THE BLOG

The Mate Escape

30/07/2014 13:59 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST

Friends and Framily

According to the UN, today (30th July) is 'International Friendship Day'. So what better time to look at one of the biggest trends in Britain: the growing importance of friendship.

From festivals to social media, we're spending more time with our friends. A growing number of us enjoy a close group of mates that we consider to be a surrogate family: a friendship-family or 'Framily'. In some cases, this is taking over from where the traditional family unit may have left off: either in distance, as people move away from home, or emotionally.

In fact, we are now spending so much on socializing with friends that many of us are falling into what economists are calling 'social debt'. Friends are becoming so important that some people are actually using dating websites to find them!

Why? As with so many trends, this one has its roots in social and economic factors. The emotional support of friends typically becomes more important in times of economic downturn and rapid social and political change such as we are experiencing now. When consumers worry about what is to come, they seek the support of community. Meanwhile, our loss of trust in major institutions, from banks to government; our inability to influence 'macro' events; and the increasing dominance of technology in our lives is making us care more about those things which are tangible, trustworthy and human, such as interaction with friends.

The Framily Holiday

One area the trend is having a huge impact is the travel market. I've been working recently with Thomas Cook on research looking at the growth of friendship holidays.

Britons took almost six million group holidays overseas last year, according to Mintel: in fact, 16% of all UK trips abroad were group holidays. The Association of British Travel Agents says that holidaying with friends is now the most popular travel option for the under 35s: 30% of them travel with friends.

Interestingly, holidaying with friends isn't limited to singles. According to Thomas Cook's research, over a third (37%) of Britons who are married or in a long-term relationship now go on at least one holiday a year with friends and without their partner.

Again, this ties in with social trends. In a world where social media and psychiatrists are commonplace, we've become more focused on 'who we are' as individuals and embrace rather than avoid the multi-faceted nature of our character. At the same time, our lives are becoming so complex we increasingly have to compartmentalise them: using technology to create our own work/life balance, and personalise our social media. To reflect the diverse range of our interests and hobbies, we're seeking more - and more segmented - friendship groups.

The more this happens, the less we can expect our partners to fulfil all our needs; and the more we'll feel 'trapped' unless we have the outlets - such as at a book group, in a sports team or on minibreaks - where we can indulge this or that side of our personality.

Going on separate holidays would likely have been frowned upon in the past. But trends among men and women are changing attitudes. Women today are increasingly confident and have greater means, opportunity and social acceptance for making friends outside of their partnership - and to travel with them.

Meanwhile, fathers are increasingly happy to share the care of their children, giving women more freedom to take off on a short break. Indeed this new, more responsible, man appears to be more sensitive generally. In the Thomas Cook survey, men are more likely to say they miss their partner when they're apart on holiday than women: 44% do so, compared with 41% of women.

Keeping in Touch

It's not just the friends we go away with that matter. Friends we meet on holiday are becoming increasingly important too.

Think back to the friends we made on holiday in decades gone by: many faded awkwardly away after the first couple of meet ups, if they even got that far. Thanks to sites like Facebook, it's so much easier to not just stay in touch but keep enough contact to find the truly lasting friendships that we value. Around half (46%) of those in the Thomas Cook survey keep in touch with people they meet on holiday via social media, and more than a third (38%) via email.

So, next time you say "let's keep in touch", not only might you mean it - but it might just come true.