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Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Oh man, I struggled with friendships all through my teen years and 20s! I would have said I had fewer than 3 close friends at any point during those decades. I couldn't say why that was -- some combination of being socially awkward, a late bloomer, whatever -- but high school, undergrad, and graduate school were not halcyon days of friendship for me, heh.

I had a brief "golden age" of friendships in my early thirties, newly out of grad school and into a professional job, in a happy relationship. I organized a number of well-attended weekly and monthly and seasonal gatherings with friends, and it all felt so wonderful... until almost all of those friends started having kids and stopped prioritizing these gatherings, and I entered the long, dark years of infertility. But what emerged from that was a concerted attempt at cultivating friendship with people who could meet me where I was AND who became my role models for how I want to live with the cards I've been dealt. A few of my parent friends became that, but so did many, many new friends -- most of them older, and/or queer, and/or out of step with the "usual" life trajectories and expectations in some way.

This resonates so much: "You’re either a person with time and energy for friends and community or you’re not. You’re a person with a somewhat malleable schedule or you’re not. You’re a person who has so many priorities in front of friends or you’re not." To that, I'd add, you're either a person who can be comfortable with the emotional vulnerability and risk of building and maintaining close friendships, or you're not. There have been times in my life when I didn't have that capacity, and times when I did.

Building and maintaining friendships is such a confluence of luck, prioritizing, skill (which I did NOT have in high school or in my 20s, not really), and what I'd call emotional availability, and it's amazing to me that I have as many friends as I do! I have more, and deeper, friendships now in my 40s than I ever have before.

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As much as I deeply empathize with Pairie Dude, I'm probably addressing (in the wrong place!) my enthusiasm for the book you're working on. Bob Putnam was sort of onto something with "Bowling Alone" but Anne seems to be digging deeper into our endemic loneliness. I want to relate to her something Real that's happened to our culture. When I was a book and editorial page writer at the LA TImes I had to quickly compose pieces about complex subjects often over my head. So back then I'd simply call whomever recently gave smart testimony to Congress or academics on background. In the last 10 years, however, I've found that nearly everyone with even village popularity can no longer be reached by phone; every person I used to talk with is now beyond my reach; ie, the only thing I can connect with is a recording that "the number you have dialed is no longer at x or y phone number." I'd thought that after I and my neighbors emerged from their Covid 19 holes, we'd all give each other bear hugs. But for reasons I don't truly grok (Heinlein term used in "Stranger in a Strange Land) we're still estranged. One empirical manifestation of this is the app "Next Door," which used to be about lost puppies and fun parties; now that site is dominated by posts in which my neighbors express fear toward others. Sure, we can email each other but that's such a far cry from encounters with some life or physicality. Another example was a talk I had today with a Meta exec who said she doesn't control content; that's something we assign to our bots. I find that incredibly sad. Anyway, I can't wait to see Anne's next book.

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I just have to comment that I also qualify as a prairie librarian!

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Infrastructure is an under-appreciated factor here. danah boyd’s research with teens emphasized how loneliness starts to get built in when friendships are conducted online (when not in school) not out of choice but because kids can’t walk or bike to meet with friends and are dependent on their parents for rides. How much friendship-building and -maintaining skill gets lost in those years simply due to a physically isolating world?

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I feel like this is often left out of the “retirement communities are great” conversation - they work well for people because they’re walkable, they often have “public” transport, and because of the age demo, they’re accessible!

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Yes, yes, and yes! (See also: university campuses, minus true universal accessibility.)

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And in work life, long days in the office and long commutes leave little time for friends outside of work. The car-based work in the city, live in the burbs, culture is isolating for adults too. So yes, walkable neighborhoods, working nearer to home, these things matter.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Yes. Not that many people have actually read “Bowling Alone” (it’s pretty dense on the statistics), but one fact from it that’s always stuck with me is that for every 10 minutes of added commuting time, civic engagement decreases by something like 10%. I’m sure that applies to friendships, too.

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I wonder if that 10% is a feature, not a bug. The erosion of civic engagement is a huge factor in the isolation, alienation, and polarization we're seeing. The attack on public infrastructure - schools, universities, libraries, transportation, even public restrooms - from a certain political quarter feels coordinated and deliberate. In many places there is nowhere left to gather or even be where you don't have to pay to be there.

I have two pieces coming up, one on online communities, and one on "back to the office" where I dig into some of this. The latter in particular is suffering from significant scope creep!

I should read "Bowling Alone." My Substack-inspired TBR list just keeps growing!

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100% agree about it being a feature and not a bug! The ability to just exist in public spaces has eroded so much, a niche part of this I’ve noticed after recently moving to a new city is public washrooms, seating, shade, etc. Even in parks it’s like they’re designed so you don’t stay there for TOO long. It’s really tragic! I also want to read Bowling Alone now!

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Watch your TBR pile if you follow Antonia!

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🤓

(I used some of Putnam’s research in “A Walking Life” I think, though it’s been a while since I read my own book!)

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That’s definitely crossed my mind! The more isolated and alone people feel, the more it shapes our worldview, sense of place and belonging, and perceptions of others in ways that lend themselves to isolationist politics and social fabric.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

That rings true. But the specifics probably vary: I live across from Seattle and am one of the (now mostly occasional) ferry commuters. One of the local quirks in this context is that the commuting boats have a strong “welcome to the community living room” vibe, which actually turns into a whole set of community connections over time. I have so many friendships that started as chatting on the boat—and then morphed into something more faceted over time. And even the weak ties are so valuable for community organizing! Plus, I switched to bike commuting a couple years before the pandemic, and that was a whole different sub-community that got me involved with the local bike advocacy group. But it’s such a weird local set of circumstances, and a long enough ride that people are open to being chatty—not scalable, but a positive for community building.

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I’ve heard this from people who commute by train, too (usually in the U.S.’s northeast). You get very particular communities and relationships on those commutes!

It’s the car-specific ones that ramp up the isolation for commuters. And driving can be so tiring one often feels like doing nothing but crashing after getting home, not much energy left for civic engagement or socializing. Though I did live somewhere for a couple years where I commuted by bus for an hour and ten minutes each way. I didn’t mind the time but always got too motion sick to get much else out of it.

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That makes sense!

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This was true for my regular bus commute pre-pandemic. The weak ties of seeing someone for 20-30 min a few times a week. Chat about the weather or neighborhood construction or whatever new restaurant is going in. Half of the people I didn't even know their names but recognized them by face. Made me feel a part of where I lived.

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Same on train commutes in Belgium, where I live! It's not like new friendships emerge on the the (35 minutes) Brussels-Antwerp commute, but it definitely helps me stay in touch with both close friends and old friends. The joy of meeting a bestie on the platform when you didn't expect to: priceless!

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How cool! I’m in Seattle also and don’t ferry commute but this tempts me to just on a boat sim morning and hang out in the “living room”!

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Yes, ferries and cycling are great (I'm on Whidbey). We're fortunate to have that infrastructure. So many places alas do not.

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It’s so true! But I do wish a sociologist or anthropologist would study the community impacts of different kinds of commutes. That’s a book I would read in a heartbeat!

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Yes, and the impact of number of commute legs (say, a commute with two changes vs one with none because the departure and arrival points are on the same subway line) vs mental energy depletion!

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Did you happen to see this piece? https://jalopnik.com/study-finds-cyclists-are-better-people-than-drivers-1850964103

I work in transportation policy (and I'm guessing we may know some of the same people since I'm also in Washington and worked in bike advocacy). I'm sure I've read some pieces like what you're describing; I'll have to go looking in my bookmarks. They could be more from the urban planning perspective, though. The whole 15-minute city movement is rooted in that kind of New Urbanism thinking about making things accessible without a long drive.

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Ellen, this!! I commuted by ferry for three years in the early 2000s and still have a good friend from my "ferry family", despite moving away from the area in 2008. It's such a unique "community" but it absolutely is one.

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Now that I think about it, our friend group in middle school was maintained entirely by like two parents with minivans.

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Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023

Please consider thanking them if you’re still in touch. There id so much unacknowledged labor in parenting, and the driving and the cooking are the worst (IMHO)

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I was one of those parents with the 7 seater van. I did the after school sport drop off's then as they got older became the van that picked up the teens at 1am to deliver them home safely. My daughter's friends all still talk about the van.

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I'm incredibly grateful that I was a teen in an area where a high school ID got you free bus rides. the freedom of mobility is what made my high school years the best friendship era of my life, even though we were still texting and talking on Skype whenever we weren't together

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I hope to see that effect at work in Washington state, where the legislature included free transit for under-18 in the big transportation package they passed in 2022. The local transit agencies have to opt in, but when they do they get a grant to backfill the revenue. And farebox recovery isn't really what pays for transit service anyway.

Hmm, I wonder if some psychology or sociology grad student is seeking a dissertation topic and how they could start measuring now and do something longitudinal.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Friendship dip over here due to several layered factors over the last 7 years… at 30 I quit drinking, and the social calendar I was used to practically disappeared. Then we moved out of state, then six months later the pandemic hit. I joined Bumble BFF a couple years ago, and while it’s been a mixed bag, it has helped me think about what exactly I am looking for. Also, the place we moved to has a lot more community small talk style socializing, so I find myself feeling less generally lonely if I get out there and participate in it (mostly at grocery stores, restaurants, and retail stores). However, my most rewarding tactic is to sign up for classes and workshops and lessons. In the last few years, it’s been ceramics, rollerskating, crochet, wreath making, knitting, and weaving. I can keep it to the learning environment, or I can make the push to say “wanna get together over coffee and practice?” And finally, my current community-building practice is my new business: a makerspace and social club for creatives, born out of the realization that I wanna make cool shit with cool people. So that’s my business plan 😂

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also: when I dip, you dip, we dip 🎶😂

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it took everything i had not to include those lyrics in my comment so thank you for doing so, hahaha

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I've never been much of a drinker/nightlife person either, so while that was never the most effective route for me making friends in college, it's been especially true since graduating. I love the idea of a social makerspace, though, and just generally meeting people with shared hobbies, rather than logistical convenience of the same dorm, same employer, etc. That said, when I've taken classes, I've often ended up the youngest by at least a decade, if not multiple. I would love to have a diverse age range of friends! But when I've tried to cultivate that, it hasn't really panned out, and I am also slightly more interested in friends my age for that shared life stage commiseration/celebration. I've never really been great at this - had a small but close social network most of grade school, plus boyfriends; then a wider acquaintance network but still small close friend group in college, including my current partner. I now feel kind of like what you described, except I'm 25, living in small talk suburbia near my college town, with old connections around that are often straying, and I know there are other folks in my age demographic but it just feels insurmountable to find them (and in contexts that don't require inebriation). I do think I need to try Bumble BFF, but also, I want a social mixer at a local cafe, or something like that. Or maybe, like Antonia et al said elsewhere, we need better community infrastructure... just a thought lol

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There should be a group for folks who are missing community and decide they want to create a business to help- I’m also planning a creative business/art space where people can socialize around art activities!! Great minds think alike 😊

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I'm an outlier - I have no biological family in this country, having emigrated on my own when I was 22 (I'm now 51). As a result, my friends are (quite literally) everything to me. My mother has commented more than once with wonder at how many friendships I maintain, but it was never about being a dilettante, and always about creating roots out of thin air. Many of my friends function as other people's families do, and I think because I am conscious that there is no intrinsically familial habit connecting us that I'm intentional about devoting attention to those relationships. It's not a chore - it's a delight! - but I never, ever take it for granted.

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Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I think I'm coming out of a long Friendship Dip; I'm in my late 40s and I live in NYC. SO MANY of my friends moved away when they got married and had kids, it makes me teary when I think about it. Another friend, so close we called each other Sister, has drifted since I got married, even though she and I both still live in the area. I also went from working part-time and working as a professional actor whenever I could, to having a full-time job and still looking for acting work that has become ever-harder to get. I just don't have the freedom to go out whenever like I used to; and I don't get invited to many parties. I love my husband, but he is very introverted and if I want to do things, a lot of times I do them without him.

Finally, I decided to stop beating myself up and just start asking other people to do stuff, to see if we clicked, and it seems to be working!

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Yes to asking people to do stuff! I do that a lot, and I've gotten several of my current close friendships from it. I always feel a bit cringe-y at first -- will they think I'm being weird and desperate? will they like me enough to do stuff with me in the future? -- but it's a gamble that sometimes pays off, and when it doesn't, I've learned to not take it personally. It can be so similar to the early days of dating someone!

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I also have a super super introverted husband and have also taken to just asking other people to do stuff. Usually they say yes and it's fun. But, oof, the anxiety of it all.

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Right?? It's like being a kid on the playground and going up to someone and saying, "Will you be my friend?" when you really don't even know if you want that yet.

Introverted husband here too. Thank God for having some girlfriends, including one who has lived here quite a few years and who very kindly invites me to social things that allow me to meet her friends and start my own friendships with them.

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I moved to a new city about two years ago, and I have had the great fortune to meet many new friends. In my old city, I realized that I suddenly didn’t have many, and the ones I did have just were not very fulfilling for the most part, or with people so introverted in their coupledom that I rarely saw them. When I moved to the new city, I went to events. I read in bars. I posted on Twitter and showed up. I’ve had the great luck to meet people who also prioritize friendships even with kids and work and whatnot. The friends with kids bring their kids to everything: not just the events for kids, but protests and my birthday party and whatever. Americans’ individualism also means that we think our friendships should be about two people and how we CONNECT or whatever. For me, they must also be about the city or broader world around us. I just think many Americans are either not that interested or lack confidence/skill in being interested in their community, broadly speaking, and that means friendships are either incredibly deep/close (a kind of equivalent to a romantic relationship; deep, but “separate” from the rest of the world - my ride or die, etc) or kinda based on shallow/happenstance circumstances. I will always go back to this, but the built environment in America is a huge, huge part of this issue, and until we change our land use (as well as our approach to work, but they are connected- you must work a lot because houses are expensive and cars are expensive too) we are going to struggle with this.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I just moved to a new city and am hoping to make the most of it re: friendships and community so THANK YOU for this. And totally totally totally agree re: how we design cities and general individualism and work being a root cause here. BLAGH!

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Good luck! I found that none of the generic advice worked for me, because my approach to friendship is not generic American. Joining group sports and trivia or whatever was not a path to real friendship. I mostly have gotten that by being involved in organizing and community work. Inherently it’s people with whom I share values, which I think are different than interests. You got this. Put yourself out there again and again, I bet other people want to be your friend and don’t know it yet!

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This is such great advice! I met several close friends in my old city via community work and organizing, so I just need to determine how I want to contribute here and I think things will fall into place. I’ve been discouraged because the few people I’ve met so far have been totally fine and cool but my partner and I leave the hangout just feeling neutral about it. They’re nice people but no values alignment. We’re like “how do we find the people who want to rant about the state of democracy and public transit and how zoning can help us build community?!?” 😂 My partner joked he was going to put up a “friends wanted” poster highlighting the stuff we’re passionate about and put them up near some of our favourite spots. “Do you like fermentation, active and public transportation, and workers rights? Going to punk shows and hiking in the mountains? Call THIS NUMBER!” 😂

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If you were in Milwaukee I’d say we should be friends haha! Real advice tbh is to consider seeing if there are any urbanist or safe streets groups near you and go on a bike ride or something, I’ve found my people in safe streets work because they are interested in urbanism but also the issue is urgent so people are meeting pretty often. My other advice tbh is to be open and vulnerable and sometimes overshare. Maybe that’s terrible advice but I felt like doing that made other people so much more comfortable with opening up too (this can be harder if you have a partner but friends should be people you open up to…it’s just a chicken and egg thing). I hope you find people!!

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100%. The physical separation factors and isolation built into the infrastructure is very real.

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I think one of the most painful (and perhaps naively) unexpected parts of entering my 30s has been losing friends to children. I don’t blame them in the slightest, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

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As one who became a parent in my 30s, I can tell you honestly one of the hardest parts for me what also losing my time and not being able to socialize as much. ❤️‍🩹 I felt so lonely, too.

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Same. It has been such a trip to join Culture Study because I have been exposed to a whole new group of people who have this experience of losing friends to children, when my experience has been the opposite in a way … I had children and (some of) my friends just could not understand. It’s been good to be exposed to a different viewpoint.

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That happened to me and to compound things, I had a surgical menopause, so the children were constant reminders of ones I would not have. I’d say look for people who need friends, and they do not need to be in your age group. Retirement homes are full of people who would like a visit. Students are homesick. Talk to people in your coffee place who look like they would welcome a conversation. Chat with neighbors. You might strike out at first, but something might stick.

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Same 🩷

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I watched my mother and my godmother isolate themselves to the point where not only did they lack close friends, but they became suspicious of everyone around them. Because I didn't want that for myself, I joined a local progressive church in my 40s. This particular church was appealing because of the work it does in the community. Now at 60, I'm feeling so lucky to have a wide range of friendships. Not all of them close, but there are definitely walking friends, volunteering friends, and friends to drink wine with. I'm not a natural extrovert, so it's been good for me in many ways.

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I am seeing the isolation in my mom (75 yrs) now. She has two friends, and if they aren't around, she barely leaves the house. I wish she would join a church or something to help her add more ties. She's lived in her community now for 55 years so she knows many people, but doesn't have what you have built. Kudos to looking ahead and making the change you needed!

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What a great question! I'm 72. I'm also just putting a name to what I now realize I've always been, which is neurodivergent. I grew up in England, attending all boys schools for the next generation of imperial overlords. Think Lord of the Flies. I learned the hard way not to trust male friendships. The experience left me generally preferring the company of women.

Nevertheless, I've had close male friends, never more than one or two at a time with a lot of loss caused by relocations, and long gaps in between.

My first childhood friends emigrated to Canada. I learned to let go. I let go of my high school friends when I went to college; my college friends when I started work; again when I moved to Holland; again when I moved to New Jersey. There, the 24 hour carreer culture and long commute left me no time to make friends outside of work. Looking for friendship in all the wrong places, I torpedoed my first marriage.

After leaving corporate life, I was able to meet people outside of work. I remarried and we had a solid friend group, but they never quite felt like close friends. With retirement, most moved, including us to our island in the PNW.

Here, on this island of misfit toys, we have thriving communities that I enjoy and enjoy writing about. And I and a couple of other neurodivergents have found each other. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship. It's about time.

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Just want to add that far from leading to isolation, work from home has allowed my Gen X and Millenial daughters to make friends and build community outside of work, and it's wonderful.

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I super agree with this last point! I'm Zillennial, and I feel like commuting to my office kills my social life, both in my energy to participate, and in the time available in my schedule. The most I had to commute in the last year or so was three days a week, which I know would be a luxury to some people, but that was also the least social time for me, and I felt pretty isolated in it. And I like having time alone, but a commute is not restful in that way, either.

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I'm jealous, I've had the opposite effect (fellow Zillenial). I socialized a lot with my coworkers when I worked in person, and I really miss that. I think talking to them as well as leaving the house every day kept me in the rhythm of going out and socializing. since I started WFH, every social event feels like a huge chore and I dread them as they get closer, even though I enjoy them once I get there. And I feel like my skill in having casual, light conversations has withered somewhat, although it may just be a confidence issue

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I definitely don’t disagree with you here, I think my social skills and confidence both were stronger pre-pandemic. I lived alone right when covid arrived, and had for multiple years, but I was super involved in clubs at college, and I do miss that social structure. Since then I’ve lived with roommates a little, but mostly with my partner, and I think that’s buffered a little bit of a social deprivation I’ve felt from lack of activities. I haven’t really had peer coworkers I’ve connected with since graduating/pandemic arrival, and I’m fundamentally in a different stage of life needs and wants than other folks at my jobs. I want intergenerational friendships, but they are a lot more effort both to start and to sustain compared to peer connections, so I find myself pretty exhausted after a day in the office, and without much time leftover to gather with friends. Working from home both alleviates some of that office social anxiety and corresponding drain, and it leaves me with more time for evening plans. I do feel you, though, in that I want to increase my capacity for both the surface-level office relations and for showing up physically and emotionally in social spaces.

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I read the whole essay and then did a control+f to see if I missed any mentions of the pandemic or COVID - got zero results. It’s amazing how your worldview and 2020s-era experience is so different from mine. The pandemic has completely changed and derailed my life, including my friendships.

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I think I was trying to approach this data from an eras framework - what happens in various periods of our adult lives, instead of pinning it to the calendar and how pandemic truly disrupted so much of this. I do think you’re right, though - it sent us all into a mandated dip, and some of had considerations and necessary precautions that have made it more difficult to regain friendship ground.

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I think that the "eras" framework deeply affected how we experienced the pandemic. For me, the pandemic solidified some friendships while pushing others away. In the Before, (aka, in my 20s), I had regular dinner parties and went out and had various groups of local friends I enjoyed spending a ton of time with. But then during lock down, it was the grouptext of childhood friends that was active and supportive for each other. Now in my mid-30s, I feel like I'm scratching my head wondering where all my local friends went? Who did I even invite to all those parties? Peoples lives changed, they moved away or got new jobs. It's my childhood friends who have remained at my core. As I try to rebuild my in-person relationships (beyond the twice a year get togethers), the pandemic feels not that long ago (and indeed, still happening in many ways), as I have a sense of a "before" and am still experiencing its consequences.

My assistant, who was in her sophomore year of college when the pandemic hit, has a totally different sense of time passing than I do. Her life has changed radically since lockdown, in the way that there's just a massive difference between one's sophomore year of college and your first job. Her "before" was high school, which is ancient history & incomparable to her now. Of course her life no longer looks like college, no longer looks like high school. Our different eras really affect how we experienced these changes.

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I hear this but I can't even think about it this way. Like eras because the pandemic really did change everything

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I feel like this has been especially true for me, as I graduated college (a very social, dense, state school) in spring 2020 into a void, professionally yes, but also socially. I've been lucky to be with a steady partner, but we've struggled, and I know some of that struggle is this vicious cycle where we don't have many friends, or have all shared friends (or in deep pandemic, didn't go to see people in person) so we get saturated with each other, then need some space, but really just need social time with other people too. For affordability reasons, we moved to a suburb of our college town, and our neighbors are nice, but we're easily a decade younger than the folks in our area; see suburban infrastructure comments for the other obstacles. Maybe this is how it would have always been post-graduating, regardless of the panini, but I think for me, the timeline is shifted so that the late 20s dip you talked about has been happening in my early 20s.

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100000%. A couple of days ago I did a tally and since the pandemic started I’ve averaged a world-shifting life event every 2 months. For almost the last 4 years. I feel like I barely know who I am anymore

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Oh my God, that's almost 24 huge life events! You must be disoriented as all get out. May you regain your footing.

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Same - I feel like whatever ‘era’ you are in, your world got rocked by those transitions 20 times over. I had kids in my 30s, which would’ve already been a big change for my friendships, particularly since my closest friend does not have kids. But having those kids in a pandemic? When I didn’t know what would happen to my baby if they got sick? Oof. Raising kids when everyone was vaccinated and we were still waiting for an under-5 shot and trying to explain to my best friend why I was not considering going on the annual friends trip because my kid could still get sick? Rough. Having that friend ask why I was worried if my child had already had covid (and how to even explain the misery of having covid and caring for a child with it with zero family around?) it really was devastating. Our friendship hasn’t recovered.

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Also as I reread this, I’m a little embarrassed that probably half of my CS comments are about my covid friendship loss to parenthood. I probably need to process more and/or let go

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You’re not alone! I experienced round one of friendship loss after having a baby with a rare, incurable medical condition - we lived the lockdown lifestyle for years well before COVID. I felt like I was finally re-emerging into “normal life” when my child made it to elementary school, only for the pandemic to put us in lockdown until pediatric vaccines became available. I totally understand how devastating it is to watch the people around you deliberately choose not to put themselves in your shoes and understand why the pandemic is not over for you or your child. I had one of those conversations today with my own mother, who would rather think I’m crazy than learn what it’s been like to be a parent the past 3+ years. Everything is broken, and I barely have the energy to repair myself, let alone all my relationships.

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I really think that there are experiences that people truly cannot relate to unless they have actually been in your shoes. I had an experience like that that made me question what type of friend I had been to friends who had cared for and lost parents to cancer. The only ones that really showed up for me and knew what I needed were the ones who had been there. I now get praised all the time for being that friend who just knows what to do or say in these circumstances. I was a very empathetic friend before this but alas, I am not part of a group that knows the shoes.

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Yup, for me the combination of a) moving to a new place in summer 2021 and especially b) still needing to be at least a little bit cautious about COVID are such enormous things in my current experience of in person friendships.

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Same.

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Yep!

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Ah, I am actually super happy with how my friendships are now, mid 40s. I know myself better and that includes who I want around me. I think the quality of my friendships has improved or maybe got more layered and richer because I'm more honest and open. And partly because I've come through the weird spot with younger kids where you have less choice in who you spend your time with.

As you pointed out, crises in your life of that of your friends do crystallise who your people are. But they can also help to shine a light on the people who are thinking of you that you didn't realise cared. We're having a family emergency right now and feeling a wide tangle of love for us is truly uplifting - and of course, if the roles were reversed I'd do the same.

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

That weird area where your friends are the parents of your kid's friends! Oh what a time that was. Met some incredible people, but also so many uncomfortable afternoons.

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I find it so frustrating when people I want to be friends with have kids my kids' ages and then my kids decide they don't like the would-be-friends kids... so then we can't really hang out. GRRR

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That's so different than the Silent Gen/early Boomers. Parents' friends kids were kind of in the same category as cousins and neighbor kids and within reason it didn't matter if we were friends. My mom had some friends whose kids were age-adjacent to my brother and I. Some we liked, and some we didn't have a lot in common with.

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Yes! I've done several podcast episodes on this-- when the kids stop being friends and that gets in the way of the adult friendships. I interviewed. Dr. Lisa Damour for an episode and she maintains a rule of not being friends with her kids' friends' parents for this exact reason (and others). I have four kids-- mostly teens now, and I definitely think the sooner parents can accept kids' friendships having nothing to do with adult ones--the better.

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I have a group of close friends who all met when our daughters were in elementary school together. One of the most precious things about this group is that we have managed to maintain our friendships as our daughters drifted apart, or in some cases, had explosive "break ups". For me, there has been an important lesson here in NOT over-identifying with our kids - in being able to separate our kids' friendships from our own, acknowledge that there is pain and loss in seeing our daughters' drift apart, and affirm the value of our own adult friendships. My life today (late 50s) would be a lot poorer if I had followed Lisa Damour's advice!!!

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I wouldn't have been able to take her advice either. Those are the people I met when the kids were little! But to her point, many adults can't get beyond the kids' hurt feelings. LIke they really cannot separate themselves (and probably not just when it comes to social life stuff). It's so great your group did. Your friendship life is so much richer for it. I'm so happy you shared your example. Love hearing it.

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Immediately subscribed to your pod - looking forward to listening

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Oh man! Those days are long past for me, and yes indeed there were some awkward afternoon—but I treasure many of those friends to this day! (Last year two friends I made when our little kids were in daycare together and I went hiking in Europe. Kids haven’t been close for years but we’re still having a blast!) My kids call it the Mom Syndicate: we have eyes everywhere…

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100%. I’m 48. I have a select number of rich friendships and invest in people who I think could become good friends (friend chemistry?) Before my 40s my best friend was always my partner and I had limited other friendships, none very deep. But this decade I’ve really valued my friendships and invested in them. (I still think of my partner as my best friend but also have two female best friends who fill different needs.)

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I’m 28, and the best thing I did for my loneliness was stay tenacious. I was planning to move out of an apartment with a work friend who was traveling most months of the year and move in with two high school friends, but I kept thinking, couldn’t we all stay together?

after much searching and a stroke of luck, I found an affordable house to rent in Los Angeles and had these two groups of people (who had never met!) move in together: we’ve now coined it the “real family” house. Visitors and parties are frequent, there’s always someone to go to yoga or grocery shop with, and we’ve picked winter activities to do as a house when the seasonal depression is high. A roommate’s girlfriend is staying for a while and brought her cat and dog. We put up Christmas lights and have a shared calendar and they sent my mom flowers after surgery and and and…

I’m also amazed at how, once you’ve got a couple friends around, it’s so easy to acquire more. With this foundation, community seems to be coalescing naturally - sooooo effortless compared to how I’d reach out and set plans when i lived alone.

I feel more mature and able to be a better friend at this age, more aware of my actions and better at communicating my intentions. I’m sure that has helped. Whatever it is, I am grateful.

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This is awesome! Celebrating you and your brilliant organizing of your communities to create more abundance for everyone!!

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I love this idea of a shared house, but it's probably not realistic for me right now (partner plus dog means we mostly need our own domicile). I wish it was easier to get friends to live in the same neighborhood, though, for a similar experience with just a little more space. Tt's so rare that multiple units are up for rent near each other in the area where I live, let alone having them be affordable. And of course, people's jobs make a difference too (I live in a car-centric area so a lot of my connections live closer to their work to mitigate commuting). Maybe this is what I get for living in suburbia, rather than in a city center itself, but there's also affordability, access to green spaces, etc... I wonder how many of these barriers are real, and how many I/we make up because change is uncomfortable, even if, like you've experienced, it can be worth it in the long run.

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just wanted to chime in and say I also have a partner and a pet and we were able to make a shared home with others work (which we did because I am an extrovert and my partner works a lot and the thought of losing the community I got from living with roommates was killing me).... and it's been the best thing! I live in a big city so it might be slightly more acceptable but people are still surprised when I share that we don't live alone. but it's been totally worth it (and I think some of them are jealous). To your point... there are things that feel like barriers but are actually worth challenging!

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I love this for you! I’m wondering what your biggest hurdles were here, and how you overcame them to make your current situation. My partner and I are both relatively introverted, and I’ve not had great success with roommates besides my partner (and the few months when we lived together with a mutual friend in a last-minute covid adjustment). More broadly, how have you built roommate community in the first place??? I grew up an only child, and I’ve always admired people who happily live in houses with many other folks, as while I enjoyed some parts of dorm living in college, I couldn’t wait to get more of my own space. How do you balance relinquishing autonomy and privacy with what I imagine are, in the best of times, beautiful connections and serendipitous experiences?

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I have always thought of friendships in concentric circles. The inner ring is the people you see and/or text/email regularly if you don’t live nearby. The people with whom you immediately share news. The second ring is co-workers or former co-workers, people from your life, people you keep in moderate touch with. You may or may not socialize with them, but you are pretty up to speed on what they are doing. The third ring is the big group of people you know to say hello to (my mother’s expression) and whom you might chat with if you ran into them. My inner ring is never greater than about five or six people. My second ring is bigger and the third ring is fairly large. As far as making friends goes, I think you have to decide, “I want to be friends with _____” and cultivate the friendship. Show up for their events, buy their book, contribute to their fundraisers, congratulate them on their achievements, and when it feels comfortable, invite them to lunch or coffee. Conversely, express sympathy for their losses or find out what concerns them about the world.

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I’m 27, and I feel like I’m emerging from a Friendship Dip. Several reasons- I’m single, my college friends spread out after college all over the country, I didn’t land in one of those lovely group houses post college, and by the time COVID happened, any semblance of the social life I’d built out over my 2 years post college kind of exploded.

It took me a long time to reckon with this, especially when lockdown ended and I was looking for somewhere to move - there wasn’t anywhere that felt like home. A few things have helped: 1) Maintaining Long distance friendships (I visit friends regularly, I have a monthly video call with some friends) and 2) I moved to the city with the greatest amount of friends and have been doing ALL THE THINGS- hosting parties! Reconnecting with acquaintances! Taking classes!

I don’t feel like it’s perfect, and it’s still hard, but after a lot of work, I have a solid network. I am very jealous of my sister in grad school’s social life tho 😝

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Nov 5, 2023Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

The Internet has created two types of friendship for me, both frustrating in their own way: friends in my community I hang out with because proximity and we fit ‘enough’ versus friends online who I fit brilliantly with, but rarely get to hang out with in person. And of course I want that venn diagram to be smooshed into one, single circle. As a single person who is bad at planning and introverted, I would also like either a partner/bestie who is extroverted so social stuff happens, or to live in a cohousing with lots of friends and shared kitchen/garden so I can be my single, introverted self but also have community right there when I poke my nose out of my study door. I think a lot of people share that dream.

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Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 6, 2023

Last month I shared a meme with my trans/non-binary older sibling saying “nobody talks about Jesus’ real miracle: having twelve friends at age thirty” which I thought was funny and relatable, and they laughed and then said it might be mostly relatable for straight people. Typical friendship dip timelines perhaps very different in queer communities. And it made me think, How can I (a cis, hetero woman with two small kids) learn from my sibling’s cultivation of chosen family? I’m relatively new to culture studies and maybe there is a past essay or interview about this topic. If so, I’d love to read it or hear of resources / reading by queer and trans authors on gender-expansive community building and friendships.

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This is an interesting point. I'm queer, and while I struggle with the fact that a number of my closest friendships are long-distance, meaning I don't always have the level of access I'd like to regular in-person hangouts, I would say I can easily count at least 20 people among my "close friends". For me the "close friends" threshold can include a variety of different types of relationships, and I consider them "close" for different reasons (some are close in the sense that we spend a great deal of time together and are very involved in each other's daily lives, some are close in the sense that we have a deep emotional intimacy but maybe don't see each other often, some are close in the sense that we share a long and important history together and have that particular connection that comes from knowing someone for a lifetime and having seen every stage of them). But at the heart of it, these are all people who if they were going through a really rough time (like a cancer diagnosis, for example), we're close enough that I wouldn't just be donating $50 to the GoFundMe, I'd be actively involved in coordinating care and support on an ongoing basis, and I believe the reverse would be true if I was the one needing help. Community and chosen family is highly valued in queer culture (well, in many pockets of queer culture, anyway), so I guess this makes sense. I will note, however, that I'd say about 60-70% of the people I count among my closest friends aren't actually queer themselves. Then again, most of those 20+ close friends are individual friendships (or small groups of 2-3), so it's not all one big happy circle of 20 people. Also, similar to Oldbiddy who also commented on this thread, I'm in a social circle where kids tend to come later. I'm just shy of 37, and for my friends who are planning on kids, most are just getting started on that phase of life. So that may be part of it too!

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thanks for sharing! I appreciate so much the question you pose of – "in a very rough time, who's showing up for each other" ... feels powerful to contemplate. witnessing and at times being part of my sibling's community doing this in particular for folks' top surgery recoveries, impacted my consideration of what it looks like to be interconnected and communally supportive.

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Timing of kids may have something to do with it. My inner and mid-circle of friends had kids late or not at all, and I did not see a big dip until I moved across country at 41. I then hit the wall because most of my peers out here were in the thick of things with kids. Fortunately my immediate neighborhood has a lot of people who were either extremely social and/or had older kids.

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Oh Lord, I'm queer too and I barely have one close friend.

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I'm queer and I'm jealous of the queer folks who have figured out how to have big communities. I related to the friendship dip piece a lot. Hoping to change things eventually when I'm in a bigger city. Right now I'm in a rural-ish place, am low income, fat, neurodivergent...in a nutshell, I don't fit in well round these parts.

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