Making Friends, Losing Friends, And Balance Theory

I might not have the normal person’s access to feelings. I fear getting flooded by empathy, and 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 grew up a Seventh-Day Adventist. All of my friends were Adventists. If we weren’t united by our Adventism, we wouldn’t have had much of a chance to meet each other. Isn’t this how most people meet and bond? They have something in common. But if the things we bond over disappear, does that not strain or dissolve the friendship? Stephen Turner noted in his 2021 essay, “Ideology of Anti-populism & the Administrative State”: “Unstable triads are mythogenic: making sense of their relations requires fictions, or myths, which legitimate arrangements, and these may temporarily stabilize what is inherently unstable.”

I’m constantly changing and as a result I’m constantly shedding friends. I don’t know how it could be otherwise for people who change. When you shift your job, your profession, your home, your house of worship, your gym, your book club, how could you not shift friends in the process? Many of my friends are married with kids and don’t have much spare time. If we did not share something such as a synagogue, profession, gym, or job, we wouldn’t see each other and our friendship would wither.

In 2009 and 2010, I went to kundalini yoga frequently (2-5x a week). 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 as I discovered that many Orthodox rabbis declared it idolatry. Not wanting to rock the boat in my religious community, I dropped out of this yoga and I dropped some friends in the process.

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

The less you have in common with your friends, the less of a friendship you have. When I converted to Judaism, the non-Jewish 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. By all, I mean every single one (though one came back in an attenuated fashion about a decade later).

I have an online-only friend in Ricardo. For months, however, we hated each other because of disagreements over politics. 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, some 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:

People identify with each other and act collectively because they have common beliefs, goals, concerns, or enemies. For instance, people who vote for a political party or cheer for a particular sports team do so because they identify somehow with that party or team. Although people naturally strive for identification, Burke (1969) also wrote, “one need not scrutinize the concept of ‘identification’ very sharply to see, implied in it at every turn, its ironic counterpart: division” (p. 23). Identification implies division because if people were not separated from one another they would have no reason to seek identification. At the same time, when people do identify with certain groups or ideas, they inevitably reject or dissociate themselves from other groups or ideas. In the United States, for example, identifying with the Republican Party means separating oneself from the Democratic Party…

…attitudes toward people and objects influence each other. Heider proposed a model in which a person (P) and some other person (O) both hold opinions about an object, idea, or event (X). In Heider’s P–O–X model, the opinions of P and O toward X and toward each other can be either positive or negative. People feel a mental imbalance when they disagree with others whom they like or respect. Thus, people feel cognitive pressure to agree with their friends’ opinions.

…people use rhetoric to overcome their divisions. 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…

When two people identify with each other they can achieve cognitive balance by either identifying with or dissociating from a common object (another person, an idea, an action, etc.). By contrast, when one person seeks to identify with an object and the other person seeks to dissociate from that object, those two people cannot identify with each other without creating an imbalance. The tension they feel will exert pressure on them to change their identification with the object or with each other.

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 he’s lying or he’s immune to growth or some combination of these four possibilities.

I wonder if early in his life Dennis Prager realized that he could succeed with a particular shtick and then he never grew above it because the rewards of sounding profound were too profound to consider alternatives.

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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