I often think about a piece I read in 2015 in the Atlantic, by Julie Beck, called “How Friendships Change in Adulthood.” I suspect it will ring true for Vox readers of, uh, a certain age. Like my age, for instance. Old, is what I’m saying.
I do think, however, that Beck left out an interesting piece of the puzzle. Our ability to form and maintain friendships is shaped in crucial ways by the physical spaces in which we live. “Land use,” as it’s rather aridly known, shapes behavior and sociality. And in America we have settled on patterns of land use that might as well have been designed to prevent spontaneous encounters, the kind out of which rich social ties are built.
We get by with a little less help from our friends
It’s a familiar tale that Beck tells: Early in life, friendships are central to our development and sense of self. This is true right up through to those early post-collegiate years, when everyone is starting out in their professional lives.
And then people get married. They have kids. Their parents get older and need more care. They settle into careers. All those obligations — spouses, kids, family, work — are things we have to do. Friendships are things we choose to do. And that means, when time constricts and things get busy, friendships often get bumped.
So as we get older, time with friends tapers off. “[In a study we did,] we asked people to tell us the story of the last person they became friends with, how they transitioned from acquaintance to friend,” researcher Emily Langan told Beck. “It was interesting that people kind of struggled”: