Friendship Can Be Good - and Bad - for your Health

You may think your friends feel about you the same way you feel about them.   But guess what?  Maybe not.

A new study says that someone you think might be your friend might really not be so keen about you, according to The New York Times.

The study analyzed friendship ties among 84 people and found that the feelings were mutual about 53% of the time (good, right?) but their expectation of reciprocity was a whopping 94%.  Why the disconnect?  And why does it feel so bad?

The article says that the possibility of non-reciprocal friendship challenges one's self-image. Who wouldn't feel bad to know the friend whose (bratty) kids you took for a weekend so she and her husband could go away really doesn't even consider you a close connection?

Friendship has become somewhat commoditized, experts say, these days.  How could it not, when "friend" has now become a verb?  And we try to collect as many as we can when we're on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn?

Quite obviously, treating friendship like a commodity isn't good for anyone, and "is anathema to the whole idea of friendship," The New York Times quotes Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar who teaches a course on the literature of friendship.  "It's not about what someone can do for you, it's who and what the two of you become when in each other's presence."

But here's why friendship is so important.  The authenticity of one's relationships has an enormous impact on health and well-being.  

Friendship is about exposing "the soft underbelly of our psyche," Kate Murphy writes.  It's about revealing things about yourself that don't match the polished image you show on Facebook.

But when it comes to friendship, and the fights we all ultimately have, men are far more likely to follow up with conflict with friendly gestures than women, according to

"While men are far more often portrayed as aggressive and combative, a new study shows that, from the tennis court to the boxing ring -- the modern equivalent of one-day conflict -- men are more likely than women to make peace with their competitors after the whistle blows," the web site reports.

Men are far more likely to engage in friendly physical contact -- back slaps, hand shakes, and even hugs -- following competition than women.  (Do I hear a cat hissing in the background?)

Experts think it may all go back to prehistoric times when males needed to broker good feelings after conflict to ensure they could call on allies to help defend the group in the future.

And why don't women make up as easily?

This, too, may go way, way back to when females focused more closely on family relationships and a handful of a few friends, mostly to share the burden of child-raising. Males tend to cultivate larger networks of friend, those they can depend upon, again, in battle.

So, what to make of all this?   Sadly, it's not good for women.  Women have a harder time "when they have to compete with other women," says experts.  "Studies have shown that when females compete in the workplace, they feel much more damaged afterward."



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