Losing friends in adulthood? Common, actually.

Here’s a post from Eric Barker about emotionally-aware friendships, which largely draws from this book from a professor at Oxford. There are any number of good pull quotes and sequences in the book/blog post, and let me hit you with a few of them:

Our data suggest that, on average, you could expect to have one terminal (i.e. unreconciled) relationship breakdown every 2.3 years.

This would seem accurate. I don’t think friendship is static — like I don’t think if you lose one friend, you automatically gain one, or you just lose it with no gain. Oftentimes you lose 1–2 in a year, or they drift away, but in the same year you gain 7. Or you lose 5 and gain 1. Some years are like that too. In the past couple of months, I’ve lost two semi-notable ones: this kid Greg and this kid Mike, who was actually the best man in my wedding (ha, the first one). So I know a bit about it for sure. Besides management, I probably write the most on male friendships.

Now, I don’t think that pull quote is rocket science either, ya know? There are a lot of factors, including but by no means limited to:

  • Marriage

I think I’ve experienced everything among those bullets in terms of why certain relationships distance and some stay closer. Adulthood is a complex fucking tapestry.

Onto another pull quote:

It will no doubt get me into trouble with the medical profession, but it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that you can eat as much as you like, drink as much alcohol as you want, slob about as much as you fancy, fail to do your exercises and live in as polluted an atmosphere as you can find, and you will barely notice the difference. But having no friends or not being involved in community activities will dramatically affect how long you live.

Some of these quotes are overhyped — “Loneliness is like smoking 15 packs a day!” — but in general, they are true. I’ve been very lonely in my life a few times, and still am periodically, and it’s more common than we admit. The rise of loneliness has been tied to the rise of partisan fringe groups, although try to make that argument on Facebook or Twitter and people will tell you that you’re apologizing for white supremacy. I know, because I have, and that was the response.

Anyway, we should totally discuss loneliness as a topic more than we do, but we don’t, and that’s largely because people are uncomfortable admitting it, lonely people don’t know who to tell that they feel lonely, and our Instagram ethos (with a sprinkle of “personal brand”) has created a context whereby admitting loneliness is weak and ugly, and that’s only making some people’s depression worse. But hey, we have fast phones, right?

Next:

On average, we spend 3.5 hours a day on social interaction. Your closest 5 people get 40% of that. The other 10 people in the group of 15 get the next 20%. And the 135 people in the bigger circle each get less than 20 minutes a month — about 37 seconds a day. Oh, and when you get married you lose two close friends. Yeesh.

Honestly, these numbers seem low, but I assume the book by the Oxford dude had a fact-checker, so I’ll ride with it. What I think skews this is relationship to spouse and relationship to kids, and dynamics between the spouses about child care (ya know, assuming you have a spouse). Some dudes have kids and their whole life is their wife, their kids, their job, and maybe one hobby, in which case I bet 87% of their social interaction is with 2–3 people. (And then throw in COVID.) Then you meet some mid-30s, with kids, and a spouse, and they have active girlfriend groups or men’s basketball groups, or whatever … and so the numbers are more balanced. Put aside COVID and I’d say these numbers are low, but I could see them being about accurate. Wrote something about tiers of relationships here, and about “Dunbar’s Number” — 150 is your max network, basically — here.

Next one up:

A study of communes and Facebook friends showed similar results here. Frequency of contact wasn’t as important as depth. Yes, at one point in the past these people spent a lot of time together but the critical element seemed to be sharing emotional experiences and events with one another. Talking about what each of you were going through in trying times. When people shared intense ups and downs it left a mark that wasn’t as susceptible to erosion by time.

Mostly agree, but — I’m super vulnerable, as in a few days ago I wrote about how my dick might not work well, and I don’t have a ton of friends or anything. I think vulnerability and open conversation can draw some people in, but they have to be the right kinds of people. There’s a lot of people in the world who want to check boxes and get their three kids and their 700K house and their fat salary and their Golden Retriever, and those people are not chasing friendships rooted in depth and vulnerability. I’m sorry, but there are outliers to every social theory.

Let’s do one more on what makes a party/gathering good:

Four things emerged as common factors predicting how satisfied they were with the occasion: the number of diners (more is better), the occurrence of laughter, reminiscing about the past, and the consumption of alcohol.

Yea, can’t argue with that — although I always think it’s funny that people get together in the present and spend so much time talking about the past. Are we all pining?

Any friendship observations herein pop for you?

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/work-with-me/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store