Do Commuters Have Fewer Friends?

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

There’s a simple rule of thumb: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.” (The New Yorker, “There and Back Again,” 4/16/2007)

For the last three weeks, I worked a temp gig that involved an hour and fifteen minute commute both ways. Two and a half hours in the car meant a lot of solo time. It’s pretty lonely business. (Many thanks to Ira Glass for keeping me company during the rides! Mr. Glass and his This American Life gang made the trafficky drive almost enjoyable.)

I wasn’t surprised to find research that supported the idea that commuting is isolating. I was, however, suprised at how extreme that research is. Ten percent fewer social connections for every ten minutes is no joke. This research comes from Robert Putnam, Harvard political scientist and author of Bowling Alone, “about the disintegration of American civic life.”

I can’t imagine the commute had that kind of effect on me, because I only did it for three weeks. But I have plenty of friends with a long daily drive who’ve been at it for seven years. The funny thing is that the two people I can think of off the bat who have super-long commutes are actually two of the people I know with the most friends ever. They are super social. Either they defy statistics, or they would really be the most social people I’ve ever met if they didn’t commute.

Plenty of people enjoy having some commute time — you can read, talk on the phone, listen to music, have a minute of alone time before the chaos of the day begins. For that, I think public transportation is probably better than driving, though the article says some drivers love the freedom to come and go as they please, rather than relying on a train or bus schedule.  But still, says The New Yorker, “the driver’s seat is a lonely place. People tend to behave in their cars as though they are alone in a room. Road rage is one symptom of this; on the street or on the train, people don’t generally walk around calling each other assholes. Howard Stern is another; you can listen to lewd evocations without feeling as though you were pushing the bounds of the social contract. You could drive to work without your pants on, and no one would know.”

There is something very alone-seeming about being in the car. People can see you, of course, but it still seems so private. A blessing and a curse. For me, for those three weeks, it didn’t just make me feel alone because I spent 2.5 hours in the car. It was also that by the time I got home at night, it was late, I was pooped, and I had less energy to go out. Thus taking away even more time I would normally spend with pals.

For those of you with long commutes, I highly recommend this read. It’s got some extremely interesting info. And in the meantime, chime in. Does your commute make you lonely? Do you think you’d have more friends if you spent less time hauling yourself to and from work?

156 Comments

Filed under The Search

156 responses to “Do Commuters Have Fewer Friends?

  1. Christina

    Being alone and lonely are two entirely different things. As an introvert I love my commute times in the car. They are great for singing to 80′s music without someone giving me a frown because I can’t sing very well.

    • “Being alone and lonely are two entirely different things.”

      Here, here!

      A proof that I’ve learned to relish being alone in a commute: I do not look forward to conversation during long rides. I celebrate my transciense in solitude :D

      • totally agree. There are those who are alone and lonely and there are those who are not. I imagine for some working mothers the commute in the car is probably the only time they get to themselves all day.

      • The same goes with me. I commute 45 minutes every day,both ways, and even though its a company cab and I have my colleagues with me, I like sitting on front seat, alone, and just enjoy the peace.

    • so true! being alone is actually better than being awkward in social situations :)

    • I think there is some truth to this study, however the harsh reality is that some people are just plain lonely, even in a room full of people they don’t feel connected to anyone. Conversely, others make friends wherever they go, whether it’s their nextdoor neighbor or the barista at their favorite coffee house, everyone is their BFF. Life is what you make it and with our busy lives it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up with our friendships. If you’re saddled with a long commute think outside the box, make lunch plans with friends, meet for drinks somewhere along your trip home, before you get too tired to go out, or as Daisy mentioned, use the time to catch up with phone calls to friends that are too far away to see in person….

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  2. I used to commute from the suburbs to Chicago on the metra train for college. The only thing that kept me sane was I had at least 2 or 3 “train buddies” I think if you have friends who you can rely on to make up for the commute blues, it can actually be fun! After an exam, my girlfriend and I would grab a beer together to drink on the train and chat :)

  3. April U

    I used to ride the commuter bus from the suburbs to downtown Minneapolis, and definitely had some “bus buddies.” We all worked for the same company so often waited at the same stop at the end of the day, we’d chat while we waited and then would sometimes sit together. I’m still friends with one of them though I left the corporate world a couple years ago.

  4. Based on my personal experience, I believe this completely. I spent three years commuting over an hour each way to law school, and later spent nine years commuting over an hour each way to work.

    I didn’t realize how isolated I was until I moved within five minutes of my work.

    When you live that far away, after work activities are limited b/c driving an hour home and then an hour back to hang out with anyone is usually out of the question.

    And there is no opportunity for the spur of the moment, let’s grab a drink or a movie or whatever, because you’re an hour away.

    • That’s definitely what I take away from this. It’s not the actual commute that makes you less able to be social, but it’s just the after work activities you can sometimes miss out on.

      Me personally, I have about an hour’s commute to get back home, and usually, I just like to get back home. Also, the idea of going to the pub for an after work’s drink a bit of a moot point for me, as the driving negates the ability to drink!

      • Exactly! Taking a taxi two miles is much more do-able than taking one 50 miles.

        And if you live an hour away from your friends, you miss out on all the little spur of the moment “hey do you want to run to the store, come over for dinner, catch a movie” invites.

        • I had the same experience. I commuted 3 hours every day, and after the end of the day, I had no desire to do anything else. Commuting also meant that all my friends were very far from where I worked. When I worked inside Zurich, once or twice a week I would have lunch with my friends during the work day, go for a coffee with someone also 1-2 times a week, and have dinner out twice a week, excluding the weekend. The weekend was full of other plans. I just had so many chances to meet my friends, and give time to more people. When I switched jobs and started commuting, I was only able to manage one dinner during the week and one plan on the weekend. I felt so exhausted for anything else.
          Since I commuted with public transport, however, the only positive was that I could maintain contact with all my friends and family spread across the globe, as I had nothing else to do during the ride.

  5. jamie

    I recently moved from Chicago where my commute was half and hour to the suburbs where my commute is over an hour. I certainly notice the difference in how I feel when I get home in the evenings. Now that my commute is more than double, I just feel exhausted when I finally get home.

  6. I can see this. But I wonder what the resaerch would say about those of us who work from home? That can sometimes be just as isolating, I think. BTW – I love your research Wednesdays! Keep up the great work!

  7. I think I emailed you this idea a couple of months ago! Funny there is actually research to support it! Very cool (not cool that people are lonely, but that my suspicions might be correct).

  8. So next week when I half my commute I should have 50% more friends?
    Excellent! If not, I’m gonna sue you for false advertising!

  9. Interesting! I just moved to New York City and thought that you could meet people commuting on Subways. At the park, I have random people (but no appropriate “girlfriend” material) come up and talk to me all the time, so I thought in a packed subway it’d be simple. Wrong! Subways are some of the loneliest times ever- people are very stoic here, and I don’t know why! I rarely see interaction between people on the trains.

    • Sarah

      I’m originally from the midwest, and when I first moved to an east coast city (Boston, not NYC), I’d say hello to just about anyone on the street or in the subway. Fairly quickly, I learned not to. Either I got no response at all, or too much of one. I guess the glazed-eyes look is the way that people maintain a feeling of privacy in a public place. Good luck to you. I’m sure you’ll meet people through work and other activities.

    • Hey Rochambeaux, New York subways are definitely isolating since you really do have all kinds of people travelling on it, including at least one crazy guy every 2nd trip. So people like to be just left alone. However, the buses or trains to New Jersey and Connecticut are a different story. Most people catch the same bus or train every day to go to work, and you will soon start seeing familiar faces. After seeing the same person a few times, go ahead and say Hi. A few “Hi”s later, you can introduce yourself.
      If you do not get a chance to ride the commuter trains/buses and live inside the city, I suggest going for a jog at the same time every day in the park (and on the same track). You will also start running into the same people every day.

  10. I found I was more social when I used to take public transportation. You would get to know the people on your bus & nod hello or sometimes exchange a word or two. But now I am working in a different office & I have to use my car to get to work, it is lonelier. I don’t talk to anyone coming or going to work, I end up chewing gum & listening to the radio. I don’t even get time for a good read which is not social either, but at least I got to do something I liked.

  11. I had to deal with this idea when i was driving my self to school everyday. I find myself just drifting. I found that listening to the Adam Carolla podcast really helped push me along and get engaged and interested in the drive.

  12. I enjoy my commute. I drive because I teach in a rural area with poor public transportation, and I usually spend my mornings listening to morning radio shows or singing along to upbeat music at the top of my lungs. I usually use my evening drive home to talk to friends or family from out of state; otherwise it is difficult to find the time to connect with them. I also enjoy the commute because it allows me to decompress from the clamor of the classroom. By the time I get home, I have already let go of the stress of the day and I can just enjoy myself.

  13. Chrissy

    I used to live in a very small company town and had only a 10 minute commute to work. Problem was that all the fun social activities were in the small city 40 miles away. I moved there 1 year ago and now have a 50 minute commute each way. I take public transportation (a greyhound bus) and even though I’ve gotten to know some of my fellow commuters, it’s usually a very quiet ride.

    I thought moving to the city would solve my feelings of isolation from living in a rural town (I am single and in my early 40s), but it only increased it because now I feel that I belong to neither place. I’m always in between, on the road when I’d rather be home. All of the people I work with live somewhere else and there’s not much opportunity to meet people where I live because I don’t work there…no daily connection.

    I love where I live and my job, I just wish they were in the same town. There are no jobs where I live and I am seriously considering moving to a bigger city so that I can get the social interaction I need. I don’t care for big cities but I am too lonely otherwise.
    I am not a fan of commuting. I think it’s a colossal waste of time.

  14. I would certainly think that those who take trains or subways or the like might even have MORE friends — perhaps not close ones, but simply based on the percentage of people perusing Facebook or Twitter during commutes, I would guess that would skew the numbers slightly…

  15. Bummer. I commute two hours and ten minutes a day on average. But I still have a lot of friends, so what does that say?

  16. Great post! I wish you so much luck in finding a better commute solution!

    I can certainly support this theory! Last year, I calculated my time in the car. **It was nearly a full month!**

    So, I moved closer to my job, just outside of a major city. I’m not huge on big cities, either. =/ But it’s nice to be able to walk to pretty much anything or take public transit. And yes, I’d say my social life is better for it. :)

  17. I commute about 50 minutes each way. I have friends from work, who I socialise with quite regularly, but I don’t have many friends where I actually live. I commute by train, so the only really annoying effect commuting has on my social life is that I’m always watching the clock and thinking about what time I’ll have to leave to catch the train.

  18. I commute about an hour each day by car by myself. It is a great time to catch up on talk radio in the morning, and call friends and family in other time zones to chat (using hands-free of course). This way, I am much more social when I get home, not having to make personal calls then. I am free to actually get outside and meet up with my friends! Great question!

  19. I try to make my commutes as lively as possible now that I live in NYC. While I adored my car commute in Rhode Island and PA–it did get lonely–and it’s likely why so many people are so quick to reach for their cell phones during a long drive, even though it’s dangerous. We’d rather be risky then bored.

    Now that I “subway-pool” to work every day, I do my best to make conversation when I can and when it seems appropriate. I’ve found that most others are going for a conversation as I am–and often I get, “I don’t meet many people willing to talk on the train–thanks” afterwards. The last guy I dated–I actually started talking to on the commute. I hate to say this, but as with anything else, a commute is what you make it.

    • I love the idea of “subway-pooling!” How do you strike up a conversation with people on public transit?

      I used to commute 1 hour to work, because there was not good public transit where I lived. I absolutely loved the chance to listen to music for 2 hours every day… BUT I think I would have liked carpooling with someone else better, because once I got home I was always too tired to drive back out of suburbia to meet up with friends. I think that whether you go with carpooling or “subway-pooling,” sharing your commuting experience with someone else would be the best way to go (for me, at least – I love my alone time but I’m very social). I’m just not sure where to start – how to set up a carpooling group or duo, and/or how to meet people to chat with on the bus! Ideas anyone?

      • I try to look for an opening–something I haven in common–or something I can compliment –because who doesn’t love a compliment? Are they dancing to their music? Maybe I dance along. Are they reading the AM magazine, maybe I have a comment on something.

        One time, a guy had just bought brand new shoes and was changing in to them on the train and I made a joke–but in a freak out way and was like “WOW You must be so brave, i would never wear brand new shoes on the train, someone could step on them” and he laughed and we started talking. All types of ways to spark conversation. Just be willing to talk. most people are yearning for human interaction anyway.

  20. Sarah D.

    In my commuting days, I used the time to read. Loved it. Was sorry when the ride was over, especially if I wasn’t at a good stopping place in the book.

  21. I love the idea of “train buddies” and “bus buddies”. I understand that in Mumbai, India that’s a fairly common thing- groups of people meet up daily on the train and play card or singing games. Nice to hear that people find transit buddies in the U.S. too.

    That said, I make it a high priority to live close to work and minimize my commuting time (and carbon emissions). My commute is a 20 minute walk and it’s wonderful!

  22. I travel with the same people at the same time on the bus to work in the mornings. Its cool talking with my ‘bus buddies’, and its always a good thing to be courteous. I also talk with random people on the street who randomly talk to me just because. Commuting can be fun if you want it to be.

  23. I have some commutting ‘buddies’ that make the commute in and out MUCH more bareable, I think that’s important. If I were alone in my car for that much time solo I may go a bit batty – though a good radio station or book on tape would help. When my ‘buddies’ are MIA from our commute I rely on my book and ipod to get me through in one piece.

  24. You touch on a much bigger issue: just how DO you make friends in today’s society? From what I see, the workplace is the No. 1 source, but when you live an hour away from the job, it’s hard getting together with anyone who lives an hour away in the other direction.
    “Bowling Alone” has definitely been on target: getting people together to do anything is increasingly difficult, at least if everyone’s holding down a regular job. I’ll add to that the Sunday Night Syndrome, meaning that nobody wants to get together to do anything on Sunday night … even though they all have it off.
    For the record, my commute’s been an hour each way, mostly rural. And church has provided the basic social network.

    • I think you are right it is not the commute that makes you lonely it is about your social network you may have an hours commute but if you have lots of family or good friends/neighbours then you are not lonely. People are increasingly living alone and isolation is increased if they have no socialisation be it work colleagues or other friends/family.

  25. “. People tend to behave in their cars as though they are alone in a room. Road rage is one symptom of this; on the street or on the train, people don’t generally walk around calling each other assholes. ”

    Yup and even worse, engaging in dangerous behaviour, ie. talking on cellphone while driving which is not healthy for other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists around the distracted driver.

    Ever thought of carpooling part way with someone at least? It doesn’t even have to be every day but someone might appreciate it! And more efficient use of fuel.

    Commuter cycling is way more pleasant solo travelling with less potential damage to others and environment. The stresses get positively converted to physical energy to move the bike and self along to and from work. Can hear birds chirping and smell plant life if route is at least partially away from roads.

    There is camaderie among commuter cyclists in North America and this is evident on Bike to Work day/week events in major cities.

    And you might even meet someone at such annual events!

  26. I commute an hour and a half each way every day and I have to say that my social life does suffer. I am a naturally more introvert person, so I don’t mind giving up 3 hours of my day too much so that I can read lots of books and just be quiet. In fact, I make sure that I make the most of this alone time: over the past five years I completed a degree studying while traveling and that gives me the confidence to go for a Masters as well over the next two years, also studying while sitting on the train!!

  27. Hooray for being Freshly Pressed! I was so excited when I saw your blog on the FP page this afternoon! :)

  28. I think the author of your recommended article was hired by the automobile industry. He paints commuters as liars and lonely. I feel they are neither. I commute on public transport and love my time alone, reading my book and I love my time socializing. I need and have a balance of both.

  29. I always enjoyed my downtime while commuting. Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  30. I have an hour and fifteen commute every day (that’s each way). I have to say, I don’t have a lot or friends (quality not quantity you know!), but I had that same amount of friends BEFORE I started commuting, so I don’t completely agree with this research. And I love nothing more than getting on the train every morning, reading for 15 minutes, then sleeping the rest of the day – I feel a little more refreshed with that little bit of sleep – commuting is great for me!

  31. I used to commute for a total of 3 hours a day. Commuting by car, I had the option of chatting with my friends and singing along with the radio. On the train however, I found I felt very isolated as everyone seemed to be plugged into some kind of electronic entertainment devise. Just as I was starting to recognize familiar faces and started to make ‘commuter’ pals, my contract ended, and I got a full time gif that no longer required a longer commute.

  32. My current commute is a 20 minute walk but I’m considering leaving my current job (for many reasons) where the commute would turn into 30 to 40 minutes by subway. I’m actually having second thoughts about the job – or even considering moving because I’ve been so spoiled the last four years. We’ll see what happens.

  33. An interesting subject and one which puzzles me. I think people should be able to cope with their own company but somehow this social networking age seems to exclude that thought. How anyone can really be on their own is also a puzzle while just about everyone carries a phone etc. Commuting by train gives time to read, write (type) vegetate or whatever; commuting by car gives solitary time or listening to music or talk-back radio which can keep you in touch with the world outside of computers and iphones. I think the only time my daughter is alone with her own company is when she is asleep! I like the post, Bruce.

  34. My commute takes thirty seconds. I walk from the kitchen to my office. The only socializing I do is with my poor and also lonely wife. All my friends come from joining service clubs, and church.

  35. thankee to share this sorts of research and info.
    It’s agreeable that the people who commute a lot is isolated!

  36. I used to drive an hour to work. I had no air conditioning in my car. It made me stink. Logically – no one wants to be friends with a stinky man so…. commuters with no air conditioning probably have even less friends. :)

    http://benknotts.wordpress.com

  37. So interesting! Somedays I spend up to 5 hours commuting; though the average is more like 3-4. I lose so much time while accomplishing nothing meaning I have a lot less time for friends.
    I have a car for the next bit and have changed my hours so I only spend about an hour or two commuting and have noticed I have way more time to see and call people. I went out on a Wednesday! That’s new to me!

  38. Very insightful post! As somebody who has rarely had to commute during my career, I found this a very interesting read! Thanks again…

  39. That’s why I want to have my own business running a Organic local produce shop in a local community supplemented by my own farm. More time with family, friends, townsfolk, and lots more personal time alone when needed.

  40. I commute for about an hour each way (between two different countries) and I have to say that I love it in the morning. I have time to enjoy my coffee and read the morning paper.

    Going home is a different thing, as most of my friends live on the other side, so I do my socializing before hitting the train home. There has been a few sleeps on the train, and once I go home I go straight to bed. I’m not losing out on the socializing though.

    It does cause some problem with keeping house though, as it is always too late to do laundry, grocery shopping etc.

  41. ancarofl

    Interesting post, I had never thought of it that way. I did consider that it made me lonelier in the sense that it takes me a lot of time to reach the city and sometimes my friends won’t invite me any more because of it or I am just too lazy or tired to do it.

    In the mornings I drive with my family for the better part of the road, as we all need to get to pretty much the same area, but in the afternoon/evening I get home by bus. While it can be very draining, I must admit that if I am lucky and can sit down, which happens about 50% of the time I think, it’s quite useful, as I read. But even when I don’t I can listen to music so it’s not all that bad. Sure, I get the rare rage internal outburst if I’m bored or tired or whatever and would very much like to be home, but generally I have a positive attitude about it.

    I don’t know how much it took me to get used to it. I reckon about half a year or something. But I am certainly ok with it now; I adapted.

    I must say though, I am more or less an introvert so I don’t have a problem with alone time at all. More like, wasted time, so I worked around that.

  42. sporadicblogger

    If having fewer friends due to ones long commute were the only issue, it would still be bearable. The collateral damage of a long commute is much worse. You spend more time breathing in polluted air, you can’t find time (are always too tired) to exercise and as a woman you are at risk of being harrassed while commuting.
    I am a harried, depressed commuter and swear that my next workplace would be withing walkin distance from my home.

  43. I drive everyday to work and I only have few friends. I am am not sure if there’s a correlation though.

  44. Bonisha

    i really dont think there is any connect in both of these lets-call-them-ideas :), i’v been travelling a lot (to and fro work) lately, but i still have a lot of friends! its more about what you choose to do in the time when you are free, AT where you are then.

  45. Well done on the post!
    A lot depends on the kind of job and nature and time of commuting. I have worked under several such …configurations and yes, it can be isolating because in addition to the journey time, there is the extra fatigue of waiting in stations, running to catch trains, buses, etc, missing them and so on. On the other hand, if your job is of the ‘right’ nature, you can have some of it done while commuting (I am a university professor and used to do some of it on the train). Having recently bought a property next to the uni however, the amount of time that it liberates is very significant – potential plus, if you socialise with people from work it is more likely for them to visit you :-). At the same time, the extra time saved can be wisely spent towards your health (gym for example), a hobby other than reading, or many other things that can enhance one’s social life.

  46. commuting gives me a little time to be introvert, which is a good thing. I have the moment to think of myself and other things. commuting time is free time. i don’t care not having that ten percent more of friends, as long as i get ten percent knowledge of myself.

  47. Joe Labriola

    Literature is my friend. Plenty of characters.

  48. Having a one hour commute for nine years I somewhat recharge during the drive. Many times I ride in silence and naturally fall into some nice creative thinking. As to the friends, yes, I’m tired but have no lack of friends. Not sure about that research. Life is always what you choose to make it. And if there is a lack of friends it perhaps is more due to the lack of being one, or isolating oneself.
    Highly interesting post.
    Peace,
    Alexandria

  49. For my part commuting meant less energy for everything else. My whole life centered around train times and all of my friends were also a train ride away, unfortunately! Great read though!

  50. C J Dunavent

    After reading the comments on commuting I am thankful to live in Oklahoma.
    All commuting here is across beautiful land and scenic views. Can’t possibly be bored. I think the problematic issue with connecting with strangers on the street or commutes is the fear factor so often instilled in our children from an early age. It is unfortunate but we can not allow our children to ride their bicycles to the parks or grand mother’s house 3 blocks away for “fear” of strangers or neighbors. Hard to instill confidence in our young. We “frar” normal interactions with those whom we interact daily.
    Believe it or not but recently there was a time when children could get on a bus, ride 40 minutes to a city park, play, return home after interacting with many in their community and fear was not a factor. It sounds as though many of you have not experienced that. Who would chabce that today? How unfortunate for you and those who come behind you. Believe it or not, but Philadelphia was once known as the City of ” Brotherly Love”. Memphis was voted “City most Beautiful”. Wow… That was only 40 years ago. What have we allowed to happen in a mere 40 years. People are afraid to speak to others on the street or on public transportation? No wonder there is no room for honest debate or searching for commonality in our populous. All out of our allowing “Fear” to control our daily walk in our country. That is one of the many reasons I chose to rear children in Oklahoma. Unfortunately even today in our 2 largest cities we are experiencing the same “Fear” as you. And we have allowed it. Change takes place with you.
    Don’t wait for government or public officials to make it. You can make it. Speak out about fear on the subways and commutes with all people. You will quickly find most people know why we “Fear” and would change it if they felt they were not alone. Change it for your young people so they can experience a ride in the park, a trip whith their peers two or three blocks in their on neighborhoods with out their parents or they feeling fear.
    Happy trails.

    Oklahoma

  51. I wonder how that applies to long-term travelers… they change a place every few days, and I would assume that makes them meet more people, but probably make fewer friends. This is really interesting, thanks for sharing!

  52. Thanks for the interesting conversation this post has started – worthy of being ‘Freshly Pressed’! I commute two hours into work and two hours back from my seaside home town into London (UK). Most of this commute is by overground train with a small amount of time spent on the tube. I actually enjoy my commute (apart from the expense – which is huge! Darn UK prices!).
    I spend at least an hour reading on my way to work and also get time to pray, think and zone out. I am an extrovert and work in a really social job at the moment but find this time to be quiet special because it gives me the space to process all of the energy that goes into the the middle part of my day. I also think it gives me time to connect via phone or social media with friends I have met on my travels or to plan in time to see my local friends. If anything I think it helps me maintain my friendships and gives me some balance too. The only time this does not apply is when workmates go out in London and I have to leave early to make the train home…

  53. Thanks for a post that makes me see my glass as half full. I’m a native Northeastern city girl who moved to an Iowa college town for a job, and the transition to this smaller town (population: 50,000) and slower life has been a challenge. On the bright side, my commute is 5 minutes in the car (or I can walk or bike the 2 miles to work instead). With so much free time after work, I frequently get together with friends for dinner, a workout, or just hang-out time during the week. Thanks for reminding me that quality of life is more than just a city full of amenities around you.

  54. I use networking or computing to actually create new friendships and strengthen old ones. It depend on how you use it, everything must be done in moderation.

  55. not only commuting does that but when you work from home, as many free-lancers do, you tend to spend lots of time alone and it can become a habit that you have to break … thanks for the post

    • Ad-lib Traveller

      Good mention re. Freelance workers. I commute and sometimes mix out up to with from home. I hate the commute. I’m based in London and find people to be very distant, isolated and self absorbed. Which is almost a direct opposite of myself. I like to have someone to discuss with, even if it’s banter about the weather. The isolation drives me crazy!

      • me too at times. I do enjoy my own company, which is good when you write, but I love top bounce things of others and all I have are the walls :-)

  56. I commute by bicycle about an hour to work and an hour and a half home, given it is mostly uphill home. Since I am not constrained to a car, I can choose to deviate my route from the roads to a bike trail for part of my commute. The freedom I have and the ride in general put me a good mood on most days. I find I am very social and less exhausted if I bike rather than use public transportation. I generally enjoy my commute, it gives me time to meditate on things and wake me up in the mornings.

    When I had a car, I hated going places. Traffic makes me tense. I find myself angrier and less dignified behind the wheel of a car. So my commute is suitable for me, although I wish I worked closer to home, after 10-12 hour days that commute home is not something I look forward to.

  57. I love this post and the concept of The Search! I am a daily commuter and I love using my “alone” time to read books and learn. Plus I absolutely despise driving and traffic! So taking a train is perfect for me!

  58. Very interesting! I love where we live as it is so beautiful out in the country but I probably socialize less with my fellow students because it is more of an effort to go see them outside of uni, so I can see how it would affect your social life. I think it also depends on if you are a social person though as you make the effort :). I enjoyed your blog!

  59. liv

    I think commuting does in deed impact your social life, but then again, it depends on how you approach the situation. As a college student, I just make friends with other commuters. It’s easier not to feel out of the campus loop that way. Another thing is if you take the train or carpool you can just socialize with fellow commuters then. And as for myself, I don’t mind the down time on the train to just chill, listen to some good music and draw. :) Nice blog

  60. I commute to and from school everyday (That is around two hours). Sometimes I would take a different route because all of my friends took that. I guess commuting indeed works both ways. It’s good to go home with friends (I see it as a extended hang-out time). It’s lonely if the place you’re going is somewhere people don’t ride to get to their homes. But then again, maybe we’re all just shy to chat up the person sitting next to us when we’re commuting. If we’re not, then it becomes an opportunity to build a new connection :D

    P.S. Keep up the great writing.

  61. Commuting works both ways!
    Thank you for sharing this! :D
    http://journeythroughhtml.wordpress.com

  62. Anonymous

    I love me time! :P

  63. Alone and lonely are absolutely different. And I think about this too – travelling by bus to work is a good alone time away from the crazy day ahead. Does it make you less sociable? I’m not too sure. Maybe. But sometimes we just need it. You can’t be interacting endlessly with people, after all. Good writing though, thanks for sharing!

  64. Congrats on being freshly pressed

  65. Omg, it’s true especially when you don’t have any form of entertainment. But maybe that isn’t so bad for people considering one can be alone with their thoughts during their travels and meditate on things they wouldn’t normally do during such a distracted lifestyle. I remember having to travel back and fourth for two hours every day for a full 4 hours a day to get to work and back home. My job was out of state and boy was that grueling. I mean it can be brutal even with some sort of entertainment but sadly this was during a ipodless time so you can imagine how i felt, lol -,o

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  66. H

    I commute daily to and from school for almost 2 hours either way. It’s terribly draining, plus the air is so polluted, but sometimes it’s a good time to be alone and just think about what to do when I arrive at my destination.

  67. I live pretty far from nearly everything–work, malls, restos, bars, friends’ houses and the like. I’ve never driven so commuting is the only way for me to get to places. That said, I don’t think my long commute to everything has derailed and gotten in the way of my social life. I guess it’s the personality that comes into play–if you’re the sort to always go, “Oh, I can’t make it, I live too far,” then that’s social interaction you don’t get to have. But if you are, literally, willing to go the distance, then friendships endure, new ones are made. The thing in the Philippines, while traffic IS a nightmare, there are many options when it comes to public transportation. It takes some serious balls and savvy to figure them out but once you do, you’re fine. Personally, I’m more terrified driving than commuting. Traffic laws and regulations are, at best, suggestions here, and everyone is basically a stunt driver. Commuting can be tiring but I figure, as long as I don’t get seated next to a screaming baby or something worse, then I’m fine. Just as long as I arrive where I want to go.

  68. Christina

    Congrats! I used to commute by car, then I moved to an area where I don’t need a car and I take public transit to work. I feel more connected to my community now. I am actually walking down the street, seeing the same people and having some kind of interaction, however superficial. It is much less isolating than driving, and more environmentally friendly : )

  69. Monica

    I stumbled across your blog as the title to this post caught my eye. I commute a minimum of 90mins one-way to get to work and that is a mix of walking and public transport. I lose so much time each day to commuting that sometimes I am put off even seeing friends in the evening when I know that I have to do the commute afterwards and that I will have to clock watch to make sure I catch my train. It really does affect your whole life especially as I don’t have any close girl friends where I live either. I then started to read your other posts and the blog looks fantastic. Good luck.

  70. Andrew Thompson

    I used to love my cathartic commuting time and feel a bit at loose ends since it’s been reduced to three minutes. Sure, it’s good for the greening of the earth, but there was something to the long day’s journey into wherever it was I went. Thank for an interesting and insightful post!

  71. My commute is quite social. I take the train an hour-plus each way and usually have people to talk to. But the talk is not very deep, and I don’t socialize with my train friends very often outside of the commute.

  72. 1hr + commuting time each side in Delhi’s super hot weather means, 2 hours resting time after reaching home, and leaving your social life to the weekends only. It’s pathetic! :P
    Nice Post though! :D

  73. Before I moved into the city, I had to commute 3 hours each day to get to work (to and from). I worked overtime almost every day and the commute became unbearable. Definitely did NOT have a social life during that period of time.

    My commute now is a 20 min walk to work, a good amount of alone time before entering the chaos waiting ahead of me :) Don’t miss the long hours on the metro but still get the nice chill time.

  74. I have had a number of jobs over the years, some with long commutes, some short. My first job out of college required a 35 minute commute each way (without traffic). Most of the time, I dreaded having to fight traffic and stressed about getting to work on time. There were also days that it was nice because I had plenty of time to think about what I needed to accomplish that day, as well as reflecting on what I accomplished on the way home. There were a number of weeks that I would not go out on a Friday night because I was so tired from a long week of work. The extra 5+ hours of commuting every week drained my energy.

    Now, I own my own business, and have a 5 minute commute to my office. I have found that those extra 60 minutes enable me to get a lot more accomplished during the day. Another benefit is I am not as tired because the shorter commute does not require me to wake up as early.

  75. Dienna

    I don’t think that commuting on public transportation boosts the chances of potential friendships. I constantly ride a crowded train with the same people (more or less) daily to work, and ride a bus home where I also tend to see the same group of people, but no one wants to reach out and talk to one another. People are too absorbed in their BlackBerrys, Kindles, newspapers, and Sudoku puzzles to care. And when I’m on that crowded morning train, the only thing I’m thinking about is “when in the world will I be free of that sardine can feeling?”

  76. Firstly congratulations on being “freshly pressed”, I too have been pressed this week! I don’t have a commute but I can remember when I used to sit for what felt like hours on the motorway. I used to pass the time by singing along to the radio. Not just a slight mumble either I am talking a full blown “lets pretend you are Celine Dion” kind of a sing-song. I still like to shout a tune out when in the car but now I at lease have the excuse of having a son in the back to sing to!

    I am just looking at the comment above by Dienna and would agree with her 100%. I am sure that the New Yorker was right about the commute statistics but I feel a bigger problem has been created by everyone being so absorbed in their virtual friends and the need to constantly be looking at their smart phone. I saw a girl today riding a horse, on a busy road while checking out her iPhone!

  77. Great find! As an urban planner to be, i have always been sensitive to the effects of automobiles to social interactions…I just havent found the research…until now lol. Thanks greatly :)

  78. I recently thought to myself that driving is a lonely activity. And it is true that people act like the car is their room: in both places they pick their nose; it seems when they’re in their car they think they can’t be seen doing this.

  79. Nurfitriana

    Reblogged this on Fitri's journal.

  80. what an interesting report on research! I am going to have to read the study now!

  81. JL

    Lol, it’s not so bad for lone wolves such as myself. I often try to find places to isolate myself and hide in a corner… sometimes it’s more tiring to pretend to be interested in what other people have to say than to do labor work.

  82. My 43 minute commute used to suck royally then i discovered my cassette adapter turned mp3link. Now, i have podcasts and it becomes some of my most cherished moments. Great post

  83. I have a 20-minute commute. But I always yearned for a longer commute so I could ride the subway. Then I could read the newspaper and/or book, people watch and just clear my head before heading into the chaos of the office.

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  85. “You could drive to work without your pants on, and no one would know.”
    Pshh, I always drive to work with my pants off. Then again, I also walk, skip and bike to work with my pants off so that’s nothing special.

  86. “Do you think you’d have more friends if you spent less time hauling yourself to and from work?”

    Heck, I would have more friends if I started *hauling myself out* more often! No study needed on me, I assure you ;) How else can we be social if we’re not hauling ourselves from one place to another to see one another?

    That kind of sounded like a riddle.
    But really? How else??

    • And you can’t say “the internet”

      On second thought, I think that’s why there is an increase in car accidents in recent years from texting—- to escape loneliness when driving!

      Would love to see a discussion/research on how social media plays into all of this commuting statistic.

  87. I usually tell myself I’ll pray or solve a specific problem while commuting and instead I always end up looking at fellow passengers or pedestrians and wandering what their story is. I don’t think commuting makes people less social. You’re already exposed to people you’d never meet in another forum .

  88. I commute on public transport (bus) every day from a small town in rural Ireland to the centre of Dublin city. It takes roughly 1 hour 40 mins each way and I have to say that after 13 years of doing this I have worked it to my advantage. In the morning my bus is like a mobile dormitary, everyone (except the driver of course!!) sleeps. And this is where the ‘commuter ettiquette’ comes in… If you are a day tripper you DO NOT talk loudly on the early morning buses! You DO NOT attempt to make small talk to the regulars, they might growl at you! ;-)
    Evening time is a bit different, you might have a chance of getting some conversation from fellow commuters, I know i read my book, listen to my music or browse the web :) …. wifi on Irelands public transport is still new to us! But I have come to value this time as ”me time” and i love it!

    Regarding the research, I agree with previous responders. Alot does depend on the person and the personality type. I can understand how driving can be a lonlier place than on public transport, however in Ireland we’d make conversations about anything! and it wouldn’t be unheard of to come into work to hear a ”wait till i tell you what happened on my way in to work”… so in that respect it can be a conversation starter.. :)

    I think it also depends on your family situation. I am single, i don’t have children, so i don’t begrudge and blame my commute on not being able to spend quality time with my loved ones. I think there is a certain element of that with some people.

    I’m not sure I’d know how to cope if I had only 10 minutes to travel to work every day. Certainly I’d gain some time at home… but would i continue to read books or would I go out and socialise more? Who knows….. :)

    • I’d have to agree with you whole hardily, the Irish do make conversation out of anything and everything! Living in Cork coming up on 5 years now! I do believe that the topic of conversation favourites more often than not is about their adventures coming to and fro! It’s a the common enemy that everyone can unite against which fosters many great relationships!

  89. Es preferible un viaje en solitario que no soportar situaciones incomodas con una mala compañía.

  90. I have 2 commutes. One is only a 10 min. walk. The other is a 2 day trip to the US from Ireland. One doesn’t make up for the other in terms of friendships or social circles. I get the same amount of enjoyment and personal connections with both, just different. At risk of dating myself, like a Ritz Bitz Crackers, they’re the same but different. I enjoy the walk to work, meeting people while they’re walking their dogs or just out for a stroll. It’s a great opportunity to stretch the legs and get a bit of exercise. I love my 2 day commute to the US and back. Just think, you’re on a plane for 5 to 11 hours, you have every excuse and/or reason to just sit and relax and watch terrible movies that we won’t admit to anyone that we like! Fun times all around I’d say!

  91. My commute into work used to be an hour and a half, now it’s a half hour. I def have more time to connect with friends and am more likely to grab drinks or take a gym class than I was back when my commute was a huge time suck. Just thinking that no matter what activity I participated in meant not getting home until 10 made me less likely to be social. So I totally agree with these studies. Great post!

  92. JP

    I agree with what you are saying in the article.

  93. I used to commute Essex to Miltenkeyns in UK for work. i remember it took two and half hours to reach my work place . Every day i had to wake up at 6:00 in the morning starting my journey from Gants Hill of Essex. Had to change couple to tube stations to reach Kings Cross and then over ground fast train…. wow i really enjoyed my days of commuting…. watching people ….smelling fresh COSTA coffee in Kings Cross station… reading books.. watching from the window of train the changing landscapes….i was totally and lonely foreigner in that country …. i suddenly fell in love with my loneliness and the journey……that was absolutely out of everything! Never felt my loneliness as burden or pain… it differs person to person how you handle the situation and make most of it even if you are so alone:-)

  94. To be honest, the title grabbed my attention as I have been commuting 160 miles a day or 120 minutes 5 days/week for the past 3 years. I never realized my drive was so isolating until I read this article. For me, I use my commute time to call my friends and family. It gives me the opportunity to stay in contact with those I love in an otherwise hectic life. Outside of the social aspect, my commute time gives me time to unwind from the days work, or alternatively gives me time to plan for the upcoming day. All in all, I just make do with the commute time and try to stay positive as not to drive myself crazy!

  95. catcristy

    I have a short mileage commute, but time wise it take’s up to an hour (after work). I agree with the @lindsay colle, I try to stay positive and use the time to unwind, call my family, or plan the upcoming day, or sometime I plan dinner. However, I think the reason why I enjoy this time alone is because I don’t have to deal with traffic! My commute is all through back country roads where I barely hit traffic.

  96. I used to have a very short commute to the next town – about 20 mins – for the past three years. I saw the same people day in and day out, five days a week and in that time, made ‘train friends’. I don’t know if it’s because I live in a small town and people tend to say hello, but you recognise people who catch the same train as you and you end up chatting. I’ve been told that the commuter train from London to Brighton, they end up cracking open beers on a Friday in the carriages. I have no idea how true this is (can anyone verify this?!), but in my (limited) experience of train commuting, it’s quite sociable. I now happen to to take the school bus to work now… somehow I don’t think I’d be making ‘bus friends’.

  97. Hmm… interesting. I have a long commute, but I am also a very introverted person. Friends? Not unless you count the few people I talk to at work. :D

  98. I was a commuter, and I don’t think I have kept any of the friends I had met in college, unless I already knew them outside of school. I had friends at school, but it was just like until the class was over. I always wondered if it would have been different if I stayed on campus.

  99. I used to have over an hour on the train to and from work and now I drive 5 minutes each way. I definately prefer having that extra 2 hours of my life back – great blog. Pam

  100. During my college days I never had to commute as I lived one block away from campus & this made me the one of the only people on campus who participated in practically every extra-curricular activity that the college had. Most of my friends didn’t have the luxury of taking part in all the activities that I did because they had a commute of about 45 mins to and fro so decided it was a waste of their time and didn’t get involved. I now spend half an hour to travel to work and about an hour to get back as the traffic is really bad & sometimes instead of staying back to have a drink with my colleagues or play a game of badminton I find myself wanting to get home so that I can start on dinner, finish up and begin planning for the next day!

  101. Personally, I find my commuting time on transit luxurious. Being a student, it is not only a chance for me to catch up on sleep, but also catch up on any unfinished readings or studying! Sometimes, coming from a martial arts background, I simply just sit back and use that time to meditate :)

    Nice blog,
    Kenneth

  102. I used to have a driving commute of 10 minutes and when I moved to a different location that was an hour away, I was appalled. I couldn’t help but think that it was so much wasted time in a car that I dreaded starting that job.

    I learned that it was a great time to be alone in the car as it allowed me to relax and let the events of the day unwind…..whethere I was singing in the car, tapping the wheel because I was wound up from the events of the day or if I just needed some alone time to reflect on what was going on for the day.

    I learned to LOVE the commuting time…..and, on top of that, I became more social as I missed seeing my friends so much I found ways to spend more time with them.

  103. Reblogged this on colonrevolution and commented:
    I studied in Tokyo for a year. Traveling 40 minutes everyday from home to class was one of the loneliest time I have ever spent in my entire life. This post nicely captures it.

  104. Julle Ann for emocardio

    Loved this read. This is the last week of my current job. I drive 35 minutes each way, and that’s a short commute if you look at my track record. Later this month, I start a new chapter that involves local employment. This will be the first time in 10 years that I haven’t had to commit for work, school, or an internship. I’m energized just writing about it!

  105. Great Story! I think it really depends on the individual, the more social someone is the less they lose because of long commutes but folks who tend to be “loners” probably see a greater effect in the amount of people they lose contact with after they start regular long commutes.

  106. isabellafellini

    My friend lives in a super trendy neighborhood and only commutes 10 miles each way to work; when home, she never uses a car; she is near everything–work, shopping, groceries, bars, parks, etc–and she pays $800 more than me in rent alone! Everyone has to make their own lists and find which side the happiness scale tips for them.

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  108. Reblogged this on Aflame By His Light and commented:
    Interesting article.

  109. Interesting. I live in Sydney, Australia, and currently commute by train. It can have its social moment, ie, a lot of the time I bump into people I know from work or the neighbourhood and it is a good opportunity for a chat. I probably don’t socialise around the neighbourhood as much as I could though if working closer to home.

  110. Chevaune

    My husband has been commuting everyday for the last two years, currently for 3hrs a day. He has definitely struggled with finding time to socialize as he is usually too exhausted. As a result hasn’t got a very good network of friends. He has friends at work but obviously struggles again to spend time with them outside of working hours, as he has to commute home. I think 3hrs of free time everyday would definitely make a difference in his life and I am sure once the commute stops in a few weeks time, the change will be noticeable. I’ll let you know!

  111. I have a long commute to school and I feel if I lived on campus that I might have more friends since I would have a closer connection to the community. I miss the on-campus gatherings during Frosh week where that is the optimal time to make friends since I live about an hour and half commute (one way). I usually have to get back to my city for work or other prior commitments.

  112. i’ve never commuted more than 20 minutes to work… currently i can bike to work in less than 15, but i don’t have any friends. i think it’s just hard to meet people you can relate to. i find people to be very transparent, including me. but sometimes i think i’m so transparent that i’m invisible….

  113. I’m a people watcher, making a public transportation commute not too bad for me. Oh yeah, and I commute about 4 hours everyday.

  114. I used to have a train or sometimes drive commute to the city. I enjoyed the actual commuting time for the reasons most people have already stated. I do believe though it it added to my isolation. I didn’t belong in either place. I was either worried about getting to work or getting home, train schedules or traffic patterns. Rushing to get home on the right train or beat traffic and then I’d be home and didn’t have a lot going on there. Lived too far to establish outside connections from work or city people. Wasn’t home early enough to establish new connections with the suburban folk, who spent a lot of time on home maintenance and once home, going back out, especially into the city felt counter-productive. Can’t just stay in the city because of family time, which is important. So yeah, the “alone” time during the commute was great, but it took it’s toll. I had destinations, got a lot done, had quiet time, but was not connected.

  115. when I mentioned to my Nan I might go to university in London her immediate reaction was ‘oohh its a lonely old place london’. A few years on, (having chosen Brighton!) i found out what she meant. I was commuting nearly 2 hrs each way for placements in London on trains, tubes and buses.. i was always feeling exhausted, worn out and unsociable – ready to jump straight into bed knowing i’d have to repeat the experience in less than 10 hours. I couldn’t have kept that up and to be fair i was commuting further than if it was a permanent position but I totally agree with this article. commuting is wearing and there’s only so much entertainment you can get out of ready a book or listening to music every single day for that long.

  116. I used to take the L to work but started driving last year. It takes me 20 minutes by car. I love it! But then again, I’m anti-social by nature so I don’t think public transport would make me any different.

    Great blog!

  117. Amazing Post!!Congratulations on being freshly Pressed!!!

  118. But you have more time to read books.

  119. Since starting a new job a couple of weeks ago, my commute is now nearly an hr and a half. It’s the getting up 1.5 hrs earlier that is the killer. Come 9.30 in the evening, I’m exhausted. Friends tend not to like being yawned at, thus I completely understand this theory!

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  121. Congratulations on your (well deserved) Freshly Pressage! I have to commute about an hour each way, 3 times a week, and I don’t think it has much bearing on my social life. In college, I commuted from NJ into NYC, and it was the same. I don’t really like interacting with strangers, and even at work I don’t seek out conversation except with a few close colleagues, so I don’t think the commute makes any difference! I have a small group of friends and that’s always who I’ve chosen to socialize with – although it’s a different story in the blogosphere! What an interesting question, though!

  122. Lee Stacey

    It’s the same for train commuters too. Perhaps even worse because you’re purposely shutting yourself off from travel companions that are doing the same.

    It’s a killer.

    • samscham

      I agree. I take the train to and from school, about an hour each way, and no one wants to be bothered, including me. I have to miss out on some social events at school because of the commute and not wanting to get home at such a late hour. The alone time is nice sometimes, but mostly it is a killer.

  123. I’m very happy to read this. This is the kind of details that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that is at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best doc.

  124. A little while back I used to write a column for my college newspaper about how going to a commuter school affects students’ social lives and how to make it better. I do think that being a commuter has a large impact on your social life, I mean after commuting for so long people just want to finish up and go home. Also, most people work or go to school around where they live ( if lucky) so that makes meeting new people in the area easier. And you can just go out, and stumble back home. It ain’t easy commuting… plain and simple.

  125. I lived in the Washington DC area for years and carpooled most of the time. Generally it was only me and another individual. I found having someone in the car for the commute to have a calming effect on me. I could bitch about the day, get the feedback, and move on before I got home. Therefore I seemed to leave any pent up aggression in the car during the commute. Years later, having retired and moved to Florida I made many solitary trips to Kentucky and back, hour after hour alone in the car, I found this to be calming as well. There was a different purpose to the trip, but the result was the same. I never felt lonesome, nor did I ever think about the impact my commute had on me, or those I considered friends. During my years in the Washington DC area we all commuted, my commute was 40 mins each way, but some like you spent well over 2 hours a day commuting. Heck in many ways this may have enhanced our friendships because we could always share the “you wouldn’t believe what happened today on the way to work” conversation.

    Your piece was a good read and I enjoyed it. Take care

  126. Hmm, very interesting research. Maybe I should try to cut back on my commute! It’s pretty boring, anyway! Looking forward to the next post!

  127. southernwomanstheory

    I can see this being true, especially if you’re traveling by car. When I did it my communte wasn’t long about 30-40 each way but I did enjoy the time alone to think or howl at the radio with laughter. Sometimes you need that alone time.

  128. First of all, LOVE the name of your blog!

    Second, my commute involves a crowded Metro train every day. Even surrounded by people, it can still be lonely. Especially when we all have earbuds in to avoid interaction.

    I have GOT to be better at socializing. Great post! Congrats on being FP.

  129. Wow. This was me for the last six months. I drove an hour each way to a teaching job that not only left me exhausted, but occasionally not getting home until well past dark because of meetings, conferences and the many other things that keep us late at work. I played it off that I enjoyed the “me time”, but really it sucked that I came home, got in my workout (which I desperately needed), ate and then it was time to be in bed. I had basically no social life. Since summer started, I’ve been so much more social and I’m so glad to be working closer to home now!!

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