3 Threats to Deep Relationships

A Cord of 3 Strands

What makes deep relationships so uncommon and challenging today? Why do we so rarely walk out the front door, enter another human being’s home, and enjoy a real, personal, in-the-flesh conversation?

Of course, our own sin affects everything. Sin is antisocial. It curves us inward and it drives us to isolation. The West’s hyper-individualistic cultures exacerbate this. Some of us also face unique challenges where we live: cities have their own challenges with transience, smaller communities with set ways, suburbs with isolation. Yet across all locations, three aspects of modern culture create unique barriers to deep relationships: busyness, technology, and mobility.

As we are reminded in Ecclesiastes 4:12, three strands can weave together to form a very strong cord. This triple cord is a powerful image for the value of relationships. Using this metaphor in a different way, these unique modern barriers can weave together in a very isolating way for us. They encircle us like a rope barrier and keep true friendship out of reach. We may overpower one or two of these strands, but as the saying goes, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Friendships take time because roots don’t go down quickly.

How about Next Month?

The first strand is busyness. It crowds out friendship from our lives. When I asked a fellow church member if he had any close relationships, he said, “I’m too busy for friends.” Between work and family, he didn’t think he had any space left. We can commend him for those good commitments, but isn’t this like saying we’re too busy for water because we’re committed to air and food?

Each life stage carries its unique challenges: teenagers with school and sports, young professionals with demanding work hours, parents with competing responsibilities. Where can we find time for friendship if we don’t have time for sleep?

Of course, sometimes we’re occupied with less redeeming priorities: evening shows, repetitive news cycles, social media, and other potential time wasters. Sometimes we’re more lazy-busy than crazy-busy. Either way, we feel strapped. We’re timebroke with nothing left for deep relationships.

Even the perception of busyness hinders us from forming strong relationships. One friend said that he never asked me to get together because he assumed I was too busy. When I gave off a perception of busyness, I communicated that I didn’t have time for him. Every time you or I tell a would-be deep friend that life is busy, we’re really saying that we’re too full for friendship.

Nothing says “no chance we’ll be friends” like “Let’s get together! How about next month?”

Deep Communion vs. Digital Communication

Technology is the second strand. Modern technology is a great tool for keeping up certain aspects of our relationships. Writing emails, sending texts, scanning posts—all of these helpfully complement true companionship. But they cannot fully replace it. These are the shallow ends of relationships. We find these tools convenient, but then we’re tempted to neglect the deeper waters of shared experiences and face-to-face conversation. Very often the way we use technology leads away from, rather than in to, stronger friendships. We often trade deep communion for digital communication.

Technology can hinder friendship in four ways. First, it often depersonalizes communication. We use it to connect, but over time, we feel less, not more, connected. We use it to move closer, but we end up farther away. We trade conversations and experiences for details and updates. We’re more connected to more people more often than ever before, but many of our relationships become more superficial and less satisfying.

Second, technology can disengage us from real communion. Sometimes when we connect with people through technology, we disconnect from those who are sitting right around us. Friends sit across the table at a coffee shop and enjoy friendship, but not with each other—with the friends on the other end of their phones. Once when I visited a workplace, I stepped into a break room and saw six coworkers sitting around a lunch table. The room was silent. Five of them stared at their phones while the sixth looked at her food. She sat at the table with them, but she ate her lunch alone. Surrounded by peers, she had no one to talk to.

Third, technology disembodies conversation. When we engage in person, we experience our friends in unrepeatable and holistic ways. We notice her expressions, intuit her moods, and learn her quirks. Embodied friendship is full of dynamic, realtime, give-and-take interaction. In contrast, digital communication doesn’t demand much more than fingers to flit around a keyboard. This has a place of course, but it doesn’t match experiencing a person’s real presence. For me to see Dane’s head roll back and hear his laugh, to talk through personal challenges across the table with Taylor, to see the romance in Christina’s eyes, to sense the sincerity in Bill’s encouragement, or to pick up the witty humor in Trent’s tone—there is simply no digital equivalent.

Finally, technology creates dependence on less personal ways of addressing personal issues. Confessing sin and admitting failure, or on the other hand, addressing sin and confronting failure—each of these is challenging, and digital communication seems easier. We take time to craft a statement, and we don’t need to worry about immediate reactions. But then we soon prefer to replace a personal meeting with a phone call; a phone call with a voicemail; a voicemail with an email; and an email with a text. Each step smooths the path for the next. Soon we can hardly muster the courage to say anything difficult in person. And without the reassuring eye contact, gentle tone, and responsive clarifications, we often end up adding complications rather than clearing things up.

Made for Friendship

Drew Hunter

Exploring a biblical vision of true friendship, this book demonstrates the universal need for friendship, what true friendship really looks like, and how to cultivate deeper relationships.

Friendship in the Rearview Mirror

Increased mobility weaves in as the third strand of this cord. Friendship often requires lots of time together. But we now find it easier than ever to move from one place to another. Education takes us to another town, work transfers families to another state, and retirement draws seniors to sunnier skies.

I moved when I was eleven years old, again when I was fourteen, and four more times since then. Looking back, I would never trade the relationships I formed as a result of those relocations. Still, as moving trucks pulled away, some of my friendships faded in those rearview mirrors. Even the friendships that stuck were altered and more difficult to maintain. I sometimes look back with the “if only” wistfulness about what could have been with some of those friends.

Friendships take time because roots don’t go down quickly. And repeated moves can create a “why bother?” mind-set: Why bother to form new friendships here when I already have friendships there? Why sink my roots in when they may soon get pulled up again? Keeping our roots on the surface makes it easier to transplant with the next move. But without deep roots, our relationships cannot grow strong.

So, as busyness, technology, and mobility have increased, friendship has faltered.

This article is adapted from Made for Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys by Drew Hunter.

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