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I had a conversation with a new acquaintance who told me that when he is in a romantic relationship, he pretty much falls off the face of the earth when it comes to his friends. And not just during the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship, either, but for the entire duration. And he seemed pretty content with this state of affairs.

But this conversation made me realize (yet again) how very important it is to ME to have my social ties.

I’ve been thinking about this too because I have a few close friends who have embarked on new relationships in recent months. They’ve made it a point to continue to spend time with me and not fall off the face of the planet. But I’ve been very aware of this as a choice we get to make.

I read an article recently about what makes people happy (because those articles are one form of my crack, along with sugar and chai and adorable little dogs), and the first secret mentioned was friends and the existence of social support:

“Turns out, there was one—and only one—characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships.”

Notice the plural of that last word? I’m willing to go out on a limb and bet that one social relationship is not what we’re talking about here. Social relationships, whether they be friends or family or colleagues or communities, are so important to general well-being. And putting all of that into one relationship is like the old cliché of putting all your eggs into one basket. It puts an awful lot of strain on that one basket.

To be clear, I don’t think a person needs huge amounts of social ties in order to be happier. Some people do, and other people need a few close ties. I myself fall somewhere in the middle. In other words, this isn’t so much an issue about extroverts vs. introverts, but more, I think, a question of having any healthy system of social support.

Friends! Also, Innovation! Photo by Yvette Ono.

Friends! Also, Innovation! Photo by Yvette Ono.

Unfortunately we live in a culture that sometimes idealizes romantic relationships–the One True Love, the one who will complete us, our other half–to the detriment of other relationships. Add in a Puritan work ethic that teaches us to neglect social ties in favor of working ever more hours to get ahead, and we end up discouraging people from forming and maintaining the social networks that will make them happy. Even the rise of the nuclear family in American life contributes to this effect, as it is easier to maintain social ties while raising children within a more collective approach to child-rearing.

Luckily, I believe in the power of priorities and persistence. (And apparently also the power of alliteration.) If we choose to place a high priority on our social connections, and if we continue to pursue this goal even when it is hard–and making friends as an adult is not always an easy business–then it is very possible to have the social support that we crave. And this makes us happier to boot!

How important are your social ties to you? How do you maintain them even when you’re busy and/or distracted?

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