People today are lonely. Even though people are wired to connect with others, many don’t have the friendships they need. In The Friendship Cure: Reconnecting in the Modern World, Kate Leaver shares stories and experiences about friendship in today’s world and she tries to explain why friendships are so important.
Our culture works against friendships. We are taught to build up ourselves as individuals and to be successful. As a result, we are unsure about how to truly connect with each other. It takes effort to prioritize people in our lives. Only when we are willing to put relationships above our professional success and ambitions are we able to connect with others.
Weaver brings in a lot of pop culture, referencing people like Taylor Swift and her “squad goals.” For some, Swift emulates the ideal — a life where people embrace other people in their personal circles. The implication is that other women aspire to the same squad goals seen with celebrities. Although many of her stories are geared toward women, she also includes a chapter about bromance, friendship between guys, in addition to a chapter about whether or not men and women can be friends, again referencing pop culture with the movie When Harry Met Sally.
Leaver discusses work friendships and how those can make an impact on how people feel about the workplace. It only takes one good friend to make an unpleasant job more appealing. But it is impossible for people to find that connection at work if they think of the workplace only as a professional environment.
Leaver also considers online friendships. Being online makes it very easy to find new friends that have a lot in common. Yes, there is a lot of superficiality with loose connections on a platform like Facebook, but Leaver says these platforms could instead be viewed as a way to bring people together with common interests. It enables people to find others they would not necessarily come across in their day-to-day lives. Rather than critically viewing the internet as a tool that serves only to isolate us, it could be a technology that instead brings us together.
Leaver references some popular apps for connections such as Tinder — although that is definitely not one people use to seek friendship. However, there are other apps available with a clear goal of establishing friendships rather than casual connections. The opportunity is there to use technology to get people connected in real life.
Finally, Leaver addresses friendship breakups — not something people talk about often, although it happens. She shares stories of people who had to break up with a toxic friend and those who found themselves getting broken up with, and the resulting surprise and hurt when it happened.
The bottom line is that almost everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their lives. Research demonstrates loneliness is a health epidemic that can make us physically sick and produce medical symptoms. And living in a culture that is about success and personal ambition causes people to work more, resulting in less energy and time to connect with others, further increasing feelings of loneliness.
Only toward the end of the book does she get into the mental health implications of the lack of friendships. She shares some of her personal experience, noting that depression comes, in part, from loneliness and that people need friendships for mental wellness. When people have friendships, they also have better physical and mental well-being.
The Friendship Cure is presented as a popular science and sociology book, which is appropriate. It is a study of friendship based on the author’s anecdotes and what we see in popular culture more so than scientific research. Those who have a general interest in friendship and enjoy pop culture references may enjoy The Friendship Cure. And perhaps it will help people understand how important friendship is, how friendships look today and the impact they have on mental health.
The Friendship Cure: Reconnecting in the Modern World
Harry N. Abrams, October 2018
Paperback, 304 pages