Let’s Be Friends

Sociology professor Janice McCabe on making and nurturing connections

Who doesn’t want friends? Here McCabe offers advice for cultivating meaningful friendships. She should know: The sociologist teaches courses about social problems, gender, youth, and education, and she wrote a 2016 book—Connecting In College—that explores how a student’s academic success is affected by friendships and social networks. 

Make a list.
Affirm the people with whom you have a meaningful connection. Think about your closest friends. Write down their names. Don’t simply catalog who gets your time, but who you enjoy spending time with.

Put in the work.
Make sure each meaningful connection gets some special attention. A simple yet powerful way is to spend time together, in person, on the phone, or on social media. These connections can be short: a five-minute phone call, 15-minute walk, or 30-minute coffee break. Once in a while, spend an evening or weekend together. Have dinner, go to a show, play cards or soccer, take a painting class, or discuss that book you’ve been wanting to read. 

Consider letting some friendships go. 
Are there “friends” in your life who take more than they give or whom you no longer find meaningful? If so, it’s okay to let friendships fade away or to even break up with friends. More is not always better. Letting go can not only free up your time. Research shows that it can also help you feel better about yourself, because your friends reflect who you are.

Know that friendships change.
This happens through time, and many will end. Change is not always bad, and it’s also not unusual. In my previous research, I found that only 25 percent of young adults’ close friends remained close friends during a five-year period, which means 75 percent didn’t. If you have different friends today than five years ago, you’re in good company. 

Reach out. 
Want new friends? Is there someone you’d like to get to know better? Whether it’s someone in your yoga class, a neighbor, or a parent you see at your child’s school, take a chance—invite them for coffee or a walk. You already have something in common. People are usually flattered by this kind of offer, and you don’t have much to lose by asking.

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