November 9, 2023 | OPINION | By Emma Devlin
During a recent internet exploration session, I came across what must have been the fifth article in quick succession discussing the “friendship recession.” It is a topic I’ve heard about in the past three years, though my attention is drawn to it now as the pandemic continues to leave a rather permanent impact on society. Notably the social scene, and as my generation prepares for or has already entered life after college.
I, and likely others, wonder what making friends will be like after graduating into a world damaged by extensive quarantine. The causes of the friendship recession is what I would like to examine.
The idea is that many people feel they have a lack of friends or closefriends. I think the age range of these individuals are mostly millennial, though it spreads into younger and older generations. The website Big Think released a video this past March announcing that the number of “Americans without friends has increased 400% in recent years,” an alarming statistic stemming largely, as one could assume, from the pandemic. But I want to focus on other reasons, ones that are less expected to have as large and as lasting an influence as they do.
I will start with a more obvious reason: social media. “The nation’s teens have traded face time for FaceTime,” The Hill wrote in a recent article, and I completely agree. For all the arguments that claim social media helps us connect (and it generally does), it could be argued that it limits our ability to form genuine relationships.
Humans are social creatures. You’ve probably heard that before and it’s very true, though it should be highlighted that it (mostly) refers to in-person socialization. In my opinion, a screen conversation makes me feel temporarily satisfied while a hangout at the park leaves me entirely refreshed and ready to complete my homework, attend class, do extracurriculars and all the other adulting duties I must prioritize before awarding myself more time to socialize.
The post-pandemic uptick in social media usage is on par with the level of technology being produced, a correlation that may very well explain why people are less inclined to interact with each other in real life. It risks the extinction of traditional friend-making.
I think another reason for the friendship recession is a societal emphasis on careers and family. Let’s face it: there are immense pressures (in America) to reach your highest professional ability, start a family (particularly in a world with an aging population) and do both perfectly and simultaneously. The issue is there is not a lot of time.
Lana Moore, a comedian, author, and musician, says, “So many of us have such intense schedules: We’re working more than we’ve ever worked – maybe 60 or 80 hours a week. And then you have to make time for yourself, your partner, groceries, all of these things.”
Like Moore, I also believe people have too much on their plates to even consider making new friends.
On top of these responsibilities, everything is more expensive, more competitive, more demanding. The pressure is real. It is no surprise that people are burnt out. In this context, the act of friendship now becomes a job. I would say that people could be having difficulty making friends because they are simply lacking energy. I would also add that such a stressful society impacts friend making by increasing the prevalence of poor mental health.
I strongly believe that another reason for the friendship recession has to do with people’s altered mindsets toward friendship. In other words, the definition of friendship has changed.
To what, exactly? I’m not entirely sure – it’s likely different for everyone. Yet, I do feel like integrity, loyalty and reliability are values heavily preferred nowadays when it comes to making friends (which has probably always been the case, though perhaps more so post-pandemic due to disruptive social factors including distanced learning, politicization of vaccines and overall heightened anxiety).
I also feel like people are more open-minded about meeting others not directly within their daily environments. Socializing at the gym, on vacation or through mutual interest groups is not new, but, in my opinion, it has become an increasingly popular activity. As clinical psychologist and friendship expert, Miriam Kirmayer, says, “young people are fundamentally changing their approaches to how they connect, and what those connections look like,” the result of Gen Z’s abnormal experience with making friends post-pandemic.
This shift could have occurred during the pandemic when everyone was stuck at home isolated from their friends and peers their age. I think the level of loneliness experienced during quarantine forced people to reflect on their relationships and cut out those not worth keeping.
That said, loneliness, among other feelings, can be blamed for the distorted and, might I say, competitivesocial scene. Regarding the latter, people have become more picky when it comes to choosing their friends. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; however, this mindset can make finding friends more challenging, as it may enforce personal barriers which limit meeting different kinds of people (especially people you would not typically interact with) and instill a general discomfort that decreases the motivation to socialize.
My final thoughts on the friendship recession are as follows.
While social media, work and familial pressures, and altered approaches to friend making are currently very influential, the ability to maintain perspective is an equally, if not more, powerful force. I will elaborate: those who may feel like they lack friends or close friends should consider howmany friends they actually need. At least for me, a few core people are good enough.
What I am saying is that everyone has a certain capacity to give and take, to be a friend and to have friends. It is a matter of individual want.
Are friendships tribal? I think a lot of people want a group of friends; they want to feel included, social, perhaps popular, and not floating around. Friend groups are great, no doubt, but they do not necessarily prove someone’s ability to make friends. It could be argued that most people, particularly those that are older, don’t usually form friendships in groups – they aren’t surrounded by people of similar ages and interests like in college.
Personally, I think forming singular friendships of varied kinds is more interesting; you can learn a lot about yourself from learning from a diversity of identities. I will also highlight that, within a friend group, you are probably closest with only some of those people. That said, while having a friend group can serve as a safety net, having one solid friendship or scattered friendships is just as fulfilling.
To conclude, I will say that the Friendship Recession is, at its core, a transition period. Losing friends, making new friends, realizing some friends aren’t real friends, finding a friend in yourself – all of it is normal. How you take on this transition is the difference between sinking into self-doubt and achieving self-worth.
This recession is worrying. I am not saying it will be easy to overcome. There are so many personal and outside factors that, together, create an overwhelming roadblock in the social scene. It makes friend-making seem impossible. Yet, maintaining perspective, listening to “yourself” (values, preferences, emotions) and focusing on personal development can all help in overcoming this discouraging period.
What this recession shows, truthfully, is the importance of friendship. In short, people like people – for something so simple, it does a good job of overcomplicating itself.