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making and keeping friends
Jack Hamilton Bush, Sway #1, 1976
I try to think about relationships in my life on a 20-year timescale. Viewed through that lens, friendships are often more successful than romantic relationships. If you are a monogamous person who wants to have kids, there is probably only going to be one (maybe two, lol, I’m not judging later-in-life second acts) romantic relationship in your life that lasts that long. The rest of the relationships that endure will likely be friendships.
When you think about it that way, I find it really strange that we have a culture that’s obsessed with how to date and not nearly obsessed enough with how to make or keep friends. Or honest about the upkeep that friendships require.
How I think about the demands of friendship: when they text you you text back (sometimes you text back very late, but you still text back). When they call you, you either pick up or tell them you’ll call them later. If they have a life crisis, you are present and supportive. You send funny Tiktoks that remind you of them. You are interested and up to date on the details of their work, their romantic life, their families. If you meet someone you think they’d get along with, you set them up on a friend date or date-date. You go to the parties they host, you go to at least some of the events they invite you to, and you apologize if you’re late for dinner. You keep their secrets. You tell them your secrets. If their girlfriend/boyfriend sucks, you tell them tactfully. They accuse you of subtweeting them and you’re like jesus no that wasn’t about you why are you so self-obsessed.
This takes a lot of work! And we’re not even factoring in distance (how do you stay friends with someone who moves across the country or to a different continent?), resolving conflict/hurt feelings, changing priorities (they spend all their time with a new boyfriend, or have a baby, or start a company and become an insane workaholic), one person falling in love with another, etc etc. You have to be ready for friction and willing to work to resolve it.
Americans have fewer close friends than before. We join fewer clubs. And we’re unhappier. This all makes sense to me—I can’t overstate how much my friends are the core of my life and how much joy they bring me. I’m a big believer that having good friends is enabled by a set of learnable skills—how to find people you like, how to put yourself out there, how to listen, how to make space, how to propose fun things to do—and I’ve become increasingly worried over that our society no longer sets people up for learning how to make and keep friends.
Notes on what’s worked for me re:friendship
Shared context is pretty critical. For many people this is college or the city you grew up in, for me it’s “moving to San Francisco when you were 19.” If you share one core life experience, you probably have a ton in common that stems from it.
Carving out time is important, whether it be for calls or in-person hangouts. You can’t feel close to someone unless you’re consistently putting in the time. We all know people who bail for six months when they’re going through a rough patch (and I’ve been that person for sure, probably more than once…) but it does hurt your friendships. Like, imagine if you’re dating someone—it’d be weird to go a week without seeing them in person. Most friends don’t hold you to that standard, but it’s honestly just not nice to blow off your best friend for a month unless something traumatic is happening.
Live in the city where the largest number of your good friends are. I pretty much moved back to SF strictly because of this.
If you’re trying to meet more people/establish a social life, go to a lot of things, parties, dinners, etc, even if you suspect they might be boring. You’re trying to maximize serendipity. Related: meet people through your hobbies… develop some hobbies if you have none, get really into running or board games or something. Nothing is more essential to your well-being than little projects.
Another great way to meet people is to ride the coattails of your one really social friend. You know, the one who goes to a million things and knows everyone and you know they secretly think of themselves as a “superconnector.” They want to connect people! You can literally be like, can you help me meet friends, and they will probably be delighted.
Be friends with people you can genuinely, effusively praise to everyone. You should be super proud of your friendships. If you aren’t there’s something wrong.
I may be the last person in America who loves talking to strangers. I met a good friend bc he came up to me in Equinox (lol), I’ve met people at the dog cafe, yoga class, etc. I’m sort of shy so it’s always awkward but people are friendlier than you think they are!
I’ve met several really good friends off Twitter. Can’t recommend Twitter enough. Tweet like your life depends on it for six months and then you can enjoy the returns for the next five years.
Write in public. You want to meet people who like how you think, so think in public. If you’re anxious remember: haters are fans too :)
Develop an internal clock that tells you when to reach out to a friend. Like, you want to get to a point where you’re sitting there working one day and your inner voice is like hey it’s been three weeks since you saw X, you should text him. I would personally never use a social calendar so I live and die by my internal friend clock lol.
Proactively ask about your friends’ lives. A lot of people have trouble talking about stuff that’s troubling them… it’s on you to ask. Choose friends whom you’re genuinely interested in—people can sense it when you’re asking out of obligation rather than interest.
If you feel like you’re always the anxious one who’s asking for more, I think it’s worth asking how you’re showing up to friend hangouts—are you attuned to what they like and enjoy and need, or are you primarily focused on your own needs? Are you making it all about the ways in which you’re failing slash failing to be loved adequately? From Heather’s genius post:
That guy gushing about his best man doesn’t go on trips with his friends and notice when two friends go out for coffee without him. He don’t take notes on how other people are failing him or backing away. He doesn’t take people’s temperature constantly to see if there’s enough love there. He doesn’t slowly and meticulously document other people’s flaws inside his mind. He shows up for fun and maybe he even asks good questions and listens to the answers. Maybe he’s full enough to let the world in, to let people in, and to love them consistently, and that makes him a model of HOW TO BE.
Be willing to take feedback, be willing to apologize, reach out even if you’ve fallen out of touch. You can’t “win” an argument, you can only lose the relationship. But it’s also okay to let go of a friendship that isn’t working anymore in hopes that you can revive it in the future. If you love someone, you’ll still love them in 10 years.