Graduating from college, moving out of state, and getting married within the same year shook up my social life. I started learning to make friends in the tricky new terrain of adulthood, without a college campus and its ample opportunities.
According to a recent New York Times article, sociologists agree on three conditions necessary to make close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.
A few notes on each, in turn:
It’s possible to maintain close friendships from a distance, but proximity is definitely required to form the initial bond. As much as I believe in the potential and value of long distance friendships, I often have a sense of one world colliding into another when I see an old friend’s name light up my phone.
It’s always a welcome and exciting surprise, but it’s also jolting when someone who used to know the day-to-day minutia of my life is now unaware of some of the bigger pieces.
Proximity undoubtedly fosters close bonds, and when it disappears, maintaining emotional proximity is a challenge. The Internet has changed this in some ways, because there are so many avenues for communication.
I communicate with some people through social media and blogs that I don’t live near and probably wouldn’t call or text. I feel a bond with them that mirrors my real life friendships because we do have human interactions- they just happen to be facilitated digitally.
Some genuine connections are made online, but the Internet can also give a feeling of false proximity. You may see pictures of someone’s baby on Facebook or feel like you know all about their vacation because you saw the Instagram pictures, but in reality, no emotional connection has occurred. In fact, studies have shown that the more time people spend online, the more likely they are to feel lonely or depressed.
At some point in the friendship, proximity is necessary to forge a bond that can survive distance. Proximity has expanded to include the online world, in my opinion, because there is an emotional proximity in genuine connections made online.
2. Repeated, Unplanned Interactions
What comes to mind when I hear this phrase is Stars Hollow, the small town where Lorelai and Rory live on Gilmore Girls. If you haven’t seen it, you should add it to your Netflix queue immediately.
The varied Stars Hollow residents, who may never seek each other’s company in a larger city, develop close bonds because their intimate community allows for frequent, unplanned face time.
Such happenstance interactions require that you routinely visit the same places. We have more of these unplanned exchanges with neighbors now that we walk our dog everyday. In Tempe and Charleston, I have formed pleasant acquaintances with a few people who work at Trader Joe’s.
Though not entirely serendipitous or random, being part of a church, community group or volunteer effort allows for unplanned interactions with the same people on a regular basis. Of course, these interactions alone aren’t enough to form close friendships, but they are a start.
3. Setting that encourages people to confide in each other
Initially, I thought of physical settings. Then I realized that we can create this setting regardless of the background.
When I recall moments when I let my guard down, they were usually after someone else had let theirs down. I try to challenge myself to go first. If I am willing to take an emotional risk, or be the first to admit a fear or imperfection, maybe my new friend will feel comfortable doing the same.
I am more likely to confide in one person or a few, rather than in a loud, crowded group. Dinner parties or coffee dates are two of my favorite places to get to know new friends. To me, time outside of larger events or big groups is critical.
I have formed my closest friendships in small Bible study groups and my college dorm. Not surprisingly, all three conditions for friendship are inherently met in both places, particularly this last one, which is most difficult to initiate organically.
Studies have shown that people who attend church regularly live longer. There are many factors contributing to this fact, but at least one must be the community and the unity of participating in faith together.
How have your close friendships been shaped by proximity, unplanned interactions, and the right settings for confiding in one another?