Commentary: How to make friends with real people

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Last week on X (formerly Twitter), user “Abby Govindan” asked “how do I form meaningful friendships as an adult without enrolling in grad school or joining a cult[?]”

It’s an understandably common question, one I keep hearing from fellow Zillennials. It’s no secret that formerly robust social institutions have been hollowed out in several different ways, for all the reasons we’ve been hearing for years on end: shrinking family size, lukewarm religiosity, the dominance of the iPhone, the decimation of single-sex spaces, and the general decline of social trust and enthusiasm that follows obvious corruption and criminality.

Put simply, a social life doesn’t just “happen” by virtue of checking all the right boxes. Did it ever?

The reason Govindan can’t make friends is clear from the tweet itself. Immediately, reflexively, she demeans faith.

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The first step to getting past loneliness is to dispense entirely with the kind of cynicism that Govindan, many of her peers, and even many conservatives harbor — the kind that would lead you to reframe religion as a “cult.” Or perhaps the kind that would lead you to reframe all members of the opposite sex as irredeemable. Or the kind that makes you think running for local office is “cringe.”

“Just put yourself out there,” the cliché to end all clichés, may be trite, but there’s something to it. That “something” is sincerity. I think ’90s-era sitcoms played a major role in memeing into reality a sort of black, sardonic humor based on solipsistic denigration of all things Norman Rockwell. Sarcasm is the air we breathe now, but it suffocates honest human connection.

If we want to form meaningful friendships, we have to collectively excise this faithless ironic detachment from our hearts. Our paralyzing fear of being judged negatively for actually doing the things that build political capital (joining the church, running for office, making petitions or whatever) should follow.

The roadblocks to conviviality are high, but the stakes of letting our social world disintegrate are much higher. Even though so much about the country is degraded, it’s not a reason to give up or give in to disdain of our fellow citizens.

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