Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I identified strongly with this article discussing recent research showing that Americans don't have as many friends as they used to. I can't personally testify to the notion that a decline in friendship may have occurred over the past few decades. I grew from a child to an adult during that time, and it's not very enlightening to compare the friends you have as an adult to the playground friends you had as a child.

But I strongly identify with the thesis that Americans don't have enough friends. One of the things that I've noticed, to my dismay, is that as you move into your thirties and have children, it becomes harder and harder to make or keep up with friends. To define the term: By "friends," I mean good friends -- not professional or neighborhood acquaintances, but confidants, soulmates, the sorts of friends that you would call in an emergency or would invite you to their wedding if the guest list was limited to 20 people.

Almost all of the good friends that I have ever had, I met in high school, college, or law school. I've made a few friends since leaving law school, but all of my good friends that I have live in different states than I do.

Since law school, it is much harder to make friends. The number one reason is: TIME.

When you're young and in school, you have plenty of time to hang out with friends. Want to grab some lunch? See a movie? Go to an interesting speech? Play some basketball? No problem. Even if tonight doesn't work out, tomorrow will.

But when you have a busy job, a spouse, young children, and a house with a yard, there's no free time for anything. And your peers are mostly in the same boat. So even when you meet someone new that seems like a potential friend, you can never manage to get together except maybe once every six months, if that often.

Weekdays are out, what with work and school for the kids. How about this weekend? Nope, we've got family coming from out of town. Next weekend? A soccer tournament for the youngster. The weekend after that? Well, that won't work for us, because there's an art class that my kid is going to, and then I have to catch up on some yard work. The next weekend? No, there's a church picnic, and then we're volunteering at the food bank that afternoon. The next weekend? No, we've got a weekend trip planned to this state park. The next weekend? No, our regular babysitter is out of town that weekend. Ultimately, you end up saying, "So, are you free on the third weekend in November?"

There are a few other factors as well. First, when you're in your thirties or older, there are some people who might have been potential friends, but who don't have room in their lives for more friends. They already have several good friends of their own, and whenever they get a bit of rare free time, they want to get together with their old friends. I can't blame people for this, but the fact that thirty-somethings have already pre-sorted themselves into friendship groups makes it all the harder for anyone else to break in. It's like musical chairs. Everybody's already got their friends, and you're left standing sheepishly to the side.

Second, the mere fact of being married with kids makes it vastly harder. You can't socialize as a single person anymore. It always has to be couples getting together. (Well, it doesn't literally have to be that way, but just in the normal course of events, that's the way it seems to work out most of the time.) So what if the two females like each other, but I can't get more than one or two words out of the guy? Too bad, the curtain closes on that potential friendship. Or what if we all seem to get along fine, but one of the kids ends up crying because one of the other kids got in a fight with him/her? Again, down goes the curtain.

When you're single, all you need is one other person who wants to be your friend. When you're part of a couple with kids socializing with another couple and their kids, it's not that simple. There are many more potential combinations of
people who don't get along for one reason or another. Do the math.

Third: This doesn't apply to everybody, but I can attest to the fact that when you've got four or five young kids, other people are very reluctant to invite you over to their houses. In fact, I don't think we've ever been invited over to anyone's house since we first had four kids (now it's five, with a recent adoption), even though we've had several people over to our house during that time. Even family members aren't exactly jumping at the bit to invite you over when you have that many young kids. I don't blame anyone for this: It's a fearful thing to invite several young kids into your house. Kids make a lot of noise. They break things. They need high chairs. They make messes. They argue with each other at the drop of a hat, and require adult intervention. Etc., etc., etc.

All of this is to say: I agree that Americans don't have enough friends. I'm admittedly generalizing from my own personal life, but so be it.

Anybody have a solution?


Blogger Dave said...


this is easy.

1) Don't have many kids.

2) Avoid marriage, if possible.

3) Live in a dense urban city.

I have tons of friends and time to see all of them for the above three reasons. Else, quit the complaining.

We choose the lives we choose, and if it is one which does not allow for the development of friendship so be it.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Michael Simpson said...

I don't know that I can help with the twelve kids issue (whew!), but we found ourselves in the same boat a few years ago. What we did is to get together with another family at a local pizza joint about every other week on a weeknight. It was the kind of place where people didn't much care if the kids were raising a ruckus and while we certainly didn't have the most deep of conversations - hard to do when the toddler is reaching for the crushed red pepper - just the consistent interaction made all the difference. And I think that's the key: you just have to commit to being around one another on a consistent basis. (Of course, in these days when all too many families have trouble being around each other on a consistent basis, maybe that's asking too much).

6:35 AM  
Blogger Tim McNabb said...

The solution is the same as any other problem. If you want something, make plans to have it.

I have to intentionally set aside a certain number of hours to nurture good friends, culled from the pool of folks at church, mostly.

I don't watch as much TV, andf I miss the occasional T-ball game, but I don't think a man can stand on their own. We HAVE to have friends.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Kevin J. Jones said...

Start an unofficial neighborhood bar in your basement.

Worked for my grandpa, anyway.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Suzi said...

I think that it is harder to have friends once you get out of college, because many of us get married, have kids, etc. But it isn't impossible.

One way to improve the possibilities is to cut down on the expectations. I made two really good friends in my late 30s. But I didn't socialize with them much as a family. We did the girl thing together and we got our kids together sometimes. Even more rarely we all got together as a family. So we weren't trying to get past so many people-combination problems. (Which is good because we had them.)

My husband has three new friends. (And one of them did invite US to the very small wedding.) I have met all three of them. He talks to me about all of them. I know where he knows them from and how he knows them. But I'm not normally there when they are socializing, although I have been once or twice.

So that works.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Reg Jones said...

Joseph Epstein's book on friendship comes out this month. You can get a preview here. I'm not sure how much practical advice it has but it looks interesting.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Reg Jones said...

Perhaps Joseph Epstein's new book "Friendship: An Expose" will have some answers. [Here's a preview article].

8:03 PM  
Blogger Osvaldo said...

You got me, Stuart Buck. But you're on to something. I don't think hardly any of the men I know at work or at church have close friends. Work and family fills the cracks in their lives. What they do have are old friends from when they were younger that they get together with every now and then.

4:51 PM  

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