A second family

Friends are becoming more and more important. They reflect who we are and we can always fall back on them. In fact, Otje van der Lelij realizes, they are very much like a family you can choose yourself. 

In previous times, everything revolved around the family; it was the cornerstone of society. And when children grew up, they stayed in the village they were born in, close to their family home. “In some villages, this is still the case,” says Beate Volker, professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But most young adults now move to the urban centers, where they gather a new circle of people around them. Like a second family.”

Volker says being away from family doesn’t take away our need for family-like closeness. “We all want that,” she says. “We need an intimate circle of people to fall back on. Not only because family often lives far away in our modern world, but also because of the high number of divorces and single people. When couples break up, friends are an important safety net.”

Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman even called friendship the new anchor in our lives. In a world where nothing is stable anymore – not our job, not our relationships – it’s good to at least have stable and sure friendships. In his book, Modernity and the Holocaust, Bauman writes that, in these turbulent times of fluid modernity, we desperately strive to find deep friendships and kinship. According to him, we all need a helping hand from a trustworthy and loyal till-death-us-do-part friend, a hand that will be there when needed, that is an island for the shipwrecked, an oasis in the desert.

Volker says the ‘click’ that people feel with their friends is triggered by similarities. “It is shown in all kinds of research: friends are similar,” she says. “Not only are friends often the same age, ethnicity, gender and have the same level of education, but they also come from a similar family situation, and share the same political preferences and interests. You find yourself in your friends.”

  • You can read the article ‘A second family’ in Issue 20, which is now in stores.

Text Otje van der Lelij Photography Hanke Arkenbout Styling Anne van Midden