I’m Convinced the Cure for Loneliness Is More Surface-Level FriendshipsLet's crack the f*cking code, guys.
Maybe it’s the fact that the pandemic and my 30th birthday hit around the same time, but my social life looks way less, um, busy than it did in 2019. Back in ye olden 2010s, I had (IMO) one of the funnest, coolest, most hilarious group of frands to ever take the streets of my city. So great, in fact, that I often had to cancel plans to recover.
These magical people were also the same ones I’d turn to when drama went down at work, when my unhinged roommate would talk shit about me…to herself…in the shower…again, or when I wanted to watch the Oscars with someone other than said roommate. Basically, they were my emotional-support humans, accessible at all times.
But because of things like big new jobs, a desire to have kids in a place that isn’t run by rats, and just general life vibe shifts, my people scattered. And that’s kind of left me in a weird, lonely-ish headspace—even as someone whose main fuel source is watching The Kardashians in solitary darkness.
So, last fall, when I was editing this piece about how to make friends as an adult, I was already mentally, emotionally, and spiritually invested by the time I got to tip number four. Like a venti cold brew straight to the face, these words made me feel like the smartest man alive: “There's different levels [of friendship]. … and people can serve different purposes in your life.” Basically, soft connections still count.
What?! Acquaintances?! Yes!!
The art of the surface-level friendship.
If you needed like five whole minutes to soak in that idea, I get it. It’s the total opposite of how I was living my life up until that point. I’m going to go ahead and blame ~society~ (specifically Lizzie McGuire, Gordo, and Miranda) for my long-standing belief that the only people worth calling “friends” are the ones who know that you’re prone to UTIs, the name of your brother’s dog, and your boss’s worst quirks. But apparently, as licensed clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman, PhD, previously told Wondermind, a healthy social life involves doesn't have to be that deep.
Per Dr. Zuckerman, most of us have our close friends, like my beloveds who now exist mostly in my IG DMs and group chats. But you likely also have your social friends, aka the ones you’ll call for drinks, a movie, or just consistently attend their annual Halloween party. You also probably have acquaintances, which fully count as friend-like people! Yes! For real! And all of these types of friends can make you feel more connected to humankind in their own unique way, she explained. This idea can be especially helpful when you’re trying to stave off a case of the lonelies. And considering that we’re living through a loneliness epidemic, realizing that you’re surrounded by friendlies can be life-changing if you’re really struggling right now.
No New friends.
After reading that tip, every social friend and random acquaintance that’s been in my life for the last few years flashed before my eyes. All this time I was racking up anti-loneliness human connection points without even realizing it. (It’s not a game, but also maybe it is.)
First, I thought about my social friends who I mostly spent time with while crushing rosé and singing Broadway tunes. This group has a long history (and an intimidating knowledge of show tunes), so I felt like I had to catch up on the last five years of their lives to be worthy of their time and wine. But after realizing that our fun hangouts are just as important as the deep convos they may or may not be having without me, I could enjoy our time together without the FOMO.
I also considered my variety pack of “soft connections” or acquaintances: The woman who goes to my gym and tells me to, “Stay safe!” after I wish her a good day in the locker room. The barista who always asks if I live in the neighborhood. I sure do, girl! Victor from my running club who I mostly see on Instagram. They all count toward my human connection quota. There are no rules anymore.
Sure, call me shallow.
Before this epiphany, I’d say things like, “Yeah, I don’t have that many friends,” when my out-of-state bestie and I talked about our weekend plans. When my in-laws ask how we’d be celebrating any given holiday, I’d make the same joke about how my husband and I would probably just high-five and order takeout (to be fair, that joke kills every time).
While, yeah, we did spend the Fourth of July eating hot dogs and watching a true crime doc by ourselves, we do have friends! Our “friends” are everywhere! My neighbor and her dog son Winston: Friend x 2! The cashier at my grocery store doesn’t know it, but she’s also my friend. I’m basically a golden retriever now.
Obviously, I’m using the term “friend” very generously here (except in the case of Victor who is the coolest), but I’ve found that reminding yourself that you’re surrounded by people that give a fuck about you—or at least would notice if you’ve been missing from the gym locker room for a while—definitely takes the edge off of spending less time with those closest to you.
More connection means less pressure.
Up until the fall of 2022, I thought of friendships like a zero-sum game. No connection was a true friendship unless you reached a deep level like I had with my best people.
That idea put a ton of pressure on me to achieve close-friend status with my new friends and look past anyone who didn’t have best-friend potential. After we’d hang out, I’d get wrapped up wondering, Could these be my people? rather than, Damn, that was fun! It’s a bummer to know how much I was overthinking a good time.
This philosophy has also made me feel a little less annoyed with the fact that my best friends have other friends who aren’t my friends. It sounds petty, and it probably is, but I’ve felt jealous after seeing a friend post an HBD shout-out to someone I don’t know on their IG story. (Don’t lie! You have too!) But because friendship and human connection are not a zero-sum game, there’s nothing to be jealous about. Our friendship isn’t less important because Tiffany in Columbus, Ohio exists. We both add value to our mutual friend’s life.
And that’s the whole point of human connection in the first place, right? We make each others’ lives better just by being a part of it, no matter how big or small that part is.
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