This headline grabbed my attention this morning in today’s Irish Independent. It concerns a new service which has been launched in the UK for lonely people to hire someone to spend time with them – to go to a film or restaurant with for example.
Susan Daly, the author of the article, points to the fact that the notion of friendship is constantly evolving. “Even Aristotle” she writes, “with his high ideals of friendship or ‘philia’, noted that not all friends were created equal. He separated them into categories — the useful friend, such as a boss; the common-interest friend, ie, the bloke you go golfing with; and the ‘virtuous’ friend who loves you for what you are.”
Looking at my friendships over the years, I can see an evolving pattern too. The intense friendships of my teenage years have all but petered out. I am still in sporadic contact with some of those friends, but it has come down to a few email exchanges and the odd Christmas card. Facebook has brought some of them back into my life and amped up the contact, but not face-to-face.
The friendships that sustain me now are those I have made over the past year and a half through social networking. I have made many new “friends” on Twitter and Facebook, and it certainly has eased the loneliness and isolation of moving from the city to the country. But these online friendships would not in and of themselves be enough to sustain me, without some real life face to face contact. Interestingly in the Indo article, Daly quotes an Amanda Brown who says “it has never been easier to strike up a friendship over social networks, but..there is distrust without a face-to-face meeting..The big thing with any relationship, romantic, platonic or otherwise, is trust. You can have a cerebral connection with someone online but with humans trust is established with eye contact and body language.” Evolutionary psychologist Will Reader of Sheffield Hallam University confirms that his research shows that 90pc of people feel face-to-face associations are imperative to forming close bonds.
Yesterday evening, I took myself off to Carlow, for the KLCK bloggers networking event, organised by Amanda Webb of Spiderworking. It was a great evening, which gave me an opportunity to put faces to some of the bloggers and twitter and facebook friends I’m in regular contact with. Meeting face to face like this I got a better sense of who I would like to develop more of a friendship with and it confirmed again how much the friendship of those (that would be you Lorna) I have already formed a bond with means to me.
So, rent a friend if you’re lonely? There’s no need to go this far. Just go online, start blogging, or join a social network based on a common interest that you share and before long you will find that you have lots of friends, some of whom may just be the real friend you’ve been looking for.