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Hanna Barczyk for Vox

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Welcome to the Friendship Issue of the Highlight

Inside this issue: The state of American friendship, its radical power, and advice for small talk and making your social battery work for you, even if you’re an introvert.

Friendship, an underrecognized bedrock of American life, has quietly been on the wane over the past 30 years. Last year, the American Perspectives Survey reported that 12 percent of Americans now say they have no close friendships, compared with 3 percent in 1990. The reasons for this are myriad. Americans are more mobile, moving often for careers, as well as working more hours. Parenting has changed dramatically, requiring more of adults’ time and resources. Covid-19, with its lockdowns and social distancing, has further fractured relationships: Nearly 50 percent of Americans reported losing touch with friends during the enduring pandemic.

For the August issue, the Highlight teamed up with Even Better to examine the state of American friendship. Through interviews, timely snapshots, service pieces, and more, Vox writers explore the following questions: How do we think about ourselves as friends, and what do we need from friendship amid the tremendous shifts in our access to social media, migration patterns, urban sprawl, and other cultural change? What happens to the culture, our health, and our support systems when friendship fades, and when does it actually serve us better to let that friendship go? Finally, if Americans are decentering friendship — in our own lives and in the larger cultural sphere — could it undermine society, too?

In our cover story, Vox staff interviewed several friends from different walks of life about their friendships and what it means to make and preserve one in the modern age. What we found was that deep friendships often take a primary role, even over romantic relationships, in the tapestry of a life. These friendships waned and waxed, recovered from hurt and traumas, but always proved singularly fulfilling.

Not all friendships, however, can be preserved. People move to new cities or start families and drift apart; some bonds are broken by differing viewpoints and ideologies, and others implode with arguments and hurt feelings. While there are plenty of guides to knowing when to end a relationship, few exist for friendships. Even Better senior reporter Allie Volpe looks at how we can assess whether it’s time to let one go.

Friendship has a powerful role in society at large, too — philosopher Hannah Arendt posited in writings that still have resonance today that it can help us push back against tyranny, writes senior culture reporter Alissa Wilkinson. It might also stave off the scourge of loneliness, if only, writes Future Perfect fellow Muizz Akhtar, we could stop designing cities to encourage driving — leaving us wanting for the sort of spontaneous encounters that can bloom into something more.

Read all this and more below.

Hanna Barczyk for Vox

Why friendship is different than any other relationship we have

As its role in society recedes, Vox asked six people to tell us why their friendship matters — and may just be the most meaningful relationship of their lives.

By Marin Cogan, Alex Abad-Santos, and Lauren Katz

A cartoon of two women in a photograph that’s been torn down the middle. Shanée Benjamin for Vox

Is this friendship over?

Platonic breakups can be just as painful as romantic ones.

By Allie Volpe

An illustration of two men talking and holding a drink Getty Images/Vetta

The radical political power of friendship

It can help us push back against tyranny. Philosopher Hannah Arendt’s legendary cocktail parties were proof.

By Alissa Wilkinson

An illustration of a young man and woman sitting around large blank thought bubble against white background Getty Images

How to make small talk when you hate small talk

In defense of the much-maligned conversational form.

By Rebecca Jennings

A man alone in a car looks out towards a city Amanda Northrop for Vox; Getty Images

Too many Americans live in places built for cars — not for human connection

How urban planning contributed to the great undoing of modern friendship.

By Muizz Akhtar

Illustration of a tired woman sitting on the ground, with a plug in her neck that’s attached to a battery with very little power. Denis Novikov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The introvert’s guide to actually enjoying a party

It’s all about managing your social battery.

By Eliza Brooke

Aubrey Hirsch for Vox

Men have fewer friends than ever, and it’s harming their health

The “male friendship recession” is having dire consequences.

By Aubrey Hirsch


Mud libraries hold the story of the Earth’s climate past — and foretell its future


How to talk to a loved one about their health


Why do we keep tabs on people we can’t stand?

View all stories in The Highlight