We’d just arrived with the moving trucks at our new home when the first neighbors showed up at the door. They brought a bottle of wine to welcome us to the neighborhood. They made an effort in connecting with us.
“How thoughtful,” I said to my husband, excited about our move to a tight-knit community within walking distance of historic downtown Annapolis, Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay.
About 40 minutes later, another couple arrived—this time with cookies and an invitation to come over that night for a neighborhood party. We did—and connected with 20 new neighbors on our first night there. By the next day, we’d received two bottles of wine, three batches of cookies, a bouquet of flowers and a homemade cake. Needless to say, we felt welcome.
It’s been many years since we moved into that house, and never in the course of our adult lives has either of us had so many neighbors as friends. In the past, I’ve observed that some neighbors go out of their way not to talk to each other. Of course, whether your friends live across the street or across the country, building and keeping close relationships takes time and effort—things it seems we have too little of these days.
Connecting with others harder than ever
In our high-tech, fast-paced culture where we have the ability to instantly reach just about anyone, we often opt for digital connection rather than the old-fashioned way—face-to-face and heart-to-heart. While digital connection can be helpful in maintaining relationships, it’s important to be careful not to let it—or your work—harm your physical or mental well-being or prevent you from spending time with the people you care about.
I interviewed 300 people to discover the quality of their relationships, and here’s what they had to say. Can you relate?
- 54% said they get together with friends for fun and conversation less than once a month.
- 55% have not had a friend over to their home in more than two months.
- 80% of people married or in a romantic relationship said they are not satisfied with the consistency and quality of time spent with their spouse or significant other.
- 70% of parents surveyed said they do not spend enough time with their children.
- 58% said they have not had a seven-day vacation in more than a year.
Has an overloaded calendar or demanding work life left you disconnected from the people and things that matter most to you? Has a move or life change altered the dynamics of your relationships? Do you have the right people in your life, but too much going on to spend quality time with them? If so, there are some specific steps you can take toward change.
Americans are connecting with others less frequently
A busy executive once told me he didn’t really have any close friendships. He had focused all his time on his career for so long he had no true friendships outside of his family—only acquaintances, colleagues and clients. And it’s not just the career-minded who experience the loneliness of having few, if any, fulfilling relationships.
Americans as a whole seem to have fewer close relationships. In fact, Americans’ circle of confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past few decades. According to a survey by The Survey Center on American Life, “In 1990, less than one-third (27%) [of Americans] said they had three or fewer close friends, while about as many (33%) reported having 10 or more close friends.” Conversely, in 2021, 49% of Americans reported having at least three close friends, and only 13% reported having 10 or more. Additionally, the number of lost friendships was amplified by the pandemic, with “nearly six in 10 (59%) [reporting] having lost touch with at least a few friends, and 16% [saying] they are no longer in regular contact with most of their friends,” according to the survey.
Americans work harder—despite a decrease in income as of 2020—live farther from relatives and have fewer friends. What can we learn from this? Success is often defined in professional and financial terms, but such definitions are incomplete. When you look back on your life and consider the highs and the lows, it is the relationships—your interactions and bonds with others—that stand out most. Set personal relationship goals and give them a high priority in your life.
5 easy ideas for connecting with others
The context of relationships gives you the greatest opportunity for personal growth. Forgiveness, gratitude and love are all practiced in your connection with others. Cultivate your vision for the kinds of relationships you want in your life and take these concrete steps to build them.
1. Nurture your personal community.
Do you want to explore new activities with your spouse or significant other? Spend more time with a particular family member? Take a moment today to try something new or at least schedule it. Is there someone you’d like to get to know better? Call them up and invite them to do something. Is there a friend going through a tough time? Reach out to them. Showing support can be as simple as just listening. Be intentional about building the kind of personal community that feels authentic and nourishes you.
2. Connect heart-to-heart.
Nothing can replace a warm smile, a hug or your undivided attention. Take notice of the ways in which you are distracted when connecting with the people in your life. Slow down and focus on the ones who matter.
3. Have fun.
A well-rounded life is joyful. What do you like to do for fun? Have you done it lately? Positive emotion actually expands your capacity to handle adversity, and positivity biases can increase “prorelationship behavior” in romantic relationships. So laugh, play and have a good time.
4. Limit negativity.
It’s not enough to balance negative interactions with positive ones. Negativity has a bigger impact than positivity, so it takes more positives to make up for the impact it causes. Speak up when you need to, but speak the truth with kindness.
5. Show gratitude.
Research shows people who express gratitude are happier and have better relationships. When you think of the people in your life, what are you most grateful for? Don’t take your relationships for granted. Show your appreciation through words and actions.
Connect heart-to-heart with the people who matter. Whether it’s a neighbor, longtime friend or your spouse, make space in your calendar to build and maintain those relationships. What important relationships in your life are lacking a consistent connection? What could you do to change that? When will you begin?
This article was published in May 2008 and has been updated. Photo by Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock