In search of a change, Nikol Moses found herself yearning for a new adventure. Two years ago, she decided to escape the monotony of her native Melbourne, embarking on a journey to Brisbane, a two-hour flight away on Australia’s east coast. Despite her social and talkative nature, the now-22-year-old discovered that making new friends in her new city was not as easy as she had anticipated.

In an unexpected turn of events, Moses spent nine solitary months in Brisbane. Frustrated and longing for connections, she turned to TikTok, the contemporary hub for socializing among Gen Z. Posting a video about her friendless situation, Moses received messages from hundreds of people sharing similar struggles. Harnessing this support, she initiated “Friends on Purpose” events, attracting around 1,500 attendees over the past eight months.

Moses’ experience is emblematic of a broader trend. A July survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that fewer than one-third of Americans under 30 reported having five or more close friends, with 8% claiming to have no close friends. This stark contrast from a 2003 Gallup survey underscores the increasing difficulty younger generations face in forming lasting connections.

Despite the desire for connection evident in the popularity of events like Moses’, a decline in social circles persists. A pivotal factor contributing to this decline is the loss of fringe friends – those casual acquaintances encountered sporadically, yet valued for their unique contributions to one’s life.

Research emphasizes the significance of fringe friends, who can introduce individuals to new hobbies, book clubs, or even potential life partners. The diminishing presence of these loose connections translates into a societal loss, impacting neighborhoods, communities, and other social institutions.

A 2023 Pew Research Center survey highlighted the paramount importance of close friendships in people’s lives, surpassing other traditional forms of relationships. However, Americans are grappling with maintaining these connections. Over the years, the number of individuals reporting having no close friends has risen, while the satisfaction with the number of friends increases with quantity.

Daniel Cox from the Survey Center on American Life stresses the importance of both close friendships and more casual social interactions. Weaker social ties, often overlooked, are crucial for connecting individuals to a broader world, providing diverse experiences and information.

The shrinking of social circles has been accelerated by factors like the pandemic, which triggered a decline in fringe friendships. Two major reasons for this shift are the reduction of physical spaces for interaction and a decline in trust. Americans, particularly the younger generation, spend more time alone, and traditional hangout spots, known as third spaces, have dwindled. Simultaneously, membership in institutions fostering social connections has declined.

Trust issues further compound the problem, with a growing percentage of people expressing a lack of trust in others. This reluctance to open up emotionally hinders the formation of new friendships, impacting the quality of social interactions.

While there is no clear solution to the loss of fringe friends, glimmers of hope emerge. Initiatives like Moses’ events and a renewed desire for free, casual hangout spaces indicate a potential shift toward rebuilding social connections. Despite potential cynicism, the active pursuit of new initiatives to make friends suggests a willingness to overcome the challenges of an increasingly online and lonely society. The question remains: Are people ready to embrace these opportunities for connection?

By Impact Lab