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Scattered embroidered patches for various clubs. Paige Vickers/Vox; Getty Images

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Want to make more friends? Start a club.

An idea for an era when Americans are lonelier than ever.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Here is a list of clubs I am currently part of: the Difficult Book Book Club, where we read 90 pages per week of a very long and/or complex book and then meet up at a bar to discuss (so far we’ve read all of Infinite Jest and about one-third of The Power Broker, currently accepting recs for book number three); the Fellowship, a.k.a. a Lord of the Rings-themed role-playing tabletop game group; a monthly Zoom meetup where me and four women around the country workshop our novels-in-progress (we’re going on two years now!); Wednesday Club, where two of my friends and I make dinner at one of our apartments and discuss our most recent W’s and L’s (wins and losses); Creative Project of Your Choice Club, where whoever’s around in the neighborhood meets up at a cafe and writes or reads or crochets or whatever else they’re working on; and finally, a knitting club where only one of us knows what they’re doing, called — with a logo and everything — the New York Knits. This all might make me sound like a spirited 84-year-old woman in a particularly community-oriented senior living home, but I swear in reality I am simply a spirited 31-year-old in a walkable part of Brooklyn.

To be clear, none of these are like, official clubs. I did not go on and advertise for people to join them, although you could totally do that. Rather, this is a method for organizing my social life post-lockdown, a method that has brought me both many new friends and incalculable joy.

That early period of the pandemic truly illuminated the desire to club-ify my life. It began with random little rituals — my boyfriend and I had this thing called Pizza Saturdays where, if it was nice out, we’d walk to one of the slice joints on this Eater list of the best pizza slices in the city. In the late spring of 2020, when exercise was one of the few activities that made me feel like I still had some grip on reality, I posted an Instagram story of the view from a run around Prospect Park. A colleague who lived nearby then asked if I wanted to do a socially distanced run together sometime. Within a few weeks, we’d added several more people to the ranks of what became christened “Run Club,” and within a year, she’d become one of my closest friends.

It’s sort of a cliché to tell someone looking for advice on how to make friends to “just join a club!” When people say this, what they’re usually referring to are, say, kickball leagues that cost a couple hundred dollars to join, or arts courses that, naturally, also cost hundreds of dollars to join. Nothing against them, but I’ve always had far greater luck meeting new people through people I already know. This is the joy of the self-directed, as opposed to privately operated, club: You don’t really have to commit to anything. You can post on your Instagram story, “Hey, a bunch of us were talking about doing an Infinite Jest book club. Does anyone else want to join?” and then start a Slack group. Sure, a pretty big percentage of the people who say they’re totally interested are going to drop out after the first 100 pages or never say anything in the group chat. You can’t take that stuff personally, though, because you’ll still be surprised at who actually sticks with it, and the five people still going strong will have had an incredible time.

It’s been heartwarming to see these types of ritualized social activities spread online over the past three years. It all started with a few viral TikToks of chaotic PowerPoint nights where each guest gives a presentation on, say, “An exploration of Shadow the Hedgehog’s True Moral Compass” or “Dorothy Zbornak outfits as zodiac signs.” Driven in part by young people’s disillusionment with exclusive and expensive bars and clubs and, in some cases, disillusionment with alcohol entirely, the theme party feels like an extension of the club, where, in order to attend, everyone has to be equally on board. And these types of gatherings are contagious, too: “Comments like ‘I want to be in your friend group’ are common on theme party videos,” explains Darshita Goyal in the Cut. “Watching others have this relationship online encourages people to invest more in their own friendships too, like they start initiating plans or text on the group chat more,” said one friendship coach.

It’s just as easy to imagine it having the opposite effect, though. Women in particular tend to compare themselves to other people they see on social media and end up feeling worse about themselves; the same is true of FOMO. But while we tend to think of clubs as exclusionary, the point is that these clubs are by definition inclusive of anyone with a shared goal or interest. The Difficult Book Book Club, for instance, is small because it’s a group of people committed to understanding a complex or otherwise frustrating book, and not that many people have the time or desire to do so. Clubs are about fun, sure, but they can also be about accountability: Being part of Run Club made it so that there was a 100 percent chance I’d actually go on a run that day as opposed to, say, sitting around in gym clothes and telling myself I was going on a run later, at some point.

Friendship, as the surgeon general has warned us all, has never been more crucial. Half of Americans say they’re lonely, according to several recent surveys, and less than 40 percent said they felt very connected to others. As Dylan Scott previously noted in Vox, in the 1970s, almost half of Americans said they could generally trust other people, and today, less than a third say that. And 22 percent of Americans say they haven’t made a new friend in the past five years. Men have been hit the hardest by the loneliness epidemic, for reasons that are both economic and cultural: They’re less likely to share and receive emotional support from their friends, and one in five single men says they have no close friendships.

No wonder, then, that friendship has also become a major focus for both big business and grassroots movements. Those in search of new friends can sign up for Bumble BFF, which since 2016 has worked like a swipe dating app but for platonic connections; those looking to deepen their friendship with existing acquaintances can play viral card games like We’re Not Really Strangers. There have been at least a handful of successful startups and restaurants whose premise is “have a dinner party with strangers” and at least three NYC-based meetups explicitly for making friends (#NoMoreLonelyFriends, City Girls Who Walk, and Depths of Wikipedia’s Perpetual Stew). You can even make yourself a “friendship resume” and drop it into one of the many Facebook groups for young women to meet new people.

Just as with clubs, these are all rather ingenious ways that people are getting around the ever-awkward conundrum of how to ask someone to hang out. It’s a lot less risky to ask someone — or all of your Instagram followers — if they want to join your book club or pizza club or whatever club than to ask them to hang out one-on-one; much like small talk is an audition for a more substantive conversation, clubs are an audition for regular friend hangs. When there’s a schedule and an activity, there’s less room for either party to feel as though they’re contributing too much or not enough, to convince themselves every uncomfortable silence equals imminent humiliation. You don’t even have to be an extrovert or have a large social network to start a club: That’s what clubs of two (or even one!) are for, and if you’re too shy to ask people online or IRL, there are a million Meetup or Facebook groups already in existence.

But the best part of starting a club is that it can be as pointless as you want it to be. You don’t even have to be that interested in anything to join a club: You can turn your weekly grocery shopping trips into Grocery Club; you can start Ice Cream Club or Movie Club or Wine Club; you can start Let’s All Get Together and Do Boring Administrative Life Tasks Club where people schedule doctor’s appointments or write thank-you cards, if only because giving this practice a name makes it feel slightly more romantic. Through constantly expanding group chats and callouts on Instagram, I’ve become fully club-pilled, where now I see club potential in almost everything I do. To that end, if you would like to join my new Sit at the Computer and Go on Twitter and Sometimes Write Essays Club, we’re currently accepting new members.

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