Complaining about the difficulty of making friends as an adult is almost a cliche. Even before the internet became A Thing, US adults regularly reported feeling lonely or disconnected. The average US adult reports they haven’t made a new friend in five years.
We miss having friends, and we don’t really know what to do about it. We’re nice people. Why isn’t this easier?
Kat Vellos gets it. She’s moved a few times. She knows intimately the frustration of landing in a new city and having to start from scratch. So she researched friendship: what it is, why it’s important, and how we can do it better.
This book isn’t going to be a lot of new information if you’ve done any reading on this subject. Vellos isn’t saying anything you don’t know when she points out that it’s time to admit that friendships don’t just happen, any more than romantic relationships do. But she’s warm and encouraging when she points out that, yeah, being a friend means you’re going to have to put yourself out there more than you have been.
The advice is deceptively simple: be available (show up), be vulnerable (friendship requires intimacy), and keep trying. Research suggests it takes 120-160 hours over a couple of months to become “good friends”. At the end of the book, Vellos proposes a kind of rapid start friendship method that involves scheduling twelve “dates” in 90 days right off the bat in an attempt to front load the hours. (She reports having success with this, though I think that may not be for me.)
Vellos advocates for being intentional in new friendships. Is this person someone you want to see more of? Say that out loud. Maybe they’re comfortable with you as a “we talk a couple of times a year” friend rather than a “we talk a couple of times a week” friend. Know what you want from the friendship, and communicate this clearly.
Vellos’s chapter on social media reframed something I’ve been struggling with recently. She argues that our social media friendships are closer to the kind of one-sided parasocial relationships we have with celebrities: we misinterpret the snippets we see online as knowing our connections. We stop checking in to hear all about their latest vacation or their new partner because we’ve seen a status update or a photo. “Paris looks beautiful!” and “he sounds great!” aren’t replacements for a conversation. (This actually reminds me a bit of something Manoush Zomorodi talks about in Bored and Brilliant: if you don’t have the conversation, you don’t get the color commentary that fills out the picture. A call to ask about Paris reminds your friend to tell you about this funny little dog they saw outside Montmartre or a cafe that had the best coffee. This is the soil in which friendships grow.)
I moved across the country a few years ago, and have not yet bothered to make friends, preferring to tend to my old friendships via social media and the occasional text or phone call. Vellos’s argument explains why I’ve felt increasingly dissatisfied, and even better, gives me suggestions for what I can do next. (Vellos actually has a follow-up book with recommendations expressly for cultivating one’s long-distance friendships: Connected from Afar.)