It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“When a friend who lives less than a mile away becomes happy, it can increase the probability that you are happy by 25 percent. In contrast, the happiness of a friend who lives more than a mile away has no effect.” (Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler)
Yesterday’s blog post was another ode to consistency. But, as we know, proximity is another vital factor for friendship. The closer you live to someone, the better shot you have of hitting it off. Research shows that having similar addresses matters more than having similar values or interests. Sometimes, a difference of mere feet can affect who you click with. The person you sit next to in class has a much better likelihood of becoming your best friend than the student four seats down.
But what are the parameters? How close is close enough? Reader Marie inquired about as much in a comment yesterday: “I am wondering how close you need to live to a friend (or group of friends) to stay actively involved in their lives and not fall into a distant relationship? Obviously across the country is a distant friendship. But what about across the state? Or across a metropolitan city? That could be an hour away. How close do your friends need to be before your friendship starts fading due to the distance? Is a friendship that is 10 minutes away more likely to continue than one 30 minutes away?”
This is such a good question, and it’s actually one I put in my book proposal back in the day. Would someone I liked just-enough but lived in my neighborhood be a more likely BFF than someone I totally clicked with but lived across town? I tend to think the mile-marker is a pretty good barometer. Someone who lives within a mile of you probably will have the most influence, not just on your happiness (as referenced above) but also on your loneliness level. Once a friend lives more than a mile away, it becomes tougher to see them on a whim or meet for a quick lunch.
When I first started this blog I heard from a potential friend who lived in Illinois, but still about an hour away from me. We discussed getting together, but ultimately it didn’t work out. The main reason? Distance. Once it takes an hour to see someone across the state, it’s not much more difficult (though certainly more expensive) to fly across the country. I think the ability to get a spontaneous Sunday morning brunch is the key to close friendship. Even if you never actually get that last-minute meal, knowing that you can actually helps a friendship thrive.
To answer Marie’s questions, I sort of think that, yes, a friendship might start to fade if a BFF moves from 10 minutes away to 30 minutes away. It’s not that you won’t be best friends anymore, but I think that sense of immediacy and closeness that you get from a nearby pal might wane a bit. I would posit that a 10-minute-away friendship is more likely to thrive than a half-hour-away one.
Basically, every little bit counts. 10 minutes is better than 30, but 30 is better than an hour. It might sound formulaic, but I think it’s just reality.
So, my take—with a little help from Christakis and Fowler—is that a mile is the magic distance. Just the simple fact that your happy friend is within a mile of you is probably what’s making you 25 percent happier, anyway.
What do you think? Do you have a friendship distance hypothesis? Think my one-mile rule is too limiting?