Making Friends, Losing Friends, And Balance Theory

I might not have the normal person’s access to feelings. I fear getting flooded by empathy, so I usually stay behind a hard cynical exterior, and I keep most people at arm’s length.

This will sound weird, but I haven’t felt a thing about the attacks on Israel. I think I’m still in shock and I am protecting myself by staying in analytic mode.

As I go through life, I make friends and I lose friends.

I love making friends and I hate losing friends. I admire those who keep friends. Dennis Prager, for example, says he has never lost a friend.

That astounds me. That indicts me. How do you do that? I guess you can’t change much.

I’m constantly changing and as a result I’m constantly shedding friends.

In 2009 and 2010, I went to kundalini yoga frequently. In 2009, I went 200 times. In 2010, I went just over 100 times. I wanted to get my money’s worth from my annual $1,000 pass for unlimited yoga. Because I wouldn’t take teacher training and go deeper into the 3HO (Happy, Healthy, Holy) cult, I couldn’t advance most of my friendships at yoga. On the other hand, as a convert to Orthodox Judaism, I couldn’t stay at kundalini yoga because enough rabbis declare it idolatry and I didn’t want to rock the boat at shul, so I dropped out of kundalini yoga.

This is a typical story for me. I join something moderately, enjoy it, and then move on. In the process, I gain and lose friends.

The less you have in common with your friends, the less of a friendship you have. When I converted to Judaism, the friends I grew up with generally felt I was rejecting them. When I became an Orthodox Jew, many of my non-Orthodox friendships weakened. When I had an entire social circle around Dennis Prager, and then I alienated Prager by my blogging, I lost all those friends.

I have an online-only friend in Ricardo. For months, however, we hated each other. The only road back for our friendship was our shared love of the Dallas Cowboys. If we didn’t have this team, we wouldn’t talk. Upon such trivial bases, friendships endure.

According to Wikipedia:

In the psychology of motivation, balance theory is a theory of attitude change, proposed by Fritz Heider. It conceptualizes the cognitive consistency motive as a drive toward psychological balance. The consistency motive is the urge to maintain one’s values and beliefs over time. Heider proposed that “sentiment” or liking relationships are balanced if the affect valence in a system multiplies out to a positive result.

In his 2015 paper, Shifting identification: A theory of apologies and pseudo-apologies, professor Joshua Bentley wrote:

Relationships between people lead them to care about one another’s opinions and attitudes. People tend to prefer agreement over disagreement, and if a disagreement does arise, people may try to achieve symmetry (i.e., cognitive balance) either by coming to agreement on that issue or by changing the way they feel about each other. In some cases, people also agree to disagree, but Newcomb was skeptical of such resolutions, calling them “relatively stressful states of equilibrium” (1953, p. 401). To understand balance theory and the co-orientation process, imagine two friends who like the same song. They experience cognitive balance (at least in this respect) because their orientation toward a common object is the same. However, if one friend likes the song and the other dislikes it, each friend will experience a degree of cognitive imbalance and feel pressure to resolve the disagreement. They may attempt to change one another’s mind. If either friend is successful at this attempt, balance will be restored. If not, the friends may change their opinion of each other (e.g., they may have less respect for the other’s musical taste). The more serious a disagreement is, the more strain it puts on a relationship. Among communication scholars, Heider’s (1946) balance theory is probably best known as a precursor to Festinger’s (1957) theory of cognitive dissonance. Newcomb’s (1953) work has become the foundation of organizational co-orientation theory (Taylor, 2006), which holds that organizations are formed by the ongoing process of co-orientation between individuals and groups. However, when combined with Burke’s ideas, the concepts of balance and co-orientation help explain how apologies and pseudo-apologies function in public discourse. The next section develops this idea.

When Dennis Prager says he has never lost a friend, he’s either transcended the fragility of the normal human condition or he’s self-deceived or lying or immune to growth or some combination of these four possibilities.

I wonder if early in his life Dennis Prager realized that he could mesmerize people with a particular shtick and then never abandoned it.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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