Back in March 2020, tensions and fears were high across the world due to the pandemic. Then George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter Movement pushed already fragile friendships over the edge, to the point of no return. Here we are eighteen months later, and the way Americans “do” friendship has changed. We know there are things in our lives we cannot control, like this darn pandemic, but there are also things we can control — like our friendships.
A survey conducted by the Survey Center on American Life looked at a few reasons why there has been a decline in friendships — all of which are incredibly fascinating. Over 2,000 Americans from across the United States, ranging from ages 18 and up, lent their lived experiences to this survey.
People reported that they have fewer friendships for lots of different reasons. The survey found that people are marrying later in life and traveling more, creating more opportunities for longer spans of loneliness and isolation. Parents are spending more time with their kids and prioritizing those relationships over friendships. We are working more (even though we are home) and prioritizing our work relationships over friendships, which makes sense given that we tend to bond with those with whom we spend more time. The pandemic, coupled with the social, racial, and political tensions over the last year, has negatively impacted friendships, creating a decline.
While the survey points to these five reasons why friendships in America have changed, it leaves out a very obvious reason — or, at least, it skirts around the issue that we are a racially divided country. The Black Lives Matter movement opened our eyes to how far we have to go as a society, to nurture and foster friendships built on respect and understanding of one another’s backgrounds, race, and lived experiences.
The survey does briefly look at race, namely here: “There are notable racial and ethnic differences in feelings of satisfaction about the number of friends Americans have. Black and Hispanic Americans express greater feelings of satisfaction than White Americans do. Close to six in 10 Black (58 percent) and Hispanic (56 percent) Americans report they are very or completely satisfied with how many friends they have. About half (49 percent) of White Americans say the same.” (Side note: I am not sure why the survey left out Asian Americans, and I’d be curious to know why.)
I know my own group of friends has shifted. My friendship circle has dwindled to less than five close friends over the last year or so. I just did not have the emotional or mental stamina it takes to keep a friendship going. I wore way too many hats — teacher, wife, mother, lunch lady, driver, colleague, and the list goes on — to spend time running after a friendship not worth saving.
Not to mention, the events of the past year or so, from the presidential election to the reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement, showed me folks’ true colors and allowed me to cull the list ever further. Interestingly, the survey revealed that “No group is more likely to end a friendship over politics than liberal women are; 33 percent say they stopped being friends with someone because of their politics,” and that “in all, 22 percent of Americans who have ended a friendship cited Trump as the reason.”
I am not alone in my dwindling list of relationships. In the survey, 49% of Americans reported that they have fewer than three close friends, while 36% of Americans report they have between four and nine close friends. Most of my friends are from college, a few from high school, and that is about it. I have found that as an adult, I am more selective about who I call a friend, and even more so about who I deem a close friend. Similarly, about half of Americans report they are satisfied with the friendships they have — so what about the half who doesn’t?
I’m not sure I have the best answer. My personal philosophy is, why pour all of the energy you have, when there isn’t that much there anyway, into someone who just doesn’t give a shit? When you are dissatisfied with friendships, I say let them go. Do you both a favor and get the hell out of there.
But then there are people like my best friend, Diana, or my once-friend, now-wife, Dinushka, who have helped me become a better human being. Anaïs Nin, writer and author says it best: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
The friendships we have teach us about who we are and what we are capable of. They help us to grow as human beings. Good friends challenge us to think outside of our small box and to dig a little deeper into our souls. They encourage us to root for humanity in ways we perhaps would not have thought to before. Before meeting Dinushka, I would acknowledge a homeless person either on the subway or on the sidewalk. I would not always give them money or food or whatever it was they were asking for. Since Dinushka has come into my life, I cannot pass by a homeless person without helping them in some way. She has taught me to go beyond acknowledging one’s existence by asking myself how I can actively help them.
Not all friendships measure up the same, because every person and every circumstance is different. Every relationship is different. They all have an expiration date. But healthy, reciprocal relationships give us life. It is in those relationships that we find our best friend, our partner, our ride-or-die. We can no longer live in isolation and sit in wait for the Amazon delivery person to arrive. Tracking our Amazon packages is not the same as meeting up with a friend for dinner on a Friday night in real life. There is value in nurturing and maintaining friendships, even if your circle includes fewer than five people.