Originally published in Mensa Imprint Magazine
Many times in college and early adulthood, we are surrounded by folks of similar ages and desires. As we get older, we hold on to the ones we made and work at maintaining new friendships. Personally, as a parent, you’ve got less time to devote to those friendships, through no one’s fault, so it takes more work. There are your friends from work as well, so there’s a constant supply of at least some people into your life.
And then the pandemic happened.
And we learned a lot.
Aside from the horribleness, we were unwittingly in a huge new data set. Everything we did was suddenly changed and every part of our life was affected somehow. One part of our lives that was hit the hardest was relationships, of all kinds. Couples were suddenly locked in together, a 24 year-old in a studio apartment on the 15th floor is basically in solitary confinement, kids were suddenly not able to be around their peers when social development is so important!
An overlooked quality of our lives was that of weak ties, those people you get your coffee from, nod to at work, and exchange a few pleasantries with. In one study1, the writer found that, “the positive emotion of gratitude serves the evolutionary function of strengthening a relationship with a responsive interaction partner.” Simply put: If you’re nice to people, they like you more, which in turn, makes you happier.
Reinforcing that, another recent study2 agreed by “showing that even very minimal social interactions with strangers contribute to subjective well-being in everyday life.” If you’re nice to your weak ties, it makes you happier. When you smile at someone, they smile back at you, thus making you feel happier. Nice positive feedback loop!
When all this was taken away from us, our relationships changed. Many friends moved away, all your work friends were now over Zoom, couldn’t meet up with your old friends over a happy hour and we didn’t have any supply of new people coming into our lives. Without that human need for companionship at all levels, many people found it harder to be happy. And we adapted, as we do.
Now that we are “over” it and going out-out again, we suddenly find our friend circle cut in half. Jobs are hybrid or remote, so there’s not as much interaction there. People are back out, but definitely not like before. It can be daunting to try and figure out how to try and reconnect with old friends or **gasp** find new ones.
The good news is that basically, everybody feels the same and wants to. But our social muscles have atrophied a bit over the last 2+ years. So let me give you some good old fashion data to help you out. The title alone of this one should give you an idea of where I’m headed: “The Surprise of Reaching Out: Appreciated More Than We Think.”3 I know I am guilty of thinking, “Oh, it’s been so long, they probably don’t want to hear from me. I don’t want to bother them.” But think about the joy you get when someone reaches out to you! Basically, we get in our heads too much and underestimate how happy people will be when we reach out. So go ahead and text that old friend, rekindle a pre-covid friendship, suggest meeting up outside of work to your Zoom cohort. They’ll appreciate it!
As for making new friends, like many things, it’ll take a little bit of work. Again, the good news is that most people want to but don’t know how or are waiting for someone else to do it. I realized that I didn’t have as many guy friends these days. And as any guy out there knows, it’s kinda hard to just…..meet new dudes. But I’m a dad so I figured that could be a start. After putting out some feelers, I started the Jersey City Dad’s Group and at the last meeting, I had over a dozen dads and 15 kids running around! (It’s in an outdoor, fenced-in biergarten, so it works well for kids and dads!)
Every dad kept coming up to me telling me that they were so glad that I was doing this and that they had been wanting to meet people but didn’t know how. Everybody is hungry for connection and will give just about anyone the benefit of the doubt.
It’s time to (re)join a Meetup club, or check your local municipal town’s event page. There’s always something going on and chances are, there are other people like you out, wanting to check things out and meet people again.
In a post-Covid world, we’re a little more isolated, so we need to go just a little further out of our comfort zone to meet and connect with people. And you know what, almost everyone will be happy that you did, because it now gives them the ability/permission to step outside of their comfort zone as well. Then that positive feedback loop starts all over again and we smile more and more folks come into our lives.
So let’s get back out there again and be the person that helps spread happiness again!
Hunt Ethridge is an award winning Dating & Relationship Expert, Coach, Matchmaker, Writer, Entrepreneur, Husband, Father, Bon Vivant & All-Around Swell Guy. Find more of his advice at HuntForAdvice.com or @QuestForAdvice on IG.
1) “Find, Remind, and Bind: The Functions of Gratitude in Everyday Relationships.” Algoe, ‘12
2) “Minimal Social Interactions With Strangers Predict Greater Subjective Well-Being” Gunaydin ‘21
3) “The Surprise of Reaching Out: Appreciated More Than We Think.” Liu, ‘22