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Most experts agree that it is a human necessity to have friends. I would argue that while it is not necessary for survival, it is necessary in order to be a healthy and stable individual. There are many benefits to friendships, and skills that we learn from having friends that cannot be learned any other way. Many of these benefits and skills are what help determine the shape our adult relationships, careers and families.

Early childhood friendships are crucial to healthy social development. Children learn the concepts of sharing, waiting their turn, problem solving, and reap joy from having playmates. A great deal of mirroring occurs in early social interactions as well, and this is an important tool in building empathy and understanding of the needs of others. Parents, make sure your children start playing with other children from a very early age.

As a therapist, I deal with many teens and adults that have not had enough friendship interactions since childhood. The result is that they grow up lacking empathy and understanding of others. They are unable to reciprocate under the social norms, and are only capable of associating with other people very similar to themselves. This, of course, can be problematic in many different areas of life.

When you go off to college, you will likely live in a dorm with a roommate. If you’ve never had friends and sleepovers and never been annoyed by spending too much time together, I can almost guarantee you will not survive a dorm. Many kids who have never had friends and never become socialized will choose to live alone in order to avoid the difficulties of sharing space. This only further isolates them and prevents them from making new friends. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Your ability to have a meaningful adult relationship rests upon the assumption that you have friends and learned all of these skills mentioned above. Friends also give us a sense that we are loved and appreciated and belong, which is crucial for a strong self-esteem. It is much healthier going into adulthood with a strong sense of self, self-esteem, and feeling loved, than to be searching for that in a relationship.

Time and time again, I see people fall into a pattern. Those who never really had friends don’t feel that good about themselves. They seek another to fill the void inside. They latch on and become “needy”. But then when a real relationship begins to emerge, one where you must reveal of yourself and allow in true intimacy and connection, you just don’t know how to do it. Usually, when it gets to this point, you get scared and run. And if you don’t, you often expect your partner to meet ALL of your needs, since you have nobody else in your life. Nobody can fill that role.

As adults, we need friends as a lifeline. Friends will be your support system, your cheer squad, and your family. Friends will help you keep going when you don’t think you can, help you pick up the pieces when you are broken, and hold your hand while you grieve. They will give you advice and lend a helping hand, so that you are not alone in the world. They will listen when need an ear. You will have more together than you ever could have alone.

But it’s not enough just to have friends. You also have to be a friend. What does it really mean to be a good friend? Here are some tips for how to be a good friend:

  1. Be there. No matter what. Do not walk away, even when things are difficult. Even if that means backing away to give someone space when they’re going through something rough, make sure you’re there when they need you.
  2. Be kind, generous, and understanding. Try to see if you can imagine what your friend is actually feeling. Learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s called empathy.
  3. Do not judge. Be supportive instead. In hard times, ask your friend what she needs from you, and then give exactly what is needed.
  4. Have fun. Friendship is a gift. Spend time having fun with friends as often as possible.
  5. Be honest, loyal and trustworthy.

As you can see, the traits of a good friend are also the traits of a good partner. These are qualities that are sought for in romantic relationships. We learn so much from having friends throughout life and benefit from having such people in our lives. Friends teach us how to be better individuals, which allows us to have better and more meaningful relationships in life.