My son was recently given two volumes of ‘The National Gallery 100 Plates in Colour’ bought from a charity shop. Inside one was written:
“To my dear friend Randolph Phillips in kindly remembrance of May 22nd to June 11th, 1912, from Lily Silverston.
Friendship is no plant
of hasty growth.
Tho’ planted in esteem’s
deep fixed soil,
The gradual culture
of mind intercourse
Must bring it to perfection.”
This verse was written around 1798 by Joanna Baillie, for her play about love, loss and obsessive passion, entitled ‘De Monfort’. Her work was likened to Shakespeare’s but as she wrote anonymously it was presumed the author was a man and even though she was friends with writers Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, when she was identified, her work lost its value and popularity. Lily therefore must have been well read to quote from a play that was little known in 1912 and rather wealthy to buy such grand books!
I find it incredible that exactly 107 years later I am reading this private message between two people whose friendship was evidently important.
So, what is a friend? A friend is someone we make a strong emotional connection with, who is unconditionally supportive, non-judgemental, someone we like to be with and who helps us to achieve personal goals, someone who cares, listens, sympathises and offers advice and practical help. A friend is someone who we can depend on during the good and the bad times and basically, who makes us happy… most of the time! In fact it is often during the bad times that people find out who their true friends are!
To become friends, individuals must invest quality time in the relationship, there must be trust and disclosure and the sharing of feelings and experiences. William Shakespeare said, “a friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become and still, gently allows you to grow.”
Friends tend to be people with similar beliefs and traits to each other although there are different levels of friendship, each with their own purpose and merits and which can, over time, deepen or diminish. In 2018, a study publicised in the ‘Journal of Social and Personal Relationships’ calculated that “on average it takes about fifty hours of time with someone before you consider them a casual friend, ninety hours before you become real friends and about two hundred hours to become close friends”!
I know that it is possible to meet someone and feel like you have known each other forever or to reunite with a ‘long lost’ friend and pick up exactly where you left off, although factors such as personality, environment and geography affect how people choose and retain their friends and it takes time before they play a meaningful role in each other’s lives.
Friendships and social acceptance are important at any age and in all cultures, but it is during the childhood years that the social skills needed to form relationships are learnt through the joining of clubs, teams, gangs etc where there is mutual respect and support and individuals have a feeling of belonging.
For teenagers, friends play a huge role in their lives because they confide in and share their feelings with friends in a way that they no longer feel able to do with their parents! I remember in my teens getting home and spending hours on the telephone talking to friends that I had just spent all day with!
Friendships made in childhood are almost spontaneous and can last a life time, while adults make friends through work, social activities or even a shared trauma.
However, as people get older, work and family commitments make it harder to invest the necessary time and energy in the relationships, so friendships get neglected. I am so guilty of this!
For adults, the ability to show interest in others, initiate or join in conversations, share interests and respect personal space are the skills needed to start a friendship. Charity or cultural events, shows, talks, etc, provide the environment to find new friends whereas at some public places like bars where people are already with their friends, this may not be conducive to the forming of new friendships.
Did you know there are actual health benefits from having friends and that friends are essential to our well-being? Research has shown that having friends can double the chances of recovering from depression and cut an individual’s mortality rate in half. Being socially active influences cortisol levels and interacting with a friend can boost the immune system by encouraging positive emotions and improving self-confidence.
On the other hand, individuals who do not have friends can have social anxiety and depression caused by loneliness and isolation. It is an inherent human need to socialise with other humans, but unfortunately mental illnesses can cause people to isolate themselves at a time when they most need the support from others. People with long term friends usually fair better emotionally and physically.
So if having friends is good for our health is it better to have hundreds of friends? Again this brings into account the quality and depth of the friendship.
Research has indicated that humans can only have approximately 150 people in their social circle but as the emotional depth of each relationship is important, only around five people can be deemed close friends due to the energy and time that needs to be invested in each relationship. As we get older, the quality of the friendship is more important whilst for the young quantity takes precedence. This seems to be reflected on social media such as Facebook where the young have thousands of friends while my generation seems to be more selective!
Having friends undoubtedly makes people happier but research is still being undertaken to establish if virtual friendships have the same health benefits as for those who regularly meet friends face to face.
The philosopher Aristotle said, “in poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” Over time many renowned individuals have extolled the importance of friendship and nowadays ‘Best Friend Forever’ items can be purchased everywhere!
Joanna Baillie’s verse is therefore so true. Friendships are important and must be nurtured to be enduring and meaningful. I do hope that Randolph and Lily’s friendship grew, lasted and was perfect!
So now you know!
By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.