A thread about friends

Adam Fields
5 min readOct 5, 2023

I originally posted this as a thread on twitter, but I think it’s worth consolidating here. This was more or less a stream of consciousness rant. I’m working on elaborating on this and will make changes here as I go, so this will be an evolving work in progress.

An early Apple Vision Pro Adopter

As far as I can tell, the best advice anyone could give to college students today is “make 5–10 times as many friends as you think you should”.

I see this in myself and all of my friends in our late 40s — in addition to the obvious advantages of spending time with and doing activities with people you like, many of the opportunities we’ve had are a direct result of the friends we’ve made, of personal connections, or friends of friends. “I know a guy” is powerful sauce. Which of course goes both ways, the chances to do something beneficial for them in turn.

And yet I also see this in myself and all of my friends in our late 40s — we don’t have enough friends. Friendships take energy and proximity to maintain. Over time, people move away. People drift apart. Families take priority. You may not want to invite people into your home. It gets harder and harder to find time to do activities together, harder and harder to make space in your life for those activities, and harder and harder to locate the people you want to do them with. School is a great environment to make a lot of friends in — you’re all going through a shared experience, have rough schedules in sync, and not many other immovable competing social obligations.

As you get older, all of these factors melt away. You’re dating, you’re working, you’re raising kids. You may get another social boost when your kids go to school and you can get to know other parents. Take advantage of it. Work can be an extremely difficult environment to make friends in. If you can, you’re lucky, but it still won’t likely be more than a handful. It can be awkward to see people all day at work and then spend time with them outside of work. It may make you feel vulnerable, like they’re learning things about you that you don’t want work people to know. That’s valid!

I don’t know where this came from, but huzzah for Eeyore

Covid of course made all of this 10000x times harder. Social isolation increased measurably, and the effort required to do casual meetups rose substantially. But that’s relaxing now, and even with that isolation it’s possible — groups are still meeting, outside activities are happening when it’s warm.

But an easy way to have a lot of friends is to already have a lot of friends, which protects against the inevitable attrition over time, and some of them being bad friends.

The Qualities of Friendship

It’s worth it to take a brief diversion to think about the qualities of friendship, and the things that distinguish friends from other people you know. For me, there are a few important factors

Enjoyment / Engagement

The simple question — do I enjoy spending time with this person? There are a lot of people I’m reasonably friendly with, but I just have no desire to hang out with them or do things with them. For most of my true friends, I never get tired of seeing them. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets included all the time (see geek social fallacy #5), but it generally means if there’s going to be an event with that person, I’ll be excited to see them there. This also covers more general “get along questions” — do we have stuff to talk about? Do I care what’s going on with their lives? Will I deal with their bullshit?

Trust & Safety / Honesty / Familiarity

These are sort of three separate things, but there is a lot of overlap. Do I feel comfortable with expressing who I am and what I’m interested in? Do I think they’ll judge me simply for how I am, or how cluttered my home may be at any given time? Am I going to clean up the apartment before they come over? Do I feel comfortable letting this person see me without filters, or am I putting up guards about that? Am I going to get dressed up / make myself presentable to see them?

Dependability

Hopefully you’re not in a situation where you have to ask too many of these questions, but they’re still worth thinking about. If I ask them to feed my pets, will they? (Some people I’m not friends with are more dependable here.) Will they take care of my stuff if I loan it to them? Will they steal from me if given the opportunity? If I’m incapacitated, will they take care of me? If I get injured, will they come to the ER with me? Of course this stuff doesn’t come up all of the time, but it does come up.

Now you have you ask yourself how your friends see you. Hopefully you’re being a good friend too.

About Invitations

You have to go out of your way to cultivate friendships. Invite people to things. Say yes when they invite you.

This is extremely important. Invite people to things. Say yes when they invite you. The only way to overcome the inertia of inactivity is to replace it with activity.

you have to invite them in

Join clubs or groups that meet on a regular basis, this is extremely important.

From my conversations with other people, _a LOT_ of us are going through this, and all it takes to break through it is someone asking to do so. The only way it will change is if more of us take the initiative to do so.

I’m not saying that making friends in school is the only way to make a lot of lasting friendships, but it’s by far the easiest way I know of in modern society, so if you still have that opportunity, use it! If not, it’s still doable, but with more effort. Sorry if you missed that boat, make the effort anyway!

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