Does friendship still have any value in the New Millennium?

As someone who has grown up amongst a wide variety of friends, I was taken aback when a friend told me recently that it is increasingly becoming rare when you can have a conversation for conversation’s sake with someone even for a full hour. The implication in that moanful statement was that people have lost interest in relating to one another. That people don’t know or are no longer comfortable in handling relationships! Gone are the days when people enjoyed companionship purely for the sake of it. Now the new mantra was having fun however defined but having fun did not necessarily mean that people were building relationships. I wondered if this is a kind of cynical position or are truly healthy human relations becoming rarefied.

One frequent thought that people drop in response to friendships is that there is just no time. The pace of life, commuting, demands of work and family all have added to a situation where there is no time remaining for keeping in touch with friends. Hence, some relationships get dropped by the wayside. This is often the story of several women who when asked how many school or college friends they kept in touch with, many would not be able to count even one among them. The reason given is once they leave the educational system they get married and all attention, time and energies gets focused on the newer unit that they are part of after marriage. This is obviously no one’s fault but the social structures that men and women are part of, say marriage, elicit such responses from them.

But I am still left with a nagging feeling. It is not all about time is it? One of the factors that I have often heard is that friends whose social status or economic strata changes over a period of time lose touch faster than anything else. A newer unsaid dimension even if they don’t speak about it has entered the picture. The relative difference that has emerged in the material existence of the two friends who have grown together causes some tension. This perceived difference in status tends to diminish the frequency of contact between those who were earlier friends if not root out the relationship completely. Interestingly, factors like caste or race or language or religion or ethnicity tend to be overridden in the early days of the friendship and remain overwhelmed in relationships but class can be an intruder.

What next? We have noted time, gender and class as variables that affect friendships. Workplace/collegiate relations sometimes metamorphose into healthy friendships. This is a larger debate by itself but like class there is a need for caution if the levels of hierarchy of the friends are different. Whether we like it not, hierarchy in organizational contexts does play a role. Likewise can men and women be just friends as epitomized in the classic film ‘When Harry met Sally’? Again, there are ground rules for such relationships and they are very much possible.

Why is friendship important? What is hot about people being just friends? Clearly, these are the only ties that are not bound by blood or primordial sentiments like caste or race or ethnicity or religion or nationality, kinds of compartments within which we work in for most part of our lives. A friend is family indeed but just that s/he is not connected to you through blood ties. Our children are taught in their proverb/phrase books ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’ Whenever we are stuck with some issue or problem that we are unable to resolve by ourselves, we immediately think of a friend who can address this for us. Such is the supporting function of friends. But as stated at the very outset, it neither begins nor stops there.

Friendship is about another human presence. It is about the no-holds barred space which we long for in life but find it is all divided up in silos. One can speak one’s heart and mind to a friend and be accepted for who you are as you are. It is commonplace to hear people say in a marital context, “Ah, at last, you have found your SOUL-MATE.” Why the connectivity between ‘souls’ gets confined to marriage or they are only a prerogative of marriage is anyone’s guess? This could possibly be because of a social anxiety that marriage should be accorded the highest form of friendship. This is true but yet presents an incomplete picture because individuals define social spaces as they deem fit. In the process of evolving as a person, the insight of our friends about us are a source of nurture and criticism.

One pre-condition to friendship is that there are synergies between the two people or mutuality of perception and association. Several efforts are wasted when there is a complete difference between the perceptions of the two people regarding what constitutes their friendship and people are then forced to move on in life. Regardless of the type of friendship, trust is a critical factor which affects whether the friendship would last a lifetime or just one of those passing episodes of life.

Among the most important concerns is the deployment or claims or use of the term ‘friend’ in conversations. Numerous are the cross-cultural examples of pub-mates where one of them does not get invited to say the other’s wedding and is shocked, “ I thought that I was his friend.” Sure but did the latter take the trouble to decipher in what sense the term ‘friend’ was used? Don’t we all work with at least three gradations of social interaction? These are acquaintances, colleagues and friends. Acquaintences are those whom you meet on the street or in the corridor at work place; colleagues whom you spend the most part of 8 to 10 hours every week day and friends are those whom we have been talking about.

Popular media and history are replete with examples and references to friendships. Who can forget the mid-1970s classic Hindi film Sholay that celebrated friendship with the famous song ‘Yeh dosti !’ However, in the final analysis, friendship is an aesthetic almost spiritual principle. It is about the divine, sacred and beautiful in earthen human relationships. It is about the lived experience of bonding between people on the principle of common humanity. It is an idea that challenges the narrow-minded spaces that caste or race or religion or ethnicity or even class breed often in society.

May friendships win!


  1. Quote
    Rangarajan said June 29, 2009, 3:40 pm:

    Good one Abdul. Many a times, people confuse the difference between being a friend and aquaintance. I have a few close friends in the sense though we rarely ping each other, we simply connect when there is a need to talk. No formalities, no greetings, nothing. We start conversing as though we were talking just the previous day. But of course, that is only with a few selective set of folks..

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    Thanks Ranga. Sometimes acquaintences remain acquaintences and its just as well one supposes, if there was no mutual tuning into a wavelength.

    Thats beautiful is it not, when you state, ‘few close friends!’ 🙂 I think those of who are able to share your experience of that intimacy can connect to that resumption of conversation where we left off as if it was the previous hour/day.

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    /** It is about the lived experience of bonding between people on the principle of common humanity. It is an idea that challenges the narrow-minded spaces that caste or race or religion or ethnicity or even class breed often in society.

    Abdul.. isnt friendship determined by the tastes/attitude of a person? We can be friends with only those who have the same thought process like us.. so friendship itself is indeed a compartmentalised one, which is determined by our own likes/dislikes. Those who fit in to our compartment become friends, and those who fit for long become best friends 🙂

    I have gone through various kinds of friendship in my life.. in my school days, we used to have high regard about friendship, and some times in an emotional way.. (probably the effect of the films.. like the mustafa song .. hope you are from tamilnadu )
    my father used to say, that these friendship were temporary that i have to see lot of things in life, and that i better concentrate in my studies.. But Friendship appeared the non-negotiable entity, where all others like studies, money (ofcourse, farther’s money) has to be sacrificed for that idealised friendship..
    Only later (too late.. after my college life), my father words were realised by me, but its too late.. if i had focussed on my studies, i would have got a free seat in a government college on merit..

    The same emotional opinion on friendship continued in college life till everyone set out for job search..

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    Btw, there is another kind of friendship, called the pseudo friendship.. this special type of friendship is exhibited towards the opposite sex, when the chances of proposal is very minimal 🙂 🙂 🙂

    My friend used to do this trick to a gal, right at the second year of college.. but alas, he could not move beyond that, for the next 10 years, till the gal got married.. (its an arranged marriage to some other guy)..

    Many times, in such case, friendship becomes the mask of cowardice and cunningness..

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    Btw, most of the close friendship evolve at school / college days, while most of the matured friendship evolves after that.. (probably i might be wrong ).. matured friendship need not be a close one..

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    Nice post Abdul. Friendships are most needed at times of depression. I know the comfort I experience in just the companionship of some one I value most. One of my friend has been in solace for 3 years without being in contact with us due to work pressure. The moment he saw few of us he looked a relaxed man.

    @Ranga: You made a valid point about acquaintance and friends.

  7. Quote

    Thanks Senthil for your extensive comments.

    Friendship is a deeply personal choice. If one is comfortable within certain compartments, then so be it. However, the like-mindedness that this post is talking about is the ability to transgress rigid social boundaries to building healthy relationships built again on individual choice.

    Friendships are the ability to extend oneself beyond the ordinary, is it not? Like in the novel by Khaled Hosseini ‘The Kite Runner’, Hassan goes to run the last cut kite, a great trophy, for Amir saying “For you, a thousand times over.”

    Of course, I can understand your experience about education/higher studies and do remember the ‘mustafa’ song from the film ‘Kaadal Desam.’ Is that not a stage when we are all evolving? So, to judge friendships based on those experiences or that stage in life would be incomplete.

    Regarding what you call pseudo-friendships, one cannot say much about those who feign or pretend friendships. One would not term them friendships in the first place.

    Healthy friendships or what you term close or matured can develop at any stage in one’s life. A friendship is both a source of appreciation and criticism. It all depends on how perceptive one is in the ability to recognize a good friend, I suppose.

  8. Quote
    Annapoorani said June 30, 2009, 12:15 pm:

    Abdul very nice writeup about Friendship.
    \\The reason given is once they leave the educational system they get married and all attention, time and energies gets focused on the newer unit that they are part of after marriage. \\Very true…
    good explanation about \\acquaintances, colleagues and friends\\.
    Friends are someone who helps us in distress..Who share our gloomy and happy moments
    Enjoyed reading this post of yours.

  9. Quote

    Thanks Annapoorani. Glad that you enjoyed reading this post.

    It is said that “friends are the family we choose in this world!” Shall we go further and say that friends make our journey’s through life worthwhile?:)

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    Is there anything wrong, if one finds friendship in the compartments of caste/religion/culture/language? should we treat such friendship/relations in negative tone?

    Btw I remember a famous quote (dont know the author) .. “I am friendlier to everyone. but i dont have any friends” ..

    /** Friendships are the ability to extend oneself beyond the ordinary, is it not **/

    I feel NO.. friendship is based on commonality of purposes, and the reciprocation of the other side.. Whatever emotion we use to describe the friendship, the reality has a selfish angle.. we help friends, with an expectation that they will also help us..

    Also, any friendship based on reality lasts long.. while friendships based on emotions break soon..

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    Thanks Deepak. You are right when you say that friends are required most at times of depression and moments of pressure. However, one should not mix up the role of an ‘agony aunt’ with that of friends. Both are counsellors but ‘agony aunts’ play a formal professional role as psychologists. Sometimes friendships can collapse under the weight of playing agony aunts if you mix up the two roles 🙁

  12. Quote

    Thanks Senthil for your perspective. As I noted earlier, unto each their respective approach to friendships.

  13. Quote
    Arun g said July 1, 2009, 9:23 pm:

    Nice post…
    From my perspective and experience the new millennium offers a better chance of creating and maintaining strong friendships.
    I studied in a hostel with 25 other mates and after some years where most ofthe friends dispersed to diffferent countries ,jobs and states ,we still maintain the same spirit of college friendship and at times we will get together at some places thanks to the email communication where most of us almost daily exchange and discuss personal to national issues or jokes in the group mail…I have seen several others mostly software professionals grouping themselves in a similar way.Other contacts are also maintained through social networking sites may be not with the same vigour.
    Never have felt that ‘I miss my college friends’ …though this is not the case with school or pre-university friends with whom constant communication was lost in the pre-internet era and is now difficult to maintain.

  14. Quote

    Thanks Arun. Very relevant point of how technology has enabled friendships in the New Millennium. While obviously social networking sites have taken off in a big way, there seems to some skepticism with regard to these sites on issues of privacy and the like. There are several professionals working in software and other non-IT fields who seem to be wary of these sites. However, even with basic email, friendships get sustained and that is something to celebrate indeed.

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    Nice post Abdul. I agree with Arun, that the new millennium offers better tools to maintain friendships via phone, email, social networking etc. I have been able to establish contact with my friends even from my grade school using social networks.

    Ranga is right. a friendship that requires keeping in touch is probably not yet graduated to a real friendship. As he says, friends seem to connect even after years and take off from where they left off. There are no expectations on either side, it is a pure friendship.

    As Senthil says, most friendships start with the give-take mode and then become sublime over time if the friends like each other a lot.

  16. Quote
    Abdul said July 3, 2009, 1:41 pm:

    Thank you very much Sukumar for your comments. Its nice to hear that you tracked down your friends from grade school using social networks.

    I like your choice of the term ‘sublime’ to describe a higher state of relating between friends.

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    kumaran said July 3, 2009, 3:08 pm:


    A nice post.

    Actually I think about this I find it diffcult to “connect” with old class mates.I get surprised by my feeling that I am not able to connect to the same person nowadays. This was the same person who I used to love spending time with day after day in school and college. We used to feel sad during holidays.

    But atleast in my case I realize that because we travelled different path over time I am talking 10-15 years, our mind have transformed because of different experiences and environment each one of them gos through. Since the thinking has changed both our systems have changed frequencies, which is only natural. So the sync that existed years ago is not happening anymore. This is not because of class/economy change but the way each of our thinking has evolved.

    So this change in frequency is one reason we loose connection.I guess one thing is to realize this change in frequency and kind of tune ourselves a little when we meet friends. For example, when I meet a school friend who run a mechanic shop I consciously make it a point not to talk about my job/work/reccession but more about family, society,films etc..

  18. Quote
    Abdul said July 3, 2009, 5:41 pm:

    Thanks Kumaran. Very true that sometimes our social experiences make us very different people from what we were. As a result, what you call changes in our thinking/frequencies can happen and result in the friendships not being the same as before.

  19. Quote
    Soumya said July 3, 2009, 7:42 pm:

    A very thoughtful post on a wonderful topic, Abdul. You are very right when you say that we lose contact with friends in the process of moving on (especially women – as their family responsibilities increase). However, i’m very proud to be still staying in touch with a friend from my school days – we met when we were about 15 years old, in a coaching class and used to keep in touch through letters (she lived in Ashok Nagar and me in Tambaram) and phone calls. Our studies and professions always kept us apart but the friendship is intact (and she is more meticulous about keeping in touch than me).
    My writing improved by leaps and bounds because of the letters we’d shared in those days. She has specialized in English literature and i owe a lot of my soft skills embellishment to her.
    Thanks for letting me reminisce about one of my best friends.
    Once again, a wonderful post. Thank you so much, my friend.

  20. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said July 4, 2009, 12:38 pm:

    Thanks Soumya for your very reflective and detailed comments.

    Very glad to hear about the teen friendship that is still going very strong. Few are blessed in that manner. The strength of such a friendship is it allows to pause for a moment and look back at life together.

    And indeed cheers for your kind words about the post and addressing me as a friend. As the post noted, may I reiterate, “friendship is an aesthetic almost spiritual principle. It is about the divine, sacred and beautiful in earthen human relationships. It is about the lived experience of bonding between people on the principle of common humanity. It is an idea that challenges the narrow-minded spaces that caste or race or religion or ethnicity or even class breed often in society.”

  21. Quote

    A thoughtful Post Abdul. Matured friendship doesn’t require to have continous contacts also. I have some good friends with whom I don’t have contact for some years together but still they are my good friends.

    When we are in real problem in life, we can judge whom we treat as close friend and who are all treating us back as close friends.

    This is my first comment on Sastwingees. Thanks to Sukumar. I read his tweet few days back about the fifth anniversary of Sastwingees and came to this space 🙂 .

    An interesting blog. Congrats for 5 successful years.

  22. Quote
    Sultana said July 18, 2009, 6:35 pm:

    Thanks Srividya. Welcome on board sastwingees. 🙂

    You are right about a mature friendship not requiring regular contact but like anything else in life the more the effort and time invested the richer we are for it.

    Indeed those who standby us in our difficult moments are our real friends. The intimacy that is developed out of such trials and tribulations in life is indeed special.

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    Thanks Srividya. Now that you have placed your first comment, I think we can look forward to many more comments from you on sastwingees. 🙂

    Like you have said about those standing by us in difficult moments, friendship is a trust through life. There is something sacred about these friendships in an unsaid manner, is there not? Atleast, I like to think so.

  24. Quote

    Abdul – Interesting post.

    Some people tend to view life as so many chapters. School is a Chapter, College is another etc. Once a chapter is closed, they have a distaste for revisiting it. They have simply moved on. The characters that played various parts in the previous chapters – are ghosts of their past. They were alliances of convenience & ergo, have outlived their usefulness. To such people, the chapters don’t inter-weave.

    It is indeed disconcerting that – even as the world’s population increases & people are packed ever more densely into this small planet – we are becoming lonelier as a race. Either because we don’t know how to form & nurture lasting relationships. Or because we’ve forgotten the value of friendships. The end result is the same.

  25. Quote

    Priya, thanks for your response. You are very right when you refer to the ‘move on’ mentality. Sometimes move on is recommended as therapeutic when one party is stuck in the past.

    I share your distress on the point about having become lonelier as a race and have forgotten the value of friendships.

    I think a great deal of cynicism and rank selfishness is part of the traits of the times. That these qualities are justified in several different ways and couched in different languages by such people does not alter their core negative influence.

    Forgive me, if I sound disappointed but I believe healthy and solid friendships are like a breath of fresh air. But as is the sign of the times, there is more pollution on this planet than fresh air! Good persons as individuals do not necessarily make for good friendships. Its a different ball game for people to make and sustain relationships.

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