Friendship: Life’s Essential & Under-Appreciated Bond

Photo by Siviwe Kapteyn on Unsplash

I believe friendship to be one of the most sacred bonds we form in our lives. Scientists over the years have studied and observed this bond across different species. Variation of the friendship bond can be found in animals that form social networks from primates to dolphins. More and more research has supported the idea that friendship has served us evolutionarily and is critical to survival. Social isolation has been shown to decrease one’s mortality while social integration filled with high quality friendships has shown to increase mortality and total life satisfaction. Yes, our friends and the nature of our relationships to them has some contributing factors to our overall health and potential risk for disease.

My Christian upbringing also influences my perception of friendships. I never saw the relationship of Jesus and his twelve disciples as one of “master & followers,” but as a chosen friendship built on a shared value of spreading love. A shared belief that everyone is worthy of redemption if they are willing to let go of their ego and do the work. Their bond would go on to build the foundation for many great spiritual and religious institutions. I have always thought of that as a great example on the potential impact a friendship bond can have.

Friendships tend to be the most influential relationship we have. Yet, it can also be the most underappreciated — not given the full attention and intention it needs to flourish. Friendships are the first bond of our choosing. A relationship we chose based on shared common interests or values. Our friends can have the most power in our life — they can influence what we eat, how we dress, what music we are into, whom we date and even how much money we make. Even more critical is the fact their own networks and the friends they have can influence us. As Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler put in their book Connected — “your friends’ friends’ friends affect everything you feel, think and do.” Their research looking at longitudinal data on social networks showed that the social networks we belong to (scientifically known as “dyad”), influences every aspect of our lives.

Given how influential this relationship is, how come many of us do not give much weight to the people we surround ourselves with? Why are we not intentional about our investment in it? It is this complexity of friendships that enchanted the world when Issa Rae’s “Insecure” on HBO beautifully showcased the intimacy of friendship and how the changes in our lives influences this close bond.

I can barely remember the specifics of my earliest childhood friendships but I recall the excitement for plays and sharing that communion with someone. I recollect, one of my teachers in high school who understood how much I revered the bond of friendship, kept forecasting the predicament that friendships morph as we go through life. They always cautioned me of the changes that happen when we get tossed into new environments and no longer have shared experiences. I, being as stubborn and persistent, responded that it would never happen. Throughout the years, I made a goal to be intentional about keeping friendship bonds going no matter what adversity life presents.

And that I did. I started first by focusing on the closest relationships I had made in high school. As we migrated to different locations for college and started forming new bonds, got into multiple relationships and experienced different things — I began noticing a shift. The bond was not the same. We weren’t the same people and I kept clinging on to a nostalgic experience, past memories long replaced by more emotional poignant ones.

Looking back, I have a better appreciation of the wisdom and the change I was being set up to accept. Over the years, I have had some turmoil in my close relationships and it has been primarily because part of me still expects the same level of intimacy. In doing that, I am denying the different experiences we all have had, the change in dynamics and priorities. Hence a hard crash with reality.

The reckoning I am having in my adulthood is that the bond I believe as sacred, morphs and shapes into different versions of itself as I get older. Sometimes this transformation has been for good and other times it has been a strain on the relationship. My reverence for this bond has created some friction in my life because others might not prioritize it as I do. Or their expectation of what the bond should be and mine do not align. Perhaps it is selfish of me to expect others to treat close friendships with similar admiration and respect they treat their significant others. I realize how easy it is for friendship to become a bond many people place in the back burner of their lives to be visited per convenience. Not done purposely, but by the business of adulthood, it is placed last in the back after the many other items we consider priorities. We move to new cities, form new bonds, jobs, have partners, children and communication becomes as a per needed basis.

Two years ago, I purchased a Monstera Deliciosa plant. It was a very majestic plant with each leaf having a presence and bold in making a statement. Within a week of literally over showering it with love, the shoot of my Monstera began to fall off. I came to learn that overwatering caused my Monstera to suffer from terrible root rot and I lost half of the plant. The plant did not improve and continually looked worse.

I decided to cut the plant into pieces and propagate parts of it I could save. The propagation, though brutal, grew new roots and I was now able to have two plants. Few weeks later, both of the propagated plants died. This very much reminds me of friendships, how it transforms and the intentional caring needed to maintain it as we navigate adulthood. An easily neglected plant that if not cared for properly or delicately will desperately need propagation for it to develop into something new or else it will die. And even when propagated, sometimes it is just too late to save and time to let go. Like the dying Monstera, friendship can have a root rot of sorts. It is very easy to be passive and let it spread. We have the option to do a deep root clean and propagate with the hopes of it becoming something new or ignore it and let it slowly die away.

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Churchill Ndonwie

Churchill Ndonwie

Young Professional living in NYC. Making connections and creating communities through storytelling. Host of City Living with Churchill Podcast