April 22, 2024


What determines the value of a friendship? The variables to take it into consideration could admit a whole colorful diversity of criteria. Is a friend someone to meet regularly to carry out leisure plans or someone willing to listen to your sorrows, someone who lends himself to help in a difficult moment, who is through thick and thin? Or is that person with whom you maintain a lasting relationship over time, with whom you can share keys to a past such as the neighborhood, school or childhood afternoons, simply a friend? The digital presence has overturned a large part of the fabric of interpersonal relationships in the virtual plane, introducing new possibilities to the concept of friendship, altering its more traditional meaning. Could two people who don’t follow each other on social media be friends? Or, on the contrary, would those who have only interacted on the immaterial level offered by the network be?

The writer Sara Torres, author of What there is (Reservoir Books, 2022), in the podcast of cyber booth, sponsored by Andrea Gumes and Anna Pacheco: “Are we calling friends to people to whom we associate symbolic capital? Do we call people we want to be with friends because we want to be a part of their world?” Following these reflections, the subsequent episode of the program, titled friendship managersalso addressed, from anonymous testimonies, the breakdown of friendships and the consequent mourning, in a context in which financial terms such as managing, investing, readjusting or compensating abound to refer to personal relationships.

The question of what a good friend is or should do is a concern towards which a part of the conversation on social networks revolves. In an article published in Dazed under the title Are we all becoming terrible friends?, Hannah Mackenzie takes as a starting point for a reflection on the current meaning of friendship the criticisms expressed on TikTok to what has been colloquially called in the Internet language as trauma dumping -which in Spanish could be interpreted as crying or unloading sorrows-. This is crystallized in the example of a tweet that warned against adults asking their friends for a ride to the airport: “Use Uber, save a friendship.” In the same way, other practices such as asking for help to carry out a move were questioned, along with any other that could be replaced by an economic transaction.

A conversation that fluctuates between the dilemma of what can be demanded of a friend or to what extent it is healthy to help friends, and that leads to other issues such as the general recommendation to set limits in friendships, learn to say that no longer formulate rejections towards these close people, or even, if necessary, break with them. On the thorny question of how a friendship relationship should be terminated and what reasons lead to this scenario, the journalist Sophie K. Rosa, author of Radical Intimacy and one of the sources cited in the piece points to the impact of modern capitalism on the rhythms of life, beginning with the proportion of hours dedicated to work.

Precisely the industrialization of psychotherapeutic knowledge is what Marta Carmona, a psychiatrist of the Social Security in the Community of Madrid, a member of the Madrid Association of Mental Health and co-author of we upset (Captain Swing, 2022), an essay that analyzes the influence of the rhythms and demands of modern capitalism on the concern for mental health in the face of this trend in social networks that advises setting limits on friendly relationships. “The psychotherapeutic experience is an individual, non-transferable experience that happens within the framework of therapy, but from which we often have the illusion of being able to extract, as if they were universal truths, phrases that have been tremendously restorative in consultation. When we do it, it immediately becomes a cork,” Carmona told EL PAÍS. “There is a tendency to try to extrapolate general guidelines, writing decalogues or a certain prescription of how relationships should be. This greatly obviates the complexity of human relationships, as in the case of friendship. One of these strategies that is not usually contextualized and that lands badly on the variety that clinical experience gives you is that it is necessary and healthy to set limits. And this is not a lie, but it cannot be put as a general rule when it is not discriminated against who it is or what type of interaction it is”.

According to the psychiatrist, behind this claim to avoid adulterating friendships with requests that could be corrected by contracting a service, there is, paradoxically, the mediation of a very mercantilist logic. In addition to being a council that proliferates in what Carmona calls the “uberization of psychotherapy”. “The idea of ​​friendship approached as a matter to manage is further proof that this mercantilist logic, which leads to using financial concepts to understand the relational, is tremendously impoverishing”, he argues.

A young man takes his friend by car.
A young man takes his friend by car.Lupe Rodriguez (Getty Images/Westend61)

Breaking up with friends can be even more complicated than ending a relationship. Meanwhile he ghosting (cutting off with someone without telling them, simply by not answering their messages) is already recognized and pointed out as malpractice in the field of sexual-affective responsibility, in the field of friendship it abounds with impunity. The psychiatrist and writer points to the lack of cultural references that address the end of friendship compared to the previous literature that exists on romantic or parent-child relationships. “Except for the relationships that are contextualized in the phase of adolescence, in which these links are essential for the configuration of the subject’s identity, there is little representation of mourning for a friendship”, she explains. “We lack cultural tools to narrate ourselves during the mourning for a broken friendship, and it is a complex and necessary phenomenon, which is part of who we are. This idea that everything has to be managed is impoverishing the subject and also our relationships. Not only because we choose financial logic, but because it is the only one we have”.

The underlying question latent under these dilemmas, between little and nothing new, but now marked by a contemporary sensibility that is also digital and in which concern for mental health occupies a relevant position, is, ultimately, what we consider friendship. “We need people to recover the capacity to act on their lives to be able to define who they are, to be able to define their living conditions and also how they relate to each other”, proposes the author of we upset. Beyond the market analysis terminology that applies concepts such as risk, investment or benefit to affection, the question of what friendship is and what gestures it should involve remains up in the air as a reflection that can be exciting, both personal and collective. “Here comes the question: What friendship do we want? The traditional idea was mediated by being rooted in a place, in a family. So, friends were the ones who spent time with you. Perhaps this concept is also a bit anachronistic”, says Carmona.

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