When you (and the majority of your friends) choose to go to college 45 minutes away from your hometown, you do a pretty good job of sidestepping the necessity of making new friends. I may have made friends during college and occasionally at past jobs, but where are those people now? I have a vague idea of their relative geographic location, but I couldn’t tell you much else.
It’s been a while since I fled the coop, and in the past 5 years or so I’ve spent a lot of time considering friendship, facebook, and the Twin Cities. What I’ve discovered is that it’s really hard to make new, close, “real” friends in Minneapolis. Everyone seems to be well contented with their own current social life, and in no rush to make additions.
During my search for new friends, I’ve experienced a distinct pattern:
Stage 1: Complacency/Comfort. I LOVE my old friends and we have so much fun.
Stage 2: Growing Pains. A bunch of my friends (or I) decide to relocate for a while - just where did my social life go?
Stage 3: The Pep Talk. I’m determined to make new friends. This involves a fervent attempt to talk to new people in Minneapolis and make plans with them.
Stage 4: The Let Down. If I manage to arrange a “first date” with someone (including the obligatory Facebooking “friending”), I either get blown off or make it to the “first friend date” where I experience a live and painful social nosedive due to lack of enthusiasm/mutual interest.
Stage 5: The Return. I continue to spend time with my lovely, understanding, old friends with whom I share a lot of history and opinions, but, I still occasionally hanker for new faces and perspectives.
Where is the friendship chemistry, Minneapolis?
I used to blame myself for not making enough new friends. Did I have some sort of inherent disability to meet new people? But the more I got to talking with others, the more I realized that my struggle to make new friends in Minnesota was not an exception—it was the rule. Especially when speaking to folks who’ve relocated from out of state, it’s apparent that “Minnesotans don’t make new friends.”
As a Minnesotan myself, it’s not hard to recognize the strange cliquiness that occurs here in the Cities. Identifying people from out of state is a snap because they’ll actually talk to you, despite the fact that you are a stranger. And as for all of these “great friends” we consider our besties—admit it, the majority of them are from grade school.
Now, before you find yourself in a huff over my outrageous claims, I’ll admit that there are some unique individuals who’ve managed to rise above the status quo and befriend some new people. But I bet you $5 that most of these new friends aren’t from Minneapolis—that’s for damn sure.
Is this friendemic specific to the Twin Cities, or is it part of the larger worldwide shift in friendship we’ve seen as of late?
According to Stephen Marche of the Atlantic, the average number of close confidants of a person has been in steady decline.
Marche states that in 1985, “only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only 1 confidant.” Scary stuff, right? One in four of us (or more) feels as though we have no one to talk to about life’s biggest challenges.
Why is it that we “Minnesota Nicers” don’t make room for new friends? Is it our cold, closed, Scandinavian attitude? Or is this friend stagnation we’re experiencing actually reflective of larger shifts in social interaction suggeted in the Atlantic?
Marche explains that the internet and social media may be to blame for the degradation of modern friendships. Last month’s copy of the Atlantic overtly points an inquisitive finger in the direction of social networking sites, its cover asking in bold, blue text, “Is Facebook Making us Lonely?”
Marche urges readers to differentiate between the social networks of the past and today. Modern communication and the internet may have grown our web of connections, but these connections are shallower. Suddenly, we exist in a world of distinctions between “real friends” and online friends, and these digital connections are “interfering with our real friendships, distancing us from each other, making us lonelier…”
This screen-based way of life is more isolated, and therefore often lonelier:
A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to the major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.
It makes sense that we share less face time due to screens and social media. As Marche outlines, “We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds our less meaningful and less easy.”
In today’s market, you can even rent a friend or husband or mother by the hour to help you feel socially secure and deal with your problems. Wha?!
The size of our physical social networks is in decline, with the mean size of networks of personal confidants shrinking “from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004,” as Marche explains.
The allure and offerings of the social network phenomenon culminate into a contradiction between growing close and growing apart, a incongruity coined the “Internet paradox”.
The question at hand: Does modern communication technology bring us together or break us apart?
When it comes to understanding the reason why Twin Cities residents are irked by the idea of forming new friendships, I turn to Marche’s exploration of Facebook’s appeal:
“The beauty of Facebook, the source of its power, is that it enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society—the accidental revelations we make at parties, the awkward pauses, the farting and the spilled drinks and the general gaucherie of face-to-face contact. Instead, we have the lovely smoothness of a seemingly social machine. Everything’s so simple: status update, pictures, your wall.”
Real friendships, whether old or new, are a lot of work and involve a certain amount of clumsiness and room for error, unlike your glossy, seemingly nonchalant wall post.