Do you leave social events feeling like you’ve been sprayed with mood-elevating fairy dust?
Or are you more likely to feel worn out after, retreating to the corner of your couch to refill your social fuel tank?
The difference might depend on the friends we choose to keep.
In our society of more is more, we can fall into the trap of being friend collectors with expansive social networks. We might sustain unhealthy relationships or measure self-worth through the metric of social media interactions (how many likes for that selfie, anyone?).
But for social behaviors, quality trumps quantity for long term happiness.
Today, I met two of my close girlfriends for lunch and last week, I spent the day at the Renaissance Festival with another- all Baby Bee’s aunts by proxy. These supportive friendships bring endless light into my life.
We share holidays, secrets, anxieties, concerns, triumphs, and we provide one another with love, confidence and acceptance.
I didn’t always know how to choose friends of this caliber. In the past, a larger social network, one that included some less trustworthy friends and more acquaintances, was seemingly crucial.
Luckily, I wised up.
Quality bonds became more important than a large web of social ties. The Socioemotional Selectivity Theory holds that we are (and should be) extra selective of our emotional investments as we age, because we have numerous commitments and less time and energy.
It makes sense that our social ties shouldn’t cause stress or angst.
Don’t we deserve love and acceptance?
It is also necessary to have positive interactions because those closest to us can actually modify our brain activity with a simple touch.
In one study, neural networks associated with threat were not activated when a loved one offered a hand to hold. Alternatively, the same gesture by a stranger, or someone we weren’t comfortable with, did not decrease distress.
Another study found the quality of social interactions to more protective than frequency per se. Being busy it seems, or having plentiful superficial interactions, doesn’t seem to bring contentment.
Research confirms. We should be seek deep, genuine bonds.
Here are five signs of a great friend or partner:
1. A great friend will leave you feeling accepted and loved just as you are. We are all unique, and we each have areas of sensitivity and insecurity. Opening up to someone else allows us to be vulnerable. We should seek those that accept our silliest, our most awkward, our imperfect.
2. A great friend will not be passive aggressive or make under-handed remarks regardless of circumstance. Life gets busy and messy and absurd. We will make mistakes, and how our friends address these mistakes can be very telling. People that lean toward passive aggressiveness create more insecurities in those they interact with- it doesn’t yield honesty and comfort.
3. A great friend will be honest with you while maintaining kindness and sincerity. Kindness in a relationship should come easily. Love fosters fondness. Honesty is a form of kindness as well. Sometimes honesty must focus on uncomfortable topics, but we can always use a measure of kindness to temper any conflict. A great friend will not want to knowingly hurt your feelings.
4. A great friend will provide you with stability and consistency in the level of warmth in their interactions. If many- or any, depending on degree- interactions leave you feeling uneasy, stressed, or fraught, it is worth evaluating the friendship. A consistent and stable person is a healthy person, and friendship should feed your soul, not tax you.
5. A great friend will apologize when necessary, offer forgiveness with ease, and recognize that both your lives are enhanced because the other person is a part of it. An apology is a sign of a confident person who cares enough to patch the leak. Forgiveness is a sign of strength and character. And the combination ensures positive interactions and support will continue for years to come.