“What if I die and nobody comes to my funeral? What if my wife dies and I’m left all alone in the world?”
Such thoughts keep Keiichi awake nights. They’re usually associated with the elderly, but Keiichi is 38. Having lately lost his job, he has come to realize how isolated he is. His wife alone stands between him and utter friendlessness.
It’s not an uncommon predicament, says Spa! (March 9). It’s a wide and busy world out there, real and virtual, and most of us know a lot of people, but friendship is another matter. Polling 300 men in their 30s, Spa! finds 35.4% of them have not a single close friend.
What does “close friend” mean? “Someone you can open your heart to no matter what the situation” is the answer most favored by survey respondents. If family trouble weighs on you, or you’ve just lost a job, the first thing you need might be a sympathetic listener. The need is not merely emotional, as the magazine points out. Recent research has shown friendlessness is unhealthy. The immune system slackens. Depression and Alzheimer’s become more immediate risks.
“I have lots of close friends,” boasted one Spa! writer as the editors batted around ideas for the feature.
“Good,” said an editor. “Test them. Ask them to lend you money. See what happens.”
Not without compunction, the writer cooked up a story about needing money for a parent’s medical emergency. He approached 11 friends. Nine passed the test -- sort of. “I can lend you some, but not much,” they said. “Not much” meant 30,000–50,000 yen. The assumption seemed to be that the writer would never pay the money back -- which rankled.
To return to Keiichi. He was an introverted child and had no close friends at all until college -- golden years, but they soon end and college friends are easily lost sight of. Then came work, with its daily grind that leaves little time for anything else. A series of transfers in rapid succession left him a perpetual stranger. He married, and there was no one to invite to the wedding except relatives and a few company colleagues.
Then his employer went bankrupt and he was out of a job. He and his wife now get by on day labor, earning between them 100,000–200,000 yen a month, with no better future in sight. “If I had a friend,” he muses, “maybe he could introduce me to a prospect.”
Then there’s Eiji, 37 and job-hunting. He has more than 1400 “followers” on Twitter, but they’re hardly friends. His family moved around a lot when he was a child; then he had to leave college early owing to illness. He got a job at the post office, which, as he tells it, “doesn’t exactly have the sort of atmosphere where everybody goes out drinking together after work.”
There were several short-term company jobs after the post office, until finally a recurring illness put him out of work.
“It’s not just money you don’t have when you’re unemployed,” he says. “It’s contacts.”
So he twitters. It’s better than nothing but, he says, not really satisfying. But though he wants friendship, he seems uncertain as to what he seeks in a friend. That’s why he shies away from meeting his Twitter mates offline.
“I tend to be guarded about my feelings,” he says. “And isn’t a friend someone you’re supposed to be upfront and honest with?”© Japan Today