Friendship, an undervalued foundation of American life, has been quietly on the wane for the past 30 years. Last year, the American Perspectives Survey reported that 12 percent of Americans now say they have no close friendships, compared to 3 percent in 1990. The reasons for this are many. Americans are more mobile, often move for careers and also work longer hours. Parenting has changed dramatically and requires more time and resources from adults. Covid-19, with its lockdowns and social distancing, has further severed relationships: almost 50 percent of Americans reported losing contact with friends during the ongoing pandemic.
For the August issue, The Highlight teamed up with Even Better to explore the state of American friendship. Through interviews, current snapshots, service pieces and more, cafemadrid writers explore the following questions: How do we feel about ourselves as friends, and what do we need from friendship amid the massive shifts in our social media access, migration patterns, urban sprawl and other cultural changes? What happens to culture, our health, and our support systems when friendship fades, and when is it actually better to let that friendship go? Finally, if Americans degrade friendship—in our own lives and in the larger cultural sphere—could it also undermine society?
In our cover story, cafemadrid employees interviewed several friends from different walks of life about their friendships and what it means to make and keep one in the modern age. What we found was that deep friendships often play a primary role, even above romantic relationships, in the tapestry of a lifetime. These friendships waned and grew stronger, recovering from pain and trauma, but always proved to be extremely satisfying.
However, not all friendships can be kept. People move to new cities or start families and drift apart; some ties are broken by different points of view and ideologies, and others implode with arguments and hurt feelings. While there are plenty of guides for knowing when to end a relationship, few are for friendships. Even Better senior reporter Allie Volpe looks at how we can gauge whether it’s time to let one go.
Friendship also plays a powerful role in society as a whole — philosopher Hannah Arendt argued in writings that still resonate today that it can help us push back against tyranny, writes senior culture reporter Alissa Wilkinson. It could also stave off the scourge of loneliness, if only, writes Future Perfect colleague Muizz Akhtar, we could stop designing cities to encourage driving — leaving us longing for the kind of spontaneous encounters that can evolve into a little bit more.
Read all this and more below.
Why friendship is different from any other relationship we have
As his role in society wanes, cafemadrid asked six people to tell us why their friendship matters — and is arguably the most meaningful relationship of their lives.
By Marin Cogan, Alex Abad-Santos and Lauren Katz
Is this friendship over? (next tuesday)
Platonic breakups can be just as painful as romantic ones.
By Allie Volpe
The Radical Political Power of Friendship (next Tuesday)
It can help us push back against tyranny. The legendary cocktail parties of philosopher Hannah Arendt were proof.
By Alissa Wilkinson
How to make small talk if you hate small talk (next wednesday)
In defense of the much-maligned form of conversation.
By Rebecca Jennings
Too many Americans live in places built for cars – not for human connection (next Thursday)
How urbanism contributed to the great downfall of modern friendship.
By Muizz Akhtar
The Introverted Guide to Really Enjoying a Party (Next Friday)
It’s all about managing your social battery.
By Eliza Brooke