Did you ever have an argument with a friend and then wonder if friendships were worth the effort? Were you ever frustrated by your efforts to make new friends? You are not alone if you've had these concerns.Without friends we would be isolated and isolation leads to depression. Depression is often described as a feeling of being trapped. Another definition of depression is anger turned inward. Thus, having friends helps us avoid depression. A famous psychologist once said that all human beings have what he described as a "belonging" need. When we fulfill our need to belong we feel more satisfied. Belonging means having friends or being part of something outside of ourselves. The world has changed in recent years. Americans are more isolated than ever before. Therefore, friendships are more important than ever. More than ever before children are raised in homes where both parents work, where television or the Internet have become the child's friends and where one must be old enough to drive (and have a car) in order to foster friendships. The logistics of maintaining friendships has become quite complicated. Rarely is one able to just drop by and chat with a friend, the pace of life is such that appointments have to be made if one is to nurture a relationship. Spontaneity has been replaced by structured planning.

The question was raised whether friendships are worth the effort when there are arguments? Most people who study friendships would say "yes." Some studies suggest that bringing enemies (friends that have had serious arguments) together leads to more intense and meaningful "friendships." On the other hand, sometimes after an argument we come to realize that some of the fundamentals needed for friendship were not present and therefore stronger bonds will not be developed. For example, it can take considerable time for "friends" to discover that they do not have similar attitudes about various aspects of life. Research suggests that lasting romantic relationships that started as friendships with similar attitudes about life, interests, emotions, and yes, even TV programs, are likely to flourish. Conversely, friendships will likely never reach a truly romantic level (assuming that is a goal) if you are a deep thinker, a risk taker, introspective, and goal oriented and your potential mate has an attitude of relative complacency, avoids emotional interaction and commitment, is vague about his goals, and is addicted to watching wrestling on TV. Both of you are good people, but lacking are the similarity of attitudes needed for a lasting relationship. Is it worth trying to change the other person? It might be, but generally such tasks meet with disastrous failure.

Getting to meet new people is not too difficult. Developing new friendships is quite difficult. Friendships generally require similar attitudes, openness, emotional sharing, trust, and the rare quality of being "non-judgmental." True friends don't just pop in and out of your life as a result of their immediate emotional state. True friends maintain contact, emotionally share, reflect respect for themselves, for you, and for the value of the relationship.

Are friendships worth the effort? Real friendships are clearly worth the emotional and physical investment. Without them we would be islands unto ourselves. That could result in a pretty lonely and empty life. It might even be called depressing. Keep in mind that no matter how lonely or sad you might get, there are few things brighter in life than a good friend. Don't expect to have many, just a few is all it takes to feel a sense of belonging and fulfillment. Friendships may very well represent the keys to finding meaning and hope in life.

Dr. Allen Silberman is a licensed counselor and psychotherapist with more than 30 years experience. He was president of an HMO and founder of a nationwide healthcare-related company. He specializes in individual and relationship counseling. For comments or questions, he can be reached at allensilberman@aol.com

Guest Column

Dr. Allen Silberman

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