written to the song: Fix You — Coldplay
“If you meet somebody and your heart pounds, your hands shake, your knees go weak, that’s not the one. When you meet your ‘soul mate’ you’ll feel calm. No anxiety, no agitation.” — Buddha
We live in a generation where “I am sad”, “I am lonely”, and “I am simply bored” can be fixed with “getting a boyfriend” (where do you even get one of those?). The media shapes and distorts our perception of love, where watching Disney teaches us that once we find love we will find eternal happiness and bliss. Love has been commercialized to promote the celebration of love by taking out a mortgage to buy an engagement ring, throwing a huge wedding with all of your parents’ random friends, and celebrating Hallmark’s favourite holiday — Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I am so excited for my wedding (I’ve already had my dress picked out for years) though at times love seems to be the only thing that matters in life. If that is true, then why do so many marriages end in divorce?
John Gottman is a psychologist specializing in marriage and relationship counselling. In the 1970’s he started his research on the science and psychology of love and relationships, making predictions of which couples remained in a healthy relationship (titled “masters”) and which relationships would end in divorce (titled “disasters”) six years later. Gottman measured the couples’ physiological responses when answering questions about their partner. The “disaster” couples had an elevated heart rate, active sweat glands, and dilated pupils when sitting with their partner, showing the activation of their sympathetic nervous system. The “masters” couples displayed the opposite. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system which is active in stressful situations, such as being attacked by a bear.
Another element of his research was connecting with or ignoring “bids”, something of interest. For example, “check out Coldplay’s Adventure of a Lifetime music video!”. Does the partner react positively or ignore the request all together? The partners that ignored the “bid” typically elicited a negative reaction, resulting in an unhappy marriage or eventual divorce according to Gottman. Finally (my favourite part), kindness kept couples happy and together. Kind actions and words are contagious and made couples feel optimistic, respected, and loved. Couples that see love as a “muscle which can be strengthened and practiced to be kept in shape” are said to “stick together like glue” (Esfahani Smith, 2015). Furthermore, a positive response to your partner’s good news is a large indicator of a healthy relationship. If you are happy for someone else’s happiness, it says a lot about your personality and your relationship with the person.
These ideas of love are amazing, but these concepts can also be amplified and applied to the strengthening of friendships. I am convinced that my best friends know me better than I know myself, and I love them for that. My friends say I love you in so many different ways from: “This reminded me of you”, to “you make me happy”, to “I saved you some fries”. Gottman was able to predict the fate of 94% of the marriages, but I am certain this theory can also apply to the strength and survival of a friendship.
Friendship used to be necessary for survival but the idea of friendship has definitely evolved. After the Industrial Revolution, friendship was useful as people were no longer living in the same communities as their families (Bell, 2014). With an increase in disposable income, friendship became who you chose to spend your free time with. Today, social media makes it easier to maintain long-distance friendships, where friends can Skype and keep each other posted via Facebook and WhatsApp.
From a young age, friends shape your personality, your motivation, your fashion choices, and your attitude. How powerful is that?
We have three personalities — our public self, our private self, and intimate self. Our public selves are the personalities, qualities, and information we choose to express to the world. It is our fashion choices, the comments we make in class, and the way we interact with the barista at Starbucks. The second layer, is the more private selves we share with close friends and family members. It’s the conversations, opinions, and the “Anna, I never knew you were weird until I actually got to know you” self. The final self is the sexual self, which only select individuals get to experience. Our close friends have definitely experienced 2 out of 3 of these expressions.
My friends have made me laugh, helped me through life crises, and are pretty much open to talking about anything at any time. Friends who make hours feel like minutes, who are interested in having two (maybe three) cups of tea, who know exactly what I’m thinking and feeling by just looking at me, and who make me feel good about myself. There is often an unspoken understanding and a shared history with friends, it is the “remember when” moment, the “it will be okay” moment, and the “I have the perfect shirt for you” moment. Though, similar to Gottman’s theory on love, friends need to feel appreciated as well.
Moreover, the idea of showing interest in “bids” is 100% relevant towards friends as well. When I share links to awesome dance videos on YouTube with friends, I expect a response. If a friend isn’t really interested, that's fine, but I probably won’t send another YouTube link to them (which is totally okay, but I mean…who doesn’t love watching an awesome dance vid?) It all makes sense — negative comments and not showing support will obviously lead to a sour taste in your mouth.
I found the physiological aspect of the study to be fascinating. If your sympathetic nervous system is active when you are answering questions about your spouse, that is concerning. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that your heart should be calm and you should feel at peace, not worrying about being attacked by a polar bear. My friend Shira called me from Vancouver and said that “marriage is the ultimate friendship”, and I think she is right. Though, I think the idea of “soulmates” is a very interesting concept which goes beyond the person you are going to marry. I refer to some of my friends as my soulmates, living life congruently (❤). I believe Gottman’s research is incredible (especially when looking at the percentage of his successful predictions). This piece isn’t undermining the idea of marriage, it is just remembering the value of friendship. If you are fortunate, your friends remind you that you shouldn’t be looking for your other half because you are not half. Someone once told me “behind every successful man is a woman, and behind every successful woman is her friends”. To all my friends, I love you, and I am so excited for us to dance at each other’s weddings.
Esfahani Smith, E. (2015, November 7). Science says lasting relationships come down to 2 basic traits. Business Insider. Retrieved from
Bell, P. (2014, October 2). The History Of Friendship: How Friendship Evolved And Why It’s Fundamental To Your Happiness. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/02/10/history-of-friendship-evolution_n_4743572.html