A few theories why
I am such an evangelist for prioritizing living near people who nourish your spirit. My husband and I lived in Brooklyn pre-pandemic and were totally in love with it. My brother and his wife, who are my best friends, have lived in Chicago for over a decade. My husband and I moved upstate during the pandemic, into a 9-month rental. Honest to god ONE WEEK before we were supposed to move again into another temporary sublet just for the summer, before returning to Brooklyn permanently in the fall, a tree fell on the new house and destroyed it. Coincidentally, the same week the tree crushed the house we were supposed to move into, my brother's upstairs tenants who had been occupying the second unit in the two-flat my brother owns moved out.
My husband and I decided to follow the signs of the universe and load up our tiny car with as much as would fit in the trunk, give our pandemic rescue dog some anxiety meds and a comfy back seat arrangement, and drive from upstate NY to Chicago for what we thought would only be a month or two while we continued to search for an apartment in Brooklyn. We lived in the truly nearly completely empty upstairs apartment unit for the summer of 2021 and I was overwhelmed with joy. We reconnected with a small but extremely close group of friends here. I was crying with happiness frequently, wondering how I would ever be able to choose to leave and return to Brooklyn.
Fast forward 1.5 years, we are still here. Living upstairs from my best friends has been the most impactful thing on my happiness ever in my life. I've never had such low anxiety, or so much peace and joy. We see each other pretty much everyday, in different ways. Some days I'll just pop in to their apartment on my way outside to walk our dog and let her say hello to my brother and sister-in-law's dog and we sit and chat for a few minutes about how its goin that day. Some days we have dinner together, play games together, go for walks and bike rides together. We dog-sit for each other, we go on trips together, we bring in each other's packages and text "going for a walk in five, anyone want to join?" The whole thing is casual, communal, everyday joy of being near people who make me laugh and feel seen.
I don't think anything else in my life matters as much as being near loved ones now. The pandemic definitely impacted this, and literally rearranged our lives, but really - I'm like, job ambition? Not that important. Exciting city? Not that important. Seeing my best friends easily, casually, consistently? Life-changing.
I don’t ever want to move out, which I once felt self-conscious saying. But now I don’t. I’m so happy living like this. It makes sense I don’t want to give it up. It’s hard to push back on the pressures of capitalism and definitions of success based on the nuclear family. But fuck that. I’m going to die someday, and I want to look back on my life and feel that I spent as much time as possible with the people I love, prioritizing joy and my personal values as much as possible. All of the constructed pressures around home ownership, wealth accumulation, job status — none of it inspires genuine peace or gratitude like being in community with the people who fill your heart. At least not for me. And so now I preach the good word — a meaningful social life over everything, if you can make it happen. (I know not everyone can.)
This piece made me cry, so I think you put your finger directly on a nerve. Especially as a single, childless adult, highly (over?)educated and working in one of the hyperspecialized professions you mentioned, I am only now (age 42) realizing how I have never been able to put down a deep root network, and what that has meant for my life.
It doesn't always work out as planned. A few years ago I moved back to my hometown after 10 years away and I was so excited about being back near my people. But I'm a child-free single woman and they all have families. No matter how much I have tried to make plans so we can catch up, even if it's just running errands together or helping them chop vegetables while they make dinner, no matter how often I have reassured them that I don't care if there are screaming children or a messy house (which they all know because this is how things would go when I'd be back in town for a visit), it has proven very difficult to get any of them to follow through. I just saw one friend for tea the other week for the first time in a year and a half! There are a couple I haven't seen in longer than that.
It's been disheartening because I know they care about me. But friendship isn't at all their priority, at least not with me. Perhaps they got used to pushing responsibilities to the side whenever I'd come back into town but now there isn't an urgency since I live here again and so it's easy to let it slide. Complicating this is that I've been estranged from my parents for four years so my friends are everything and I was so hopeful to have that foundation again in my hometown. About a year ago I decided I needed to focus more on making new friends instead of continually asking the old ones, just for my own well-being. Perhaps they'll reemerge once their kids go off to college. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the friend I didn't know before I moved back who has become one of my closest people in the last couple of years. She has four kids and we get together at least every week or two. She's a reminder that people can make time for what they choose. I'm so glad she keeps choosing me and that helps me feel like I'll find more of my people here in time.
I moved to the Boston area for college and in choosing to stay there post-college, my friends were my support system. As more and more of my friends got married and moved to the suburbs, I as the single one, found myself with less and less of a support system that I felt I could just drop in on when having a bad or great day. Only a few of them had significant others that recognized the importance of our friendship and so I often felt I was intruding when dropping by unannounced or spending too many consecutive hours with them.
In 2019 I chose to move to DC as that is where my sister was and my soon to be niece. I wanted to be her one physically close family member because I knew how important that was, but I also needed a place I could go after a bad day, that didn't require a phone call first or feel like I was intruding on a young marriage, which is how I often felt with my college friends. As a teacher in an independent school finding a new job wasn't too hard and I was lucky enough to be able to afford my own apartment without having to find a random roommate, but then the pandemic happened. My sister asked me to spend my days remote teaching from her house, so that we could together juggle childcare with remote work. It was a hard time, but one I am grateful for. I have a bond with my niece like none other and my sister finally experienced how tough my job can be listening in first hand. Our relationship is so much stronger now as it had been a while since we had lived in the same city and gone through life together. I still had my apartment and went home most weekends to enjoy the silence and lack of schedule, but as the pandemic went on, I stayed at her place more and more.
I had made a few friends at work pre-pandemic but didn't really have a social life in DC. When I was forced to go back to teaching in-person, my sister was pregnant again and did not feel safe with me in her house with none of us being vaccinated and still a lot of unknowns about Covid. I understood and respected this, but I didn't realize how much I had come to love living with her and her family and how the silence of my apartment was no longer the joy it had been a year before, when I began living sans roommates for the first time. One friend from work who I had only hung out with a couple of times outside of work before the pandemic, for some reason chose to keep growing our friendship in the new normal. I don't know why, as I was in a rough place, and not at all choosing to put myself out their to building relationships but somehow she recognized my struggle in our daily zoom meetings, or saw beyond my current state to the person and friend I one day hoped to get back to being. She invited me over to sit on her back deck around the fire pit at a six-feet distance. Every Friday after teaching I drove over there, especially when we suddenly went back to remote teaching, to sit and talk with her in all sorts of weather. Occasionally her family joined us or another friend, but it was often just the two of us.
Now I am still teaching at the school, but she has left. When she told me she was leaving I was very afraid of how our friendship would remain in place. I didn't really know her family or other friends as our relationship had blossomed in the middle of a global pandemic. As the school year started without her, I knew I still wanted her in my life, as she had become so much more than a coworker. We started a weekly Tuesday tradition, of me coming to her house and having dinner with her family. In that time I got closer with her kids, and occasionally her husband though he was often away on business trips. She was giving me family time that I craved so much, especially since my sister had now moved over an hour outside of the city and with two kids under two, when I visited I was auntie first not best friend sister.
Sometime last winter or early spring, my friend's husband was gone for a month on a business trip and some things happened in which she needed support. I felt so loved and wanted when she asked me for help and I was ready to do whatever was needed, to reciprocate all that she had been doing for me. That spring I spent so much time with her, started to grow close with her kids as auntie, who sometimes became a coparent, and somehow fit myself into her family routine. Instead of just Tuesday dinners, it slowly became every other Saturday too. And then why not just go right after work on Friday, so we could have movie night before running errands together all of Saturday. I am lucky that her home is large enough for me to have my own room and privacy when I need it and so that I don't feel like I am intruding in her family's space, when I choose to spend the night and another day over there.
This school year has been real tough for me and she and her family have been everything. She knows what about my job is hard, she knows all the people, so I don't have to explain. I am now spending almost every weekend and a few weeknights at her house. Sometimes its planned, sometimes I just have a day where I can't go home to an empty apartment and feel safer in the noise and chaos of her family. Our other friends often joke I should just move in with her as I am there so often.
As of last week, it really isn't a joke any more. I am looking for a new job and know I will be taking a pay cut and so need to find a cheaper apartment, but as I started searching I realized the thing I want most is to not live alone anymore and to live with people that love me and respect me. So I asked her, when my lease is up this summer, can my new apartment just be her guest room. I am already sleeping there three or four nights a week, so why not just make it permanent. She said yes, and it was a huge relief. We still have to talk details as I don't want this to change our friendship and need to find my place in how I can contribute to the family, but knowing that she wants this too means the world. I know this will not be forever, but at this current moment in my life, I need to live with people who love me and it is my dear friend who is the one I have chosen. I know my sister would have also said yes, because as sisters that is what we do for each other but while I love her and her family, they are at a different stage in their family life and in making my choice, my friend's home felt like the one I belonged in. I know if I weren't single or hadn't been so accepted by her husband and kids, or if her home didn't have a guest room, this may not be possible, but it is. It seems crazy that someone I have known for less than four years would mean this much to me and me to her, but I am so lucky to have found her and built this relationship.
I am so happy it will soon not take me a half hour to get to her house, and maybe one day being in the same city or neighborhood will be enough, but I am not ashamed to admit that knowing I can be under the same roof as my friend in a few months, has brought me such joy and the strength to get through some of the other big decisions I need to make in the coming months. This article just makes it clear my personal needs are shared by others. Friends as family, its the best!
Okay I have a lot to talk about here - because I am actually doing this, this year!
First, some backstory, and the acknowledgement that I’m in the UK where distances are smaller. Although both of my parents are British, neither of them are *from* the town they live in now, where I was brought up - they both moved to London as adults, and then to the commuter belt when I was a baby (think, a town that is the British equivalent of Westchester/ has enough money to change the world but votes Conservative and doesn’t want to - yes, that IS why I left that town). So I grew up thinking that you went and got whatever education you were going to, and then chose where to live - and kind of assumed I’d end up back in London.
BUT I got a job in Edinburgh, Scotland, out of university - and love it here. There’s a huge literary scene, lots of arts, and I have built some friendships here over the half-decade-plus I’ve been here. When I moved here, it was the only city (of the offices I could have worked in with my organisation) that met the criteria of: being able to afford to live alone, in a nice place, within a 20-30 minute walk of work. I love living in Edinburgh - I just hate that it’s a full day’s travel to get to where most of my friends and family live, and I’m completely at the mercy of the train schedules, as even if I had a car, it would be too far to drive alone.
Now, though, the parameters have changed: I earn more than I did as a fresh graduate, and most importantly I don’t have to be in the office more than once every week or two - and I’m in head office in London more than I am my local ‘hub’, just because of how work works now.
And all my friends from back home are getting married and having babies and I am barely involved in their lives.
So I’m moving back. I can’t afford the life I want in London, so I’m moving back to the small city I went to university in, where I have a bunch of mates either in that city, its larger neighbour (where there is an office for my company, which will be my ‘hub’), or in London, which is 90 minutes away on the train. I can’t wait.
I actually made the decision towards the end of 2021 but there’s a bunch of things that have had to happen before I can sell my flat (which I bought at the end of 2018, assuming I was going to continue to build my life here indefinitely). I expect it to finally happen this summer. On the financial note, though, I’m making what my parents initially saw as a stupid financial decision to do this - selling my flat and going back to renting. It took a while to convince myself - and them - that it was the right decision for me.
Part of what’s made me more determined to do this is the realisation that I sit somewhere on the ace-spectrum. Or that I find it more difficult than many seem to to get into romantic relationships, if you don’t feel the need to label it. That’s made me feel free-er to prioritise my friendships. My best best friend, who is long term single, and knows that he will be man-of-honour if and when I do eventually find a man to marry, came as my date to my mum’s 60th birthday party earlier this year (he’s incredibly lovely as both he and I are interested in men, there’s no romantic possibilities!) - a choice I don’t know if I’d have felt empowered to make/ an invite I don’t know if I’d have felt entitled to ask for, if I hadn’t come to that realisation last year. (Courtesy of Alice Oseman’s Loveless and Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive). I also joke that I’ve seen all the men on the dating apps in Edinburgh, and I’m not going to swipe right now on someone Bumble has been showing me for six years, haha!
The other part - which is sadder - is the realisation that I won’t have my parents forever. I want to spend more time with them while I can - and the kind of low pressure just hanging out time, rather than planned time for events and occasions.
(I talked about this more - yes, that is possible! - on my own newsletter at the start of Feb)
Car-centric culture plays a role, too. I do live near friends but wouldn’t see them very often if we couldn’t walk or bike to one another’s houses. That only gets worse as population increases in our county and driving becomes such a headache. That’s wrapped in with zoning codes and the legacy of redlining and how highways were deliberately built to tear apart neighborhoods and communities (most of color, to benefit mostly white-populated suburbs).
And let’s talk more about how expensive moving is. So expensive! And I’m really glad you made that point about some states--many states--becoming actively unsafe. Even if the state isn’t, the area your friends live in might be actively hostile. I’d love to have and hear more conversations about this reality.
Last thing: It seems important not to idealize this *too* much. You live near friends and spend a lot of time together and you’ll have rocky times to navigate. You’ll have misunderstandings and fallings-out, or your friends will with one another, and your relationships will change over time. You might even drift apart.
This is super fascinating for me because I’m doing the thing, while renting in NYC. I have a great crew of friends who all live within a ten minute walk from my studio apartment, with the closest friends who have my spare keys being just around the block.
Here’s the trick: we’re a group that became friends as young adults at our synagogue. If you’re the kind of observant Jew who doesn’t drive or take transit on Shabbat and holidays, then you have to live walking distance from your synagogue, and so we all do. Even those of us who do take transit on Shabbat - myself included - live in the neighborhood because if you want to have friends over for Shabbat dinner, they need to be able to walk! And because observing Shabbat is part of our routines, you can find some combination of us hanging out at someone’s apartment almost every week. Friday dinners and long leisurely Saturday lunches are just part of our lives. In the summer we’ll just declare a spot in a park for people to hang on Saturday afternoon, whoever is free. And outside of Shabbat, I always can find someone to run an errand with, go for a walk, help me with a home task, etc.
The group has shifted to bring in new people, and we’re just approaching the point where some folks might move away to the suburbs - the first pregnancy in this big group of friends - but enough of us are committed to staying in the city that I feel very secure. Maybe that will change - we do all rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world - but for now I feel like I am living the dream.
There's this weird way in which the idea of the friendgroup commune has become such a pervasive fantasy among so many folks I know, that it almost feels like the fantasy-ness of it is yet another reason making it less likely to come to pass. Like it's become some kind of semiotic security blanket for dealing with the uncertainty of late-stage capitalism, to know that we all share a vague back-up plan that we've at least *fantasized* about. But since our lives are freighted by all the factors you lay out (and more!), we're not actually close to taking action to make this thing a reality. Frustrated dreaming just seems like such a big part of what our culture is offering us and incentivizing right now.
Thank you so much for this piece.
The challenge I've found, as a single woman in my late 40s, is #1. Almost all of my friends are partnered. No matter how close we are, their partners (or children) are the priority. I understand and respect this, but at the same time, it leaves someone who doesn't have a partner or kids out of luck; we are no one's priority, unless the need is urgent and acute. Regular friendship isn't urgent and acute, and so I am usually the person who initiates plans, and I'm often worried about being a burden to my friends who have more familial obligations and responsibilities than I do. So I spend way more time alone than is healthy for me.
I have struggled not to carry resentment; everyone is doing their best in a difficult human life. I have also tried to make new friends, especially single friends, but as we know, making new friends is hard! You have to find people you like, which is hard, and you also need some shared interest in and time and space for a new friendship, which is luck.
The hegemony of partnership and nuclear family is just the worst. There's a helpful suggestion in this thread about having intentional conversations with your friends about expectations/desires of closeness. I think that's the right direction, at least for older friends, though a conversation is not the same as the actual day to day practice. I'd welcome any wisdom that folks have to offer here.
This article has made me wonder if I need new friends. Our diversity is our strength, but it also would make it impossible to all agree on a place to live. As a Black woman, I feel unsafe and often lonely in the US outside my intensely diverse Blue city in a Blue state. I'm a single parent to a tween and need access to good diverse schools, camps, grocery delivery, and urban amenities that make my life possible. One best friend dreams of raising her daughter near the beach in LA (nope, I went to college there and felt completely isolated). Another good friend and her husband must stay near his ailing parents, but I couldn't move into their neighborhood where they were afraid to fly a rainbow flag to support their son. I could go on and on for each member of my circle. I'll be following the comments closely. I can't imagine the amount of privilege someone would need to make moving near friends feasible in the US.
It's #2 for me. My closest and most treasured friend group is my high school friends -- we actually used to joke about starting a commune someday. Now we're in our late 30s, and even though a handful went to the same college in the state where we grew up, we're scattered now: two couples still in our hometown(ish), one in New England, one in Maryland, one in West Virginia, a few out on the West Coast, and two of us in NYC. We're also almost all married or in committed relationships with people we met outside this group, and several folks have small kids.
We used to take a vacation together every summer (we maxed out at 21 people in a huge beach house in Virginia Beach in 2008), and we looked forward to that all year. But it's hard now that people have kids, and the last time we pulled it off was in 2017. When someone gets married, most of us show up -- but after this May, there might not be any more weddings, because almost all of the couples in the group who are on that path have already had theirs. We have a group chat (a few of us swap Wordle scores daily, which is a simple but sweet touchpoint), and those of us whose parents are still in our hometown usually get together when we visit for Christmas and/or Thanksgiving.
I *DEEPLY* wish we all lived closer. But with jobs, partners' jobs, aging parents and/or parents who care for kids, and even just geographical preferences (our California friends are not interested in coming back East and I don't really blame them!), it doesn't feel plausible. When I think about what life would feel like if I could walk to all of their houses, it makes me ache.
After living in Seattle for 10 years, I recently moved back to Buffalo – where I haven't lived in over 20 years. But after the last few years of pandemic living, I decided I wanted to be closer to family and friends. As one of my good friends back here in Buffalo said as I was thinking about the move last year, "Sometimes you just need to be close to your people." I'm very fortunate in that my job was already remote – so career wise it was easy. And in the six months I've been back, I've already spent more time with family and friends than I did over the last 10 years combined! No regrets!
Related to #1 (we don't prioritize friendship), I'd call out explicitly: We over-prioritize work above all else. If we're not careful, work friends become our only friends, both out of convenience and because we have no bandwidth to deepen other friendships after a long work day and commute, especially if we work in a toxic environment.
If we're lucky, work friends can become real life friends. If we're not, an entire network goes POOF after a job change and/or move.
Long time reader, first time commenter. Just want to say how much I appreciate this piece. I live alone, my friends are scattered all over the country, I have very little community here...and it is so difficult. Moved here for my partner, we divorced years ago, still here and trying to make a go of it but...this piece has given me much to think about. Thank you. Last weekend on a whim I attended a reunion / fundraiser / anniversary for my summer camp. (Yeah, a Jewish summer camp, appreciated that recent piece, too). People who I haven't seen since '94 (excluding social media). There was so much love in that room, which is a separate story...but it shined a light on how little of that I have around me. And my friends are probably the ones most likely to offer that, and they aren't here. It's a bummer and a problem and I realize now how seriously I have to consider making a change.
I’ve always wanted to live with friends, and have been determined to make it happen after living in a multigenerational home with my in-laws. It was a life changing experience for all of us.
I believe one of the biggest barriers is communication (ie boundaries and expectations) and getting over our sense of fierce independence. It’s definitely not easy to learn to live with other adults, but it’s a skill that can be learned.
My dream is buying a farm + school house on a piece of land that can accommodate many of my close friends and their families. It will happen--but there are also lots of legal barriers and zoning rules when it comes to buying homes as a collective. That’s something that needs to change too!
I work in academia, and I've decided that however annoying my job gets, I realistically need to stay in my town *because* I have a support network here - lots of friends; networks of people who can help me in a jam; the wisdom of 'who do I call when X breaks?'; not to mention lengthy relationships with plumbers, health care providers, and community activists. I can't imagine trying to rebuild this at 51 in a whole new place. It can be frustrating, and who knows what it means for my career, but I value the network I'm embedded in so much.