The urge to connect is wired into us, written into our DNA back when survival relied on strong social networks. In her book Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond [opens Amazon in new tab], author Lydia Denworth delves deep into the frontiers of brain and genetics research and reveals how friendship is reflected in our brain waves, our genomes, and our cardiovascular and immune systems. Carving out time and investing energy into social connections is not an act of indulgence, but critical to wellness and longevity. Strong friendships are as crucial to a long life as a healthy diet and exercise. In fact, social isolation and loneliness is correlated to early death!
Despite this, we tend to neglect our friendships when we get busy, more so than our familial or romantic relationships. It’s normal for relationships to evolve and change over time, but for a friendship to be long-standing, both people need to invest in it so it doesn’t become lopsided. While there are clear benefits to having strong, reciprocal friendships, the flip-side is that conflict-ridden or ambivalent relationships can have detrimental health impacts. Denworth says that if a relationship feels toxic, there are several options: seek help from a relationship/friendship therapist; create a little distance; or decide to walk away. Science has clarified what constitutes a healthy relationship: accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. I’ve got your back, and I know you’ve got mine.