Trish Propson: Meaning of friendship changes over generations

5:50 PM, Apr. 4, 2013  |  Comments

"Because you are an important part of their lives, James and Jannae ask you to save the date."

The upscale wedding invitation with professional photos of the vibrant, 20-something couple exuded romance, love and promise.

I didn't know these two lovely people. Passing the invitation around the dinner table, six family members creatively contorted memories to make the blissful couple fit somehow.

Maybe a co-worker's daughter, perhaps the son of distant friend? Maybe that neighbor down the street? We studied the return address for clues, the shape of their noses and even did a Facebook search. No question - we were definitely not an important part of their lives.


We finally solved the mystery. James and Jannae (not their real names) borrowed a database from their siblings' recent wedding, never bothering to check the names. "Your friends are our friends" was the implied sentiment.

I faced a moral dilemma. Should I scold them, buy a gift, friend them on Facebook or crash the wedding? It started a rousing conversation and raised a critical question.

Who are our real friends? The decade you were born may determine the answer.

Historically, lifelong friendships came from extended families within close-knit communities. Those friend sources are quickly eroding. Census figures state that 37.1 million Americans move annually, with the average family moving every five years. Mobility brings isolation.

My husband jokes that the best way to make new friends is to have more children. It turns out he's partially right. Barna research reports that 70 percent of Americans identify family as their only real friendships. The destruction of families is fast creating the loneliest generation in history.

We all need friends. Studies show people with intimate friendships enjoy better health, increased fulfillment and longer lives.

Isolation brings the opposite. With less time to invest in long-lasting friendships, many stop trying. Twenty-five percent of adults report that they have no close friends.

Statistics indicate friendship networks are shrinking quickly because of the Internet and fewer opportunities to develop real relationships. Social networks have deceived an entire generation into believing virtual friends are actually friends.

The irony of our high-tech world indicates having access to millions of people actually causes fiercer isolation.

I know two teenagers who took their own lives because of Internet "friends." A note left by an 11-year old said, "My friends hate me. I will never be who they want." The grieving mother told me her daughter had never met the girls who posted the comments that pushed her to end her life.

Seeking to understand friendship trends, I took an informal survey of the under-30 crowd. The overwhelming consensus screamed, "The one with the most friends wins!"

It didn't matter if they had never met these new friends or didn't even know who they were. Everyone I interviewed agreed - opinions these "friends" had of them were extremely important, even though they were virtual strangers. Therein lies the danger.

As evidenced by our wedding invitation faux pas, this generation has bought into the lie that any relationship is a good relationship. A dear friend once told me that you're blessed if you have one soul friend, two intimate friends and four close friends in your lifetime. Another close friend says he only needs enough true friends who will show up to carry his casket. Claiming fewer than seven close friends won't impress anyone under 30 or rate high on Facebook, but true friendships can make all the difference in life.

Consider these ideas about real friendships.

What is a friend? Define what friendship means to you. Look for those characteristics to nurture intimate, healthy, and successful friendships. Pursue new friends and work to improve the relationships you have.

Quality, not quantity: Don't have more friends than you can love well. In our busyness, we often miss beautiful friendship opportunities. In our quantity-not-quality world, where friendships are concerned, less may be more.

Choose carefully: Avoid friends who prevent meaningful, life-giving relationships. Instead, ponder this. If you could invite seven of your closest friends on a cruise, whom would you choose? Why? Would different friendship choices make a difference in your life?

Learn to trust: When people hurt us, we tend to shut them out. If the wounds are extremely painful, we may shut everyone out. Take a chance and reach out. Your new best friend may be waiting on the other side of fear.

Be the friend you want: A friend is someone who knows you and chooses you anyway. Be a good friend to others and watch your friendships flourish.

No matter your age, pursuing true and lasting friendships may provide a better life, filled with contentment, knowing we love and are loved by that special group of people we call friends.

- Trish Propson is a Kaukauna resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. She can be reached at

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
579 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
862 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
1025 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
1278 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports


Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports