It’s your senior year prom season and you don’t have a date. No big deal, you’ll just go with some close friends. right? Oh wait… Maybe your old APUSH book will take you. You had some nice times together, right? Oh, nope, no luck. He’s already going with your graphing calculator! Now what?
After four years of focusing on your studies, you’ve nearly finished crawling out of the abyss that is high school, only to realize that the “A” average that you hold in your hands came at the cost of school dances, athletic events, and, well, friends. Our generation has a reputation for having more Facebook friends than real friends, and in a world where you don’t have to get up from your computer to do anything, it’s infinitely easier to isolate yourself today than it was in 1914. And it’s killing us.
Let’s not get too dramatic. After all, one of the most important relationships that a person can have is with him or herself. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t everything, and besides, being alone definitely has its rewards. High school isn’t really real, anyway. The friends you make here will, like you, be scattered across the country in a few years. You won’t be friends anymore. So what’s the point of socializing and forming relationships?
People need human interaction. The American Pageant can only provide so much amusement, and anyhow, your calculator can’t be sympathetic about your failed math test. More importantly, isolation, even for academic gain, isn’t healthy, and not just because your mother said so. Even the newest scientific studies agree that forming close friendships are a necessary part of living a healthy life.
According to John Cacioppo, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago who specializes in loneliness (“Ouch, do you need ice for that burn?” No guys, this is actually what he studies), loneliness has a myriad of health effects. Isolated people’s immune systems can’t defend as well against viruses. It’s not just because the universe hates them. Generally, the immune system has to choose between fighting bacteria and fighting viruses. It can fight both, but it has a limited amount of fighting power. The immune systems of people in isolation, whether in extreme isolation or not, choose to defend more against bacteria…which leaves their bodies open to viruses, diseases, and sometimes cancer.
Also, interacting with other humans on a continual basis builds up your immune system in the same way shots do. When we meet with friends, hug them, and spend time with them, they expose you to little bacteria or viruses they carry in their bodies. It may not have an affect on them if they’ve built up an immunity to it. By being around other people, you have a much better chance of building up a stronger immune system and therefore ditching frequent, nasty colds.
These problems don’t end with health. While swearing off socialization in the name of academic achievement and a polished GPA may make sense in the short-run, isolated people actually have more learning problems. In another study by Cacioppo, lonely and non-lonely people were shown pictures. Regardless of the content of the picture, lonely people showed less brain activity in the vental striatum when compared to their non-lonely counterparts. “So, like, their air conditioning doesn’t work? Whatever, I can deal with being warm.” The vental striatum is a part of the brain associated with learning. Isolation can actually lead to learning problems. Two heads are better than one, after all.
Again, let’s not be dramatic. You’re not going to get cancer because you couldn’t find a date to prom or because you loved the How I Met Your Mother finale and have thus lost all your friends. You’re not going to develop learning disabilities because you studied for the big Chemistry test instead of going to a movie. There’s nothing wrong with being introverted, having only a few close friends, or enjoying your own company every once in a while.
The problem comes when your relationship is only with yourself and your textbooks. Spending time on your studies is good, but everything–even studying and homework–should be done in moderation. That isn’t to say that you should slack off, pull Ds in all your classes, and party all day every day because YOLO. This argument isn’t pro-YOLO; it’s pro-relationships. School work is still an integral part in developing your mind to think critically about the world and preparing you to handle the future. However, school work isn’t the only thing that can prepare you for your future. The workplace centers around intelligence, productivity, and relationships. Remember to balance your time between the two. Your friends are helping you more than you realize.
The simple truth is that friends are good for you, for your health, and for your brain. Although it’s easy to overlook the importance of friendship in an age where we can just chat with CleverBot if we get lonely, it really is an integral part of our health and growth. So ditch the calculator and start a conversation with someone new. It’s so much easier to dance with a person, trust me.