Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Changing Face of Friendship: A Brief Survey

I’m pleased and honored to be giving a TED talk at TEDxVail in January. Giving a TED talk has been a bucket list item of mine for years.

TED is all about sharing ideas worth spreading. In the 9 minutes allocated for my talk I will be discussing the changing face of friendship. Loneliness appears to be a silent epidemic in modern society. Research finds that more people report feeling lonely than at any previous time in history. In my psychotherapy practice, clients frequently admit to intense feelings of loneliness and difficulty finding and maintaining friendships. One might think these feelings are specifically related to the reason, such as depression, anxiety, stress or family problems that is bringing the client to therapy in the first place. However, I hear this lament from many different types of clients, regardless of their reason for seeking therapy. Many of these clients are charming, interesting, successful people who report no significant problems with friendships in the past.

Because of my general interest in the topic, I frequently ask people about their friendships. I hear the same poignant messages over and over such as, “I used to have a lot of close friends but now I don’t.” or “I hardly ever see my friends anymore.” or "I have a lot of people I enjoy staying in touch with but I don't have anyone to help me if I'm sick or I need to move a piece of furniture." or "Once my best friend got married, our relationship was never the same again." or "I'm on Facebook all the time but it only makes me feel worse." or "Nobody takes the time to really talk with each other anymore and I miss it."

 All of this seems paradoxical in light of our constant connectedness through social networking and electronic devices. I hope that by understanding the changes in our lifestyles, expectations, attitudes and resources over the past few decades, we can find ways to achieve greater feelings of closeness, connection and intimacy and enjoy the many benefits of better social support.

I’ve created a short questionnaire to survey opinions, issues, trends and attitudes about contemporary friendships. I want to understand how people define the difference between a friend, a best friend and an acquaintance. I am curious how access to social media, technology and smart phones influences feelings of loneliness and connection. How much time do we actually spend in face-to-face vs virtual encounters with friends? Who is considered a friend? How is friendship defined for most people? Exploring what different demographic groups have to say about loneliness and friendship will also be very interesting.

Many people have asked how they might be able to help me with my talk and my friendship project.

If you would like to help, I have two requests. The first is that you complete the brief friendship survey I’ve created by clicking on the link below and that you share this link (or just this whole blog) with as many people as you can. This will give me lots of data to work with. 

My second request is that you share your own ideas about friendship with me, either through comments on this blog or by back-channeling me via email. If you would like to email me, please click the link below for the email address listed on my website. You can also message me through my professional Facebook page (link below). Sadly, whenever I directly post my email address on my blog I get bombarded by spam.

Here's some of what I would like to hear:

What are some of your own favorite friendship stories?
What is your opinion about why friendships have changed so much?
What you think makes someone a best friend?
How does an acquaintance become a friend?
How have you dealt with a toxic friendship?
How you define the word friend?
How have friendships in your work place changed over time?
Do you believe loneliness is a silent epidemic?
What factors do you think are contributing to people’s feelings of loneliness?
And anything else you might like to share about the topic of friendship.

Thanks so much for your help. I look forward to your answers!

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