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Euphoria (2022)

Are we all becoming terrible friends?

As society grows increasingly insular and individualistic, we’re in danger of forgetting the value of fostering interdependent relationships

What does it mean to be a good friend in 2023? The classic defining qualities of a solid relationship – sharing problems, helping one another, and spending time together – have been labelled as excessive demands on social media in recent months. But is this reflective of a real-life move towards hyper-individualism, and could it be harming us?

“As an adult, don’t ask your friend to pick you up from the airport. Use Uber, save a friendship,” Twitter user @Codie_Sanchez recently posted to her 316,000 followers. The post sparked debate on the social network, with many criticising the outsourcing of what could have been a human moment of connection to a multi-billion-dollar business. Similarly, when another user tweeted that people should hire home moving companies over-relying on friends for help, someone responded by asking “why are yall so frickin weird pls stop treating friendships like weird transactions”.

Then there are the social media posts that have inspired a multitude of memes, copypastas and parodies, with their robotic and business-like templates that suggest how to refuse your friends’ requests for emotional support or to ‘break up’ with them once you’ve had enough. Over on TikTok, there are numerous complaints of people ‘trauma dumping’ – a buzzword that criticises the over-sharing of problems with those in our lives. Speaking to Dazed, Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist who runs Lafiya Health, stresses the expression is a colloquialism rather than a legitimate psychological term, and suggests that its widespread use may indicate people are becoming less comfortable with hearing about each other’s pain.

Evidently, there’s a lot of online discourse about friendships, but whether these posts reflect a genuine trend in our real-life friendships is up for debate. However, it does seem as though this isn’t just an ‘internet thing’: globally, people are prioritising independence and uniqueness as cultural values, over interdependence and community. It’s also the case that some of us don’t have that many friends to speak of: more than one in ten adults in the UK have no close ones. Eight per cent say they have no friends at all.

“The true essence of humanity and why we’ve survived so long, and been so successful, is because we rely on each other. And those values are being eroded” – Shomi Williams

Sophie K Rosa, the author of the forthcoming book Radical Intimacy, which looks at alternative ways to form relationships and resist capitalism, thinks if some of us are viewing our friendships in this way, it’s likely reflective of how time-poor, exhausted and suffering many of us are in the current climate. “I think we’re all very tired,” she tells me. “So, if you can’t help collect your friend from the airport or help them move, perhaps it’s simply because you don’t have the time with the long hours you’re working at an underpaid job. Maybe you’re struggling to get through the day or to cope with disability, when there is a lack of care, both from the state and from those around you.”

In these cases, Justin Hancock, a relationships writer and educator, thinks it’s important to implement boundaries. “If friends are making too many demands on us, whether that’s for practical things like airport pickups and help with moving, or just being a listening ear, then it’s important to be able to say, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘this is too much,’” he tells me. But what could be the mental health impact of feeling we need to adopt a more arms-length way of viewing our friendships, even if this is necessary under capitalism?

According to Williams, it’s likely contributing to increased feelings of isolation, with 45 per cent of adults in England reporting feeling lonely. We also know that those who have close intimate bonds are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem and problems with eating and sleeping. “The true essence of humanity and why we’ve survived so long, and been so successful, is because we rely on each other. And those values are being eroded,” she says.

If we want to do things differently, Rosa thinks it’s important to recognise there are limits to the changes we can achieve in a capitalist system that, in her view, more or less stifles and restricts our social relations. She doesn’t suggest there is any one inherently ‘better’ way to live, but notes that examples of people behaving in more community-focused and supportive ways do exist. “It could be a neighbourhood WhatsApp group, in which people ask for favours that are not just a cursory gesture to neighbourliness; a local food co-op, where there is a sense of responsibility for others in the area, or people helping others when they’re being evicted or facing deportation,” she says.

For Rosa and Hancock, there’s also a point to be made about the hierarchies we place on our relationships, with romantic couples and the nuclear family often sitting at the top of the tree. Both believe this unspoken pecking order can cause many of us to demote the importance of our friend relationships. If we want to challenge this, Rosa suggests bringing more intentionality into our relationships. We could ask ourselves, how would it be to give the commitment and concern which we demonstrate in our intimate romantic partnerships to our friendships? Or, indeed, to bring some of the ‘spaciousness’ we have with some friends to our romantic relationships.

“Playing with the different roles and forms of connection that we have in our lives, subverting them and experimenting with them, has a lot of potential for remaking the intimate fabric of our lives, so that we can rely on one another more,” she explains.

“I do think it’s important to radically rethink how we organise our relationships,” adds Hancock. “It can be a faff sometimes to help others out, or it might feel like we’re stretching ourselves too much. But essentially, what we all want is more care and love, and I don’t think our way out of the situation is to deny that to other people, because what we’re all really needing now is connection.” He pauses. “So yes, sometimes I do think we need to help our friends move house.”

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