Introducing FRIEND GROUP: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE LONELIEST CENTURY
Hi! I have a personal story about an unconventional/deliberate housing situation that I've shared in the Culture Study comments before. My partner and I lived in New York until 2021. A week before we were supposed to move into a new house, a tree fell on it and literally *cut it in half*. Coincidentally, my brother, who owns a two-flat in Chicago, had his upstairs tenants moving out that very same week. So, my partner and I packed what we could in the trunk of our tiny car, placed everything else in a storage unit, put our 65 lb dog in the backseat (on a lot of anxiety meds!), and drove halfway across the country to stay in their totally unfurnished upstairs unit while we figured out alternative housing in NYC. Turns out, living above my brother and his wife, who are both my best friends, and their dog-who is my dog's best friend-was the happiest situation I'd ever found myself in, bar none. I spent a whole summer alternating between crying about the idea of leaving, and panicking about the idea of totally changing the direction of our lives and staying. Two years later, we're still here, but now we have furniture. My dog and my brother's dog go back and forth up and down between apartments all day. We hang out casually and constantly - we pop in to say hi, run up/downstairs to grab a coke, play crosswords by screencasting the NYT app from the ipad onto the flatscreen, and share friends and a social life. It was the scariest thing in the world deciding to stay, but it feels like the closest thing to utopia I'll ever know.
I would love for there to be some discussion (maybe a chapter?) about the real ways that long-distance (especially online) friendships can be real and important...but how they're insufficient. I feel like people either view them as a replacement for in-the-flesh friendships, which they can never be, or dismiss them altogether as unimportant. Anything that treats both their strengths and weaknesses seriously would be appreciated.
An interesting topic could be "emergency contacts." As parents age and without close friends it's hard to know who to use an an emergency contact.
If I could wish any book into existence right now, it would be “Bowling Alone meets Big Friendship, written by Anne Helen Petersen.” I’m beyond excited. Do good work! ❤️
This might not be in scope, but I think there are interesting overlaps with ideas about "placefulness" (ie Jenny O'Dell's How to Do Nothing) for this topic—or at least, for me they occupy the same space in my mind. I think it ties into the finding community question you already posed, but I'm also curious about how we find community with non-human aspects of our experience (especially nature). Sometimes knowing the names of the native plants on a hike can genuinely feel like saying hello to a friend, for instance. Or knowing your way around a city without google maps, even. Maybe these are just things that help us feel more rooted and capable of reaching out and putting effort into human relationships? Or maybe it's just about shrinking your world down to a manageable human size and then existing in it. So excited for the book!
love this!!! I have a bit of an unconventional housing situation, which I feel SO lucky to have found. My roommate of 5 years took a new job in a different city, which meant I had to move because I live in a very expensive coastal city, but affording my own place felt daunting and I really didn’t want another roommate.
Over the years, I made friends with some neighbors, whose family bought their property 50 years ago when they immigrated from Cuba. They made it a multi-family lot and there’s 6 units with a shared yard. They invited me to live in one of the (rent controlled!!) units once they found out I needed a place! I watch their 10 year old daughter when they need help, I have two Tias on either side of me in their 80s who teach me Spanish, and all of our dogs are best friends. We help each other out, have shared meals, and drink wine and play games on Sunday.
I feel so lucky to have an affordable place to live, with a yard, in a very expensive city, and an inherited family too!
I suspect you are already thinking of this, but I suggest that you talk to people who are part of faith communities, particularly non-evangelical ones (they are just SO overrepresented when we talk about faith and in particular Christianity) - I am a member of a very progressive, medium-sized urban Methodist church and we have been focused - for years but in particular since the pandemic - on loneliness and how to combat it. When I read stories about the loneliness epidemic I often reflect that my faith community solves for me so many of the problems that contribute to feeling lonely. For example, I have little kids, but through church I am close friends with people who don't have kids, who have kids of all ages, and who are of many generations. We support each other with meals, care packages, cards, and just being there through big life moments. I know that faith is very fraught for many people, but when operated as judgment-free spaces as mine is these communities can really do a lot to combat loneliness.
This is a needed study, particularly in two areas: male friendships, which in my view are not like women’s yet often depend on women’s; and the nature of professional careers at this time in history. The choices to be made are hellish: get the job and move to it, leaving communities already loved and cultivated, or stay and compromise hard-earned careers. I don’t know much about how things work in other nations,
In response to my book club (over a decade strong with 10 women, several of whom I've known since high school), my husband started a burger club! Once a month, he and 5 of the husbands of other women in the group meet up at a different local restaurant to "taste test" their burgers. Occasionally, they will go to one of each other's houses instead and grill burgers and make old fashioneds. At a time when it seems hard for him to find male friendship connection (we have a 1 and 3 year old and both work more than full-time), we are both so glad for this recurring gathering and a bonus newfound burger expertise. Three years strong and counting for them!
Yay!!! I identify as being on the ace spectrum and part of what that means to me is, in recognition of the fact that I will likely never find a long term romantic partner, moving to a city where I have a LOT of ‘middle circle’ friends - people I’d do a pub quiz with or go for a coffee with. I’ve been here for three months now and I’m loving it
How about women being friends with their friends’ moms? As long as the mom isn’t a shitty person, I’ve found it’s a great way to connect and appreciate a different generation without being annoyed by your own mom, which is a thing. (I understand this is a privilege to have a mom that is both alive and “only” annoying). I have been both the friend of a mom and have friends that are close with my mom. I like it.
My mom lives in a senior cohousing community here in Oakland which is very, very cool. It’s a condo building that was specifically designed for this purpose so it is also designed for aging in place.
They all have their own (small) condos, but there’s a TON of shared community space and things like one “extra” apartment that they all use on a rotating basis to house visiting family/friends (like a common guest room!). It’s all self-governed and they do a lot of intentional community things like big common meals 3x a week, etc.
I compare it to college where all your friends live in your dorm, but for the end of adult life instead of the beginning. It has also made it possible for my mom, as an unpartnered woman and former (underpaid!) social worker, to move to a HCOL area to be near me and my sister in her retirement. I can connect you with her, if you’d like. She loves to talk about it.
Oh! I bought a house with friends during the pandemic! My husband and I were renting the bottom floor of an up-down duplex, and we ended up buying it with another couple we'd been friends with for years after the landlord died in 2020. We collaborate on home improvement projects and a somewhat unruly garden and do shabbat together almost every week. They're babysitting my kids tonight. I'd be happy to talk more about it!
I grew up without my extended family around, which means that my whole life technically is a series of stories of "nontraditional" family. I didn't have grandparents, I had everyone society treats as refuse: the LGBTQ+, the immigrants, the homeless punks, the sex workers, the disabled, the mentally ill, the abused... everyone society says has no place in a family. A flock of black sheep, grouping together to shelter and protect the weakest and the youngest in the center.
(It's still funny to watch people's faces when they see me, no body modifications of any kind... and then they see my parents. And then they see my aunties and uncles 🤣 )
covering your bases and cutting your losses: practicing discernment in the process of friendmaking. Recently I realized that I was 1) defensively trying to cultivate too many friendships because it seems like everything always falls through because people are too busy (and their kids are always sick!) to keep plans - I am a work from home mom of 5 and 8 yo boys living in a high-cost city, and my besties have all moved away in recent years - but this meant that sometimes I myself wasn't able to follow through on plan making, but it was and is also true that so many plans are canceled that it feels hard to sustain the ongoing effort of trying, and 2) i was trying to make friends with folks who i had a connection with but for whatever reason were not interested in/able to put the effort in to "taking it to the next level." I had to take a hard look at the relationships I was cultivating and ask myself, who is reciprocating? The answer was, sadly, not many people. And so I go back to step number 1, covering my bases....anyway, I'm interested in other people's experience with this.
The other thing I have been thinking a lot about is phase-of-life relationships. I don't have much face time with other people in my age cohort, but I have built a really wonderful mutual relationship with our babysitter who sometimes feels like someone I'm mentoring and supporting, and sometimes feels like a family member/close friend, and sometimes feels like a person who is providing me and my family with care. And I realized maybe it's natural and OK that this is the most deep and frequent relationship I have right now, rather than a friendship with someone my own age.