Sen. Ben Sasse has pointed out that friendship is in devastating atrophy. In 1990, the average American had 3.2 friends. In 2018, the average American had 1.8 friends. He says that there’s no data that shows you’re happier when you go from 200 to 500 social media friends, or from 500 to 1,000. But, if you go from 1,000 to 5,000 social media friends, there’s actually some data suggesting a slight decline in happiness. Sasse suggests this is because those folks are actually spending more time grooming their online personality — when they could be living life with real people in the real world. And, Sasse says, none of those 1,000-5,000 “friends” are likely to bring you a meal when you’re sick.
He goes on:
Statistically, if you know the person who lives two doors from you, you are much more likely to be happy than if you don’t. And if you spend more time on social media, you are less likely to know the person who lives two doors away from you. Social media can add genuine value when it’s supplementing extent human flesh-and-blood bodily relationships. When social media supplants bodily incarnate relationships, it has net destructive effects.
I think Sasse is exactly right. We need real relationships with real people in the real world, who can share real life challenges with us. Everyone needs someone to call at 2AM — not tweet at — when the crap hits the fan.
It’s a real friend who will come and be with you when you need him most. A friend who comes, not to fix or solve or analyze, but be present, listen, and share in the moment.
The most essential part of life is relationships. And the most important part of relationships is communication. And the most essential part of communication is listening.
Spiritual director Alice Fryling emphasizes how being present with others ties us back to the work of Jesus:
Jesus isn’t here to listen to my granddaughter’s day, but I am. And so I am completing something that started with Jesus.
This gives Fryling, as a 77-year-old, the freedom to focus on begin fruitful, rather than trying to accomplish something. Her granddaughter is not a project, or an item on her to-do list, or a block of time on her calendar. She is a child who receives care, encouragement, and support no matter what she brings to her grandmother — because she is deeply and unconditionally loved.
Everyone needs to be on the receiving end of such love — and on the giving end. That kind of love often can’t be measured, quantified, or analyzed — and it certainly can’t be tweeted. It must be lived.