When I tell people I’m blogging about friendship, they often picture a web page in which I dot my i’s with little hearts and put smiley faces in my o’s. But this blog is not meant to be an earnest celebration of the sisterhood of women. It’s also not intended as a forum for venting about toxic friendships. So much of friend-related writing falls into those categories: sentimental or snarky. My hope is to initiate a discussion that falls somewhere in the middle: honest and optimistic. Navigating the BFF waters is tricky and I want this to be a space to discuss the real issues surrounding adult friendships, as well as somewhere for me to share my sometimes-painfully awkward adventures in friend-making. If it somehow changes the notion that women rarely talk about friendship intelligently, or it inspires you to think about your own friendships, so much the better.
The science of friendship is fascinating—like how having plenty of close friends can drastically improve your chances of surviving breast cancer, or the fact that having an office BFF makes you roughly a billion (or exactly seven) times more engaged in your job. So I’ve decided to officially deem Wednesdays “Research Day.” I’d been adhering to this in my head already, but if there are readers who are only interested in the science, now you know. Come back every Hump Day and I’ll to provide you with a study or finding that’ll make you say “Huh.”
For the official kickoff (it’s kind of like a grand opening, when a store’s already been open for weeks, or a play’s opening night even though it’s been showing in previews—I’ve never really understood that), I want to call your attention to a statistic that I found striking, if not entirely surprising: During our teenage years, we spend nearly one-third of our time with friends. For the rest of our lives, the average time spent with friends is less than 10%.
In the crazybusy adult world we live in—one with time necessarily allocated to work, family, relationships/dating, and errands—we can’t dedicate a third of our time to friends. But less than a tenth? In 2000, Robert Putnam reported on the drastic decline in people either having friends over or going out to see them. “Visits with friends are now on the social capital endangered species list,” he wrote in his book Bowling Alone.
I get this. I really do. Because while I’m enjoying meeting and mingling with potential BFFs, I have a confession to make: It’s exhausting. After a long day of work, faced with the knowledge that I have more work to do at home, compounded with my desire to actually spend some time with my husband and the nagging knowledge of errands undone, the prospect of grabbing drinks with someone I hardly know—just the idea of having to be “on”—can sometimes feel like I’m being asked to strap on a weighted vest and sprint the steps of the Eiffel Tower.
When we’re wiped out and feel like the couch is the only place we belong, what’s the first layer of fat to be trimmed? Friends. It’s not like we can bail on our jobs, or kids, or partners. But we can always call our friends and explain our dilemma and get off the hook, right? If she’s my friend, she’ll understand. Or so we tell ourselves.
And because as good friends we want to behave like good friends, we say “Of course I understand, it’s no problem at all,” when someone cancels. We might even be secretly relieved. But here’s one thing I’ve learned from experience: No matter how exhausted I am, spending real engaged time with a friend—even a potential one—is a pick-me-up. In fact, according to one study, 85% of adults feel less stressed and more energized after they’ve spent time with friends.
Think of friend-dating like exercise. You may not always be in the mood, but you’ll feel so much better afterwards.
Have you found yourself canceling on friends because you’re busy and overwhelmed? Do you find yourself feeling better when you do have get-togethers? And why do women so often feel it’s ok to cancel on friend time?