Over breakfast Someone and I were talking on the topic of friends. We have a handful of pal relationships (past and present) which feels ‘one way’ viz. we do a lot of reaching out but there is little or no spontaneous reciprocation. We don’t know many couples; we don’t have a large local support network.  We would like some chums with whom to hang out, go to the movies, have dinner on Friday nights; just hang out together.  Our attempts to join social networks haven’t been successful. Guys on Grindr and Scruff interested in ‘meeting new friends’ is usually code for looking for hook ups rather.

A long time axiom of mental health is having a good support network. Human beings, being primates, needs the companionship of others. A ‘good support network’ traditionally means local ‘real live people’ with whom you can speak, commiserate, and socialize.

But times have changed. Youngsters (and those not so young) seem to have more ‘virtual‘ than ‘real‘ friends and support.  They list their friends as on the internet in fantasy games, chat rooms, Facebook, and yes – blogs. Older docs (including myself) tend to dismiss these types of support/friends as less beneficial than ‘proper friends”. Some shrinks go so far as to dismiss virtual friends as detrimental to mental health. “You need to have some real friends” we tell our patients.

The youngsters don’t buy this. They defend their on-line/text friends as just as important/therapeutic as someone ‘live’ with whom they can shoot hoops or go shopping.

So what defines a “friend”? What makes a friendship ‘real’? And for health’s sake: which friendship types keep depression away, the blood pressure down, and make quality of life better?

I present four friends  – I’ve changed their names  < which one(s) are ‘proper’ friends, and which one(s) would keep me/you happy?

Ernest – I’ve known for years. We’ve had many face to face outings and interactions; a true bond. Yet Ernest lives far away and now we hardly ever hear from each other. But when we do, the bond is instantly there.

Leonard – I see Leonard frequently, so his is a face to face sort of friendship. We socialize, chat, eat dinner/see each other at parties. We are always glad to see each other and chat. But there is no ‘depth’ other than this level of pleasantry. Other than these set social settings, we don’t do anything else.

George – Through blogging I know George intimately; we share our hopes/dreams, sorrows and happiness.  We are always there for each other – but we have never met in person.


James – is a very small snail.  (Sorry, I had to finish the joke).

Most people agree having friends is important, but no one is certain anymore what makes a friend.  We need them; we can’t define them.

I suppose I am old fashioned and ‘of the old school’.  The friends I rank as best are the ones that include the element of touch, if only briefly as in a hello kiss or a good bye hug.

And the virtual friends I hold dear: I hope someday to meet them face to face in a fond embrace and elevate our friendship to apotheosis.