and, best of all, real.