A Campaign for Real Friends
I am suggesting a global initiative to fight off the fault lines of friendship and turn around this generational social isolation trend. It takes energy. It can take courage. And the effort needs to start today, not when the pandemic is over, and we’ve all been vaccinated, and you’ll be racing off to other things. Let’s call this liminal period “A Campaign for Real Friends”.
Breaking it down:
It’s a campaign—we want people to make a concerted nine month effort to reach out and make a dent in resewing existing connections and cultivating new meaningful connections during this middle stage of the pandemic
It’s real—we’ll make the distinction here: Facebook Friends are not real friends, they are the equivalent of the couchsurfer who stayed on your couch for one night, only to move to the next passing town—the type of friendship we are talking about here is genuine peership
It’s friends—there are colleagues, associates, random acquaintances, social followers and distant confrères: unless they are getting elevated a rung or two on your social ladder we’re not talking about those people; we want true reciprocal friendships—real friends are those rare people that ask how we are and actually wait for the answer (and vice-versa)
We are also adding in a focus across two DIFFERENT levels and two DIFFERENT caveats described below. We are asking people to go outside the boundaries of family, as much as they may be genuine friends. Blood-based friends have a different duty of obligation. We presume you may have 5-10 family friends that would make your overall number climb above thirty. We are also not talking about friends of utility where peering happens based on what friends can singularly provide you, not what you both can enjoy.
The Mission of The Campaign for Real Friends
Over the course of the next nine months, we want you to establish and re-establish strong connections with 24 Real Friends. Six (6) on the inside circle—we’ll call them best friends, Eighteen (18) on the outside circle—let’s call these people close friends.
Don’t be afraid. You are doing this as much for their benefit as you are yours.
Let’s Define The Two Circles:
Six (6) Best Friends*:
Noted anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests we have 5 intimate friends. Much of his work might have been a generous understanding of what an intimate friend means and we know since his early 2000s work, these numbers have been creeping down. This closest circle might be most under stress as there is research to suggest the average person might be down to one close friend (Source: Business Insider). Let’s define them:
These are people you would turn to in a crisis
These would be people that you could trust with their confidences on a wide variety of things and know they won’t pass judgement on you
These are people that genuinely care about your well-being
These are people you like to spend long periods of time with
These are people you have cultivated through mutual respect and admiration
These are people in a pre-pandemic world, you could consider travelling with
There is some permanence amongst this group knowing most will stay as best friends over the course of the next decade and beyond
Eighteen (18) Close Friends*
Dunbar suggests we have 15 close friends. Another more recent study in 2016, suggested among our Facebook friends, we would only trust 4 in a crisis and only 43 would be considered any type of real friend. The truth likely lies somewhere in that range. We’ve chosen 18 as a healthy number of friends to provide variety, diversity and value to a post-COVID life. Regardless of exact number, these number of friends people have varies widely based on self-evaluation, age, gender, opportunity provided, type of work, time available and income but has experienced downward pressure too. Let’s try to define this group
These are people you celebrate good news with
These are people you rely on and trust, but on a narrower range of subjects
These people would describe themselves as supporters of you
These are people that you enjoy being around, and the converse would be true
These are people that you have some shared interest with and they understand you
These are people in a pre-pandemic world you would consider having over to your place for dinner
These are people that you recognize may not be the longest-standing friends but for the time period are very important
Caveat: Who knows maybe you will find out that people from one circle will travel to the other circle (or outside both circles entirely) upon further scrutiny & investment
Condition - Type of Friends
One of the dangers of peership is that you end up making friends with the exact replicas of yourself.
This has narrower benefits, hampers personal growth and doesn’t get at the social divisions that afflict our society. We’re adding in some constraints on at least 10 types of friends here:
One needs to be a work friend - you spend way too much of your life at work (1,381-to-2,250 hours per year depending on country - Source: OECD) to not make friends - more than 20% of people suggest they don’t have one real friend through their work; apparently engineering, finance, healthcare, HR and government are tougher areas to make friends (Source: Olivet). Please feel free to substitute volunteer/occupational/educational friends for people not currently in the workforce.
One needs to be a neighbour - part of the breakdown of the social fabric of our communities is not feeling tied to your local surroundings - 66% of people don’t feel friendly with one neighbour and 90% of people don’t have a close friend as a neighbour (Source: Nextdoor). We’ve made declarations to shop local during this pandemic, perhaps we should peer local too.
One needs to be a friend from a different culture or religion - friendship across cultures increases shared knowledge, open-mindedness, tolerance, emotional intelligence and global viewpoints - never mind the food. Unfortunately, 74% suggest our friend groups are mostly similar to ourselves when it comes to ethnicity (Source: Barna).
One needs to be friend from a different race - in America, an average White person has 91 times as many White friends than Black friends; the average Black person has 10 times as many Black friends than White friends - a whopping three quarters of White people don’t have any non-White friends at all. And we wonder why we have racial strife and divisions (Source: Public Religion Research Institute).
One needs to be at least a generation older than you - perhaps they play the role of mentor based on looking up to them with a strive to be more like them as you approach their life stage. Regrettably, this transfer of knowledge is limited currently as only 37% of us believe we have a close friend from another generation (Source: AARP).
One needs to be at least a generation younger than you - perhaps in this case you can play the role of mentor, or gain the benefits of reverse mentorship. One of the positives is that nearly half of intergenerational relationships last more than a decade (Source; AARP).
One needs to have a different political outlook than you - external threats to our society and ways of life exist from all sides, terrorism, climate change, shifting economic strains and education challenges to name a few. The level of division, animosity and negative sentiments between political divides is currently unhealthy, stops society from functioning and blinds people on both sides; 76% say they can’t even agree on the basic facts and the majority believe the other side is close-minded & immoral in the USA (Source: Pew Research). This is not just a national but also an increasingly global trait. Understanding the other side of the aisle needs to start somewhere, why not with you?
One of them needs to be a different gender than you - you can gain tremendous insight and perspective on how the other half lives and gain advantageous advice too. 92% of us have evolved to believe that different genders can just be friends, the average among us have 1.4 platonic good friends and rises generally with age (Source: Barna).
One needs to be from a different socio-economic status - having friends of different socio-economic classes may have logistical challenges, but leads to greater social empathy and challenging prejudice when it happens. Behind race, this is the #1 thing people claim they are least similarly drawn to (Barna).
One needs to be a different type of adventurer - as Dr. Seuss says “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” It’s a big world out there but so many of us are stuck in our own routines and forget to range wide — find people who get you regularly out of your comfort zone.
With those conditions in place, let’s tell you what we’d love to see happen.
The Nine Month Friend Campaign
It’s simple. We want you to make a nine month investment in your circle of friends. It may provide a greater longer term dividend than that done well.
Advice ahead of time - conversation between friends falls in order of priority: children and family, friends, shared past experiences, and hobbies.
If you are making new friends as part of this exercise, if it doesn’t happen in the first three months, it’s not likely to happen at all.
Stuck for conversation? Here’s a helpful list sorted by type of friend being asked:
The Top 10 Questions to Ask Best Friends*:
How would your life be different if we hadn’t been friends?
Have you ever betrayed anyone?
In which ways are you still the same person you were when you were a kid?
Do you think your parents gave preference to you or any of your siblings?
What was the first song that emotionally moved you?
Do you think I know you well? (Follow up: What’s one thing that would make me know you better?)
How do you decide on what goals to set for yourself?
How many friends are too many?
Do you want to improve the world you live in?
What’s the toughest decision you ever had to make?
The Top 10 Questions to Ask Friends of Any Type*:
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
What would be a “perfect” day for you?
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
What do you value most in a friendship?
What is your most treasured memory?
What does friendship mean to you?
What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
What roles do love and affection play in your life?
When did you last cry in front of another person?
And with new friends, you may need more ammo to quell fear of awkward silences and lulls in conversation:
The Top 20 Questions to Ask New Friends*:
Do you actively seek inspiration?
What’s your favorite part of the day?
Did you have a circle of friends in school?
Do you prefer staying at home or going out?
Are you involved in any kind of activism?
Do you enjoy creating things?
Was it easy for you to choose a career? What other paths did you consider?
What do you enjoy about being out in nature?
What’s your type of humor?
Do you read much?
Are you competitive?
What’s your favorite Disney character?
Have you ever gone to a festival?
Can you enjoy yourself in extreme weather?
Do you have a daily routine?
What social media are you on?
Have you seen the new movie that just came out? What is the funniest movie you watched?
Do you ever just go outside and wander off someplace new?
What would a perfect vacation look like to you?
Do you know what you wanna do with your life?
*These were taken from SocialPro’s much longer list of “210 Questions to Ask Friends (For All Situations).”
If you are using this as an opportunity to bring new friends into your top 30, this may be an added challenge. Making new friends can be a gauntlet (however rewarding) but add in a pandemic that forces us to remain physically distant, and it can feel daunting.
Be bold, you may find a very receptive audience and revelation of shared interest and kinship.
Activities with best friends (your top 8):
Here’s an interval of nine months, with activities punctuating every trip through the moon’s phases:
Month 1 - A Real Plan & Commitment - suggest to your friends, share that you have joined a Campaign for Real Friends, and you want to connect with them and have them be a part of your group of 8, Create a common goal and plan the nine months together.
Month 2 - A Real Conversation - inventory your top 100 things you like to do and see where the intersections occur. Craft your own list ( activities, books, movies, causes, TV shows, sports, hobbies, skills, arts, travel)
Month 3 - A Real Meetup - get together and do something interesting or productive (at a social distance if COVID-19 is still a threat)
Month 4 - A Real Help - volunteer somewhere together, and make a positive impact
Month 5 - A Real Virtual Share - use something interesting new media wise - gaming, VR, Netflix party to conduct a safe sharing experience
Month 6 - A Real Make- author, bake, build, distill, make, sew or produce something together
Month 7 - A Real Worlds Collide - introduce some best friends and close friends together
Month 8 - A Real Celebration - tap into the top 5 things (drink, eat, play, experience, think)
Month 9 - A Real Exclamation - journal what happened over the nine months and send back to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can publish
With close (or prospectively) friends (your next 22):
Quarter #1 - Have a Real Chat - seeking out as many small conversations as possible, listen well and maximize the information you gain about them. Lean into any presumed awkwardness - they are likely feeling some too. Make Plans. Look for areas of agreement and interesting areas of non-agreement. Remember Dale Carenegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People rules:
Become genuinely interested in other people
Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language
Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves
Talk in terms of the others person’s interests
Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely
Quarter #2 - Do Something Real Together - activities are the grist of rekindle and new friendships, just do it at a safe physical distance if this pandemic is still on. Even better, do something new that both of you have not done before. For perspective, here are the 15 things people have taken up in this current pandemic :
Watching TV Shows and Movies
Arts and Crafts
Audiobooks and Podcasts
Learning a Language
Learning an Instrument
Quarter #3 - Join or Make Something Real Together - In the time we have left before the pandemic fully clears, look at building something together that is personally and jointly interesting, satisfying or valuable
Let’s do this and share what works, and make 2021 a lot less lonelier and a lot more rewarding.!
Epilogue - feel comfortable changing up any of the above Campaign for Real Friends’ elements. We understand everybody’s ability to access friends (and types of friends) may be different based on the part of the world, health & safety concerns or type of situation you are in, The real impetus is to get you connecting authentically with friends. And a friendly reminder, whatever you do, for god sakes - don’t spend all your time streaming alone.