We’re in the middle of a loneliness epidemic — and the consequences can’t be overstated. Here’s how to make new friends and establish a supportive community.
We work from home. We work out from home. We order take-out from home. We go to school from home. We shop from home. Technology has eroded our sense of community. Even before Covid-19, the U.S. surgeon general said the country was in the middle of an “epidemic of loneliness.” The pandemic accelerated it.
According to a new study from Harvard, 36 percent of all Americans, including 61 percent of young adults and 51 percent of mothers with young children, experience “serious loneliness.” And 63 percent of young adults report suffering from significant anxiety and depression.
This has profound consequences for our bodies and our minds. Prolonged isolation is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness also increases the risk of emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. And it puts people at greater risk of physical ailments like heart disease, cancer, stroke, hypertension, and premature death. The CDC says that for people over 50, living in isolation can cause a 50 percent increased risk of dementia.
Social media companies want you to think we’re more connected than ever. But the prevalence of loneliness among teenagers and young adults — the most digitally connected groups — nearly doubled between 2012 and 2018 — right as social media use exploded.
That’s why we’re here to talk about how to make friends — in real life. Members of the Avocado team, all young adults, several of whom have recently moved to new states, discuss their tips for connecting and building community. —John Davies
Choose a Hobby and Go All In
Every winter weekend, my wife and I jump in our truck and drive 10 minutes up the road to our favorite ski hill. We don’t bring our phones — out of pure consistency and habit, we know exactly where our people will be. We see them in the preferred locals’ parking lot putting their ski boots on, we see them in the lift line at our favorite chair. We make new friends at the top of runs or on the chairlift. And at the end of the day, we’ll see them back in the parking lot, beers in hand on the tailgate, all our dogs running amok. The sense of community, of being part of a larger ecosystem, is absolutely wonderful.
Of course, this can hold true for any hobby or activity, whether it’s gardening, weaving, cooking, cycling, or Jujutsu — community groups, classes, and nonprofits are waiting for you. All you have to do is find your people and keep showing up. —J.D.
Go For Regular Neighborhood Walks
For us, it feels too forward to just knock on our neighbors’ doors — even if we have cookies. We prefer a more gentle approach by simply doing a daily walk near our home. You are bound to bump into neighbors eventually. —Annie Graybill, Director of Product Marketing
Ditch the Small Talk
When presented with opportunities to connect with new (or old!) friends, go deep. In many ways, social media promotes surface-level relationships that can make us feel lonelier than ever. Liking, commenting, and swiping up on photos with a fire emoji doesn’t count as real connection. Be vulnerable and ask thoughtful questions. It might feel scary at first, but give it a try and watch a culture of depth and support blossom in your friendships. In the words of Brene Brown, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy.” —Jessica Hann, SVP, Brand Marketing + Sustainability
Develop Friendships With Friends of Friends
My friend circle used to be a tight-knit group of three gals. A few years ago, one of them started a new job and gained a few new friendships out of it. After a while, she began including them in social gatherings like cookouts, wine nights, and birthdays. Eventually, I formed my own bond with these new friends of my friend. Now, it’s not uncommon for me to text one of them to grab coffee on the weekend or to check out a new restaurant. And it’s even more fun when all of us — old friends and new — can get together and hang out. —Meredith O’Connor, Copywriter
Online Date, But For Besties
My husband and I recently moved to a small town in a new state in the dead of winter. We knew no one. I’ve never been great about striking up conversations with total strangers, so I knew my chances of meeting friends organically were low. Although the thought of downloading a dating app was tough (I was single and living in NYC in 2012 when Tinder first hit the scene and had my fair share of cringe-worthy experiences), I downloaded Bumble, quickly switched to the “BFF” setting, and started swiping for friends. Unlike dating, everyone on Bumble BFF had clear intentions — to expand their social circle — and after a couple of coffee dates, I’d met a handful of women I love spending time with… and deleted the app (the official online dating sign of success)! —Laura Scott, Brand Social Director