Why Friendship Is Overrated, A Grown-Up (And Grumpy) Reflection

Friends are the new family! Friendships are the greatest love affairs you'll ever know! Nonsense. Take a journey to the dark side of your so-called friends.

Selfies, side-by-side
Selfies, side-by-side
Peter Praschl


BERLIN â€" Lovers come and go. But that doesn’t really matter as long as you have friends. Friendship, you see, is the most super-wonderful thing in the world. A young colleague with Die Zeit recently wrote a long ode to friendship: “Since more and more young people are freeing themselves from the dictatorship of couplehood, and decide to live alone, friends are not just there to fill the empty hours or function as agony aunts," the piece reads. "Friendship has now been given the chance to become the biggest love affair of your life.”

Research suggests the same, albeit in not quite as emotional words. Those who have friends live longer and are more healthy, suffer less from depression, and their thighs don’t burn so much when standing with their backs against the wall and performing deep knee-bends â€" because they can handle pain much better.

All of that is most certainly true, but could it be that we over-interpret these findings in our friendship-induced prudence? Getting a prescription for an anti-depressant and training for a half marathon would surely have the same effect. And that would come without having to listen to your friends complaining about how badly their football team is doing and the obligation to buy them birthday presents.

But the same research that tells you exactly how much your life improves when you go for a walk or have after-work drinks with the same person over years, without ever having experience a simultaneous orgasm with that person, also suggests that friendship has its dark sides. And that these dark sides do not necessarily go hand in hand with our definition of happiness or moral values.

A very sad surprise

You will find yourself looking into the abyss when you start asking yourself who truly counts as your friend. This is the result of a conjoined study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Tel Aviv. According to this study, only 50% of the people you consider as your friends reciprocate that feeling. There has rarely been a psychology study with findings so surprisingly sad. This usually doesn't happen in romantic relationships or marriages. You usually at least know if you are in a relationship or not.

But the worst thing about this study is the fact that it demonstrates how incompetent we actually are in evaluating our social relationships. That may be due to the lack of any sort of binding friendship rituals beyond the age of 16. You cannot just ask the other person if you are friends now. Unless you are on Facebook and everyone knows how much an accepted Facebook friendship invitation is worth: virtually zilch.

And friendships are transient. You quickly become dispensable if the other person moves abroad, starts a new relationship, has a child or decides to adjust their life priorities. You might get the occasional “like” on Facebook, but that’s it.

Friendships that resemble the propaganda of the entertainment industry (“How I met your mother,” “Girls,” etc.) are for young people with a lot of time on their hands and who do not have to wake up early. As soon as you have to earn money, drive the kids to hockey practice and be part of a romantic relationship you are kicked out of the magical fairy dust circle of friendship, despite the fact that you could probably really use some of its benefits. You just don’t have the time, and your friends just stop calling.

Those are true friends â€" Photo: Georgie Pauwels

According to a new study men are more interested in clubs than having one-on-one friendships. They want to have a bit of fun with the lads, vent some steam and do something. Women on the other hand, and this is the just statistical average woman, organize a friendship like a long-term relationship â€" no sex and no secrets but you are really close to one another.

That is quite nice in itself if it weren’t for the dark side. If it weren’t for the jealousy that a third of all women feel towards their friends. Or that you think you have found your soulmate because you subconsciously choose to befriend people who are similar to you. They may even be genetically similar to you. A study by Yale University and the University of California determined that your genetic make-up is more similar to people with whom you are friends than it is to that of complete strangers and “corresponds to that of a cousin four times removed.” That can lead to a dangerous homogeneity.

You would most certainly benefit from exchanging views with someone who has very different opinions and feelings to your own but you, of course, do not want to be friends with someone like that.

But friendship itself can be dangerous as well. A study conducted by Harvard University has proven that business ventures you undertake together with friends are more likely to fail than when you start a business on your own and with professional contacts. Your decisions are based on your liking your friend rather than on more important factors.

Friendship is blind, after all. But what should be comforting is the fact that the problem is relatively self-contained. The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar has determined that humans are not able to have more than five profound relationships at any given time â€" your brain cannot deal with more than that. If one of them is a romantic relationship it is reduced to four, including the loved one.

So you are left with only three really good friends. And it is easy enough to get rid of those, too, all you have to do is disappear for a while and not pick up the phone. They’ll give up eventually. You don’t have to justify your actions, divide up your belongings or fight over alimony. You will always find someone else to talk to, that is, if you really want to.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!