For years, depression rates have been rising among college students. In a Mayo Clinic study, nearly half of responding college students reported symptoms of depression. This unfortunate reality can be partially attributed to the decline in religion, the rise in social media and our self-centered, hedonistic, pleasure-at-all-costs culture.
Another sometimes-overlooked reason is that relatively few college students in the United States have true friends anymore. I am not talking about your drinking buddies, your club soccer teammates, your classmates or your coworkers. Yes, those are good people to potentially become true friends, but those relationships are not automatically genuine friendships.
A true friendship is deeper than a relationship of convenience or a relationship of common interest. In fact, many true friendships are between people who could not care less about the pastimes of the other. True friends confide in each other, do not censor themselves around the other, discuss existential and eternal issues, have a beyond surface level understanding of who the other really is, celebrate each other’s successes and mourn each other’s defeats. In other words, true friends talk about things that actually matter. As Proverbs 18:24 puts it, a true friend “sticks closer than a brother.”
It’s beyond true that many college students fall into the trap of creating counterfeit or surface-level friendships, often without even realizing it. They mistake study partners as friends, when in reality, they do not know much about the other person besides the class they share. In reality, one cannot have many close friends because there is simply not enough time in the day.
According to a survey, our society is continuously getting lonelier: More people are reporting zero close friends. The problem is especially prevalent among men.
Men are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women. Statistically, men are more likely to be lonely than women. In our culture, true friendship is often discouraged in favor of easy, but inadequate, substitutes. More people are seeking mental health treatment than ever before, such as psychotherapy and antidepressants.
This is not surprising in light of our consumeristic mindset that values “quick fixes” over the hard work of genuine, sustainable relationships. Yes, those things can be useful if used correctly and productively, but your therapists and your antidepressants are not your true friends.
In an effort to fight loneliness, men are often forced to distract themselves from isolation. Whether it is excessive drunkenness, binge-watching TikTok or meaningless sex, men are attempting to fill the void. Further, our society perpetuates the lie that intimacy is exclusive to the bedroom. That notion could not be further from the truth. Platonically, men can and should have men’s-only spaces; men need fellowship with other men because women’s issues are different from men’s issues.
How do we fix this? How do you make a true friend? A true friend must share your values. No one can give you sound advice if they have different goals and a fundamentally different worldview. This makes churches and campus ministries breeding grounds for close bonds that last a lifetime. Then, put yourself out there; say things that are uncomfortable. Be vulnerable and willing to talk about your failures and inadequacies. James 5:16 prescribes telling other people, not just God, about your shortcomings. And the result of doing so is healing from isolation, shame and loneliness.
Go watch the football game with your friends, but when the game is over, talk about important issues, talk about what bothers you and makes you happy, talk about the girl you are chasing after. Do not be self conscious. Let your guard down and have fun. You are talking with your true friend.
Cass Rutledge is a junior majoring in public policy leadership from Madison, Miss.