“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey.
My lovely dad recently went on a trip with my mum to Amsterdam. You’ll notice I talk a lot about my dad in my writing because he’s incredible, he was always telling us stories as children. He would turn the littlest thing into the greatest adventure, from riding in the car to walking to school. When we were sad, my dad would tell us to go whisper our sadness and secrets to our conker tree (which he and his nephew had planted many moons before) and the tree would turn it into a treat. Low and behold it did, it would always magically have lollies on it. Last year, we had to rip our beloved magic tree out, because the roots had become some unruly, which my dad blamed us for telling it too many secrets.
Anyway, Dad is now almost 70 and my mum has just had her hip replaced, but he was adamant he wanted to show my mum where he spent a lot of time in his youth (I wonder what you were doing Dad). He had met some friends there some 50 years previously, and they had kept in contact by writing to each other over the years. His friends had been over to Wales a few times and met mum and us, but Mum and Dad had never been there. So my dad was insistent to take mum there, and he met with his friends and cycled the streets of Amsterdam like he had done some 50 years before.
So, this made me think about the psychology of friendships. What makes us form friendships that surpass decades?
As a girl, I can sometimes feel friendships can be complicated, but recognising your true friends can be surprisingly simple. To be a friend must be a two street, it must be positive and you must respect each other. Evolutionary psychologists have studied monkeys for years in the animal world and have found even they have ‘friends’ or monkeys with whom they would rather spend time with. Animals actively work hard to build their friendships and evidently, the aim is to survive. Through studying animals it can be seen the animals with the strongest social network live longest and have the most successful reproductive ability. You can hold this true to human friendships as well.
“What friendship is about at the end of the day, is creating small-scale, intensely bonded groups that act as protection [to life’s] stresses.” Professor Dunbar of Oxford University
To build friendships in the animal world they can spend up to 20% of their time grooming each other. If you remember from my last article the benefits of a hug, well grooming is like this for monkeys. It actually triggers the neurotransmitter, oxytocin (the love hormone), this makes the monkeys feel good and bonds them closer together. Now I’m not sure what I’d do if my friends started trying to check my hair for ticks, but the principle is the same. Activites like laughing, hugging, singing, dancing all trigger the love hormone and this makes us happy.
Research carried out has shown that we choose friends that support who we are, or ‘validate’ us. It is called ‘social identity support’. This rings true of my relationship with my best friend Jane, we have shared many similar experiences in life and she has definitely supported me through my hardest times.
Therefore, we become best friends with people who boost our self-esteem, however narcissistic that sounds. But on the flip side of that, we choose our friends who inspire us. Jane is amazing and every day I’m so in awe of her, she has four beautiful children, she is always on the ball and still has time to take care of me too.
On average, research shows that most of us have about five people in our lives who we count as our most intimate friends.
We all know that research shows us talking with plants can help them grow, just like our conker tree, we had told so many secrets to it so we could have a magic lolly. It had grown and grown until it undermined the foundations of the home. Use this as a metaphor for friendships. Talk and share stories, connect and build. Grow your roots together. Having people around us who get us and support us in an incredible feeling. Love and being accepted is something amazing. Only through this connectedness to others can we really know who we are, and enhance our self. And it is only through working on our self can we begin to develop and connect deeper with others.
This is why we should never be shy to talk, learning to understand each other through life’s pitfall’s helps us to grow as individuals. We can learn what makes other people sad but also how to empathise with them, this develops our self. We can realise we are not the only person that life can shit on, we are not alone.
So, tell stories, discuss your interests and gain knowledge. Help the person to grow as an individual will help you grow too.
You never know in 50 years time you could be cycling the streets with them again.
So always love more