One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother
(Proverbs 18:24).

More and more of us appear to have fewer and fewer people in our lives whom we would consider friends. And lest the word friend be left too ambiguous, let a friend be defined as someone with whom you have confided matters that are truly important to you within the past six months.

Researchers cite evidence that Americans have a third fewer close friends than just a couple of decades ago. More disturbing still, the data seem to indicate that the number of us who have nobody to count as a close personal friend has more than doubled.

The findings hold for both males and females. They are consistent for people of all races, ages, and educational levels. Even within families, the degree of intimacy has diminished considerably. All this information can't be good news, for it translates into people who feel lonelier and more isolated than ever.

Emotionally healthy people form meaningful ties with other human beings. They don't just exchange information, but they actually share personal things. They talk about likes and dislikes as well as joys and fears. They extend themselves to help others and know how to accept assistance when they get in over their heads. When they have important decisions to make, they get insight and support from their friends.

Everybody needs a handful of people with whom to connect in these intimate ways. Nobody is smart enough, strong enough, or competent enough to negotiate something as complicated as this human adventure called life alone. John Donne protested the idea that men and women could function in splendid isolation from one another. "No man is an island, entire of itself," he wrote.

I know. You're busy! So is everybody else — including the people who are healthy enough to have emotional ties. You don't have time for the obligations in your life already? I understand that excuse, too. However, the issue here is priorities. Which is more important? Playing computer games or having a friend? Getting a bigger house or loving (and being loved by) the people in the house you have now? Making extra cash or having a real life?

The same research shows not only that people have fewer friends these days, but also that more and more of us are feeling the need for real friends. With our circles of friendship drawn so tiny, people are feeling lonely. Everybody needs people to count on.

If you are one of those people in need of friends, the best advice I can give is this: Spend more time being a friend to someone than in trying to find one.

Care to guess what sort of dividend is returned on that investment?

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken
(Ecclesiastes 4:9—12).