By Anissa Durham, Word in Black
U.S. adults reported higher levels of loneliness during the height of the pandemic. This was compounded by isolation, in-person restrictions, and virtual learning. Many young adults report feeling left out or like they missed out on new friends and experiences.
But, as we move into a “new normal,” Americans are still struggling to make new friends. Friendship is vital to feeling less lonely and building an emotional support system.
A report by Survey Center on American Life found differences in feelings of satisfaction based on the number of friends Americans have. Black folks expressed greater feelings of satisfaction than white people.
I’ve spent the entire year thinking about my friends. The strength of our relationship. Making new friends. And losing friends. As a young Black woman, I thought about the joy and pain of friendships, and the vitality of those relationships.
Who and what makes a good friend depends on who you ask. But the beauty of these relationships illuminates our lives and mental health. To show the depth of good friendships and the pain of bad friends, I spoke with five Black women and men about what friendship means to them, and what they’ve learned from these relationships.
Here are their stories.
Trinity Alicia, 23, Boston, Program coordinator
My closest friends are from college, undergrad at San Diego State. I have some post grad friendships that are in Boston. They’ve shown me so much about myself beyond being a student. I find them very valuable to my life.
Right now, I think a good friendship looks like accountability, check ins, good active listening, and just being in the loop. It takes a really good friend to have tough conversations and to understand the responsibility that they serve in your life. And to understand that their presence is powerful.
Since I graduated, I moved to a brand-new city where I knew no one and I live alone. So, I feel like it’s very easy to be lonely and kind of dwell on that quiet space. Now, I define friends as someone who gets you out of that quiet space, well-being, and centers my strengths and also pushes you to be greater.
I have a friend that I’ve known since I was 10-years-old. For him to see my growth is really cool, and we’re able to have different conversations than we were before. He channels health and well-being through difficult things like my parents’ divorce. He’s also a Black man, so there’s a lot of identity [conversations].
I think the loneliness doesn’t feel as strong. I don’t feel as alone when I’m communicating with my friends or when we’re making jokes and hanging out. I think their patience helps them to be a better friend to me.
Random calls, FaceTime’s, and audio messages are really something that I consider a love language. Audio message is really nice, it’s listening to your best friend’s podcast.
I identify as a Black American, and people that prioritize my identity especially in interracial friendships really helped me to feel safe. As I’m navigating a predominately white city, with historical stereotypes that are very anti-Black, it helps to know that friends are checking in.
It’s hard to make friends as an adult. Either I make friends, or I don’t. It’s definitely an inner conversation I have with myself. I want to see Black people, but I never know when is the next time I’ll see a Black person, which is so scary.
Taayoo Murray, 42, New York City, Freelance health writer
I’m very deliberate about how I define who my friends are, because I keep a very tight circle. My closest friends are Kathey, Rochelle, and Kimbrilee. The four of us are in a group chat. We’ve known each other for more than 25 years.
I prize loyalty. It’s not that you can’t criticize, it’s not that you can’t tell a friend they’re wrong, but I think loyalty is the main ingredient. I’m always there for my friends — always. I suppose that’s why I don’t have many because I’m so fiercely protective of my friends that I probably don’t have the bandwidth to have a ton of friends.
When Kathey had a miscarriage, I slept the entire night in the hospital with her. We were crying together. When Rochelle’s dad died, I dropped off my kids and went straight to the hospital where her dad died. Kim had a medical emergency once, and I made sure I was there with her.
My dad died when I was 25, I was really a daddy’s girl. Kathy broke the news to me. All of my girlfriends basically took over my life at that time.
I now know that they keep me sane. I kind of took my friendships for granted — it wasn’t until the pandemic that I realized how much I depended on them. Conversations that I have with my girlfriends, I don’t necessarily have with my sister, and I don’t have with my mom. It’s like a real safe space. There’s absolutely nothing that we don’t discuss in our group. We talk about anything and everything.
I like the fact that they listen, and they keep confidence. I never have to worry that the stuff I tell them I’m going to hear it somewhere else. It’s just so liberating. You don’t realize how much you need people to talk to until you don’t have it.
Jason Clarke, 23, D.C., full-time student
Some of my closest friends, we met at church. I’ve been friends with a lot of them for almost 10 years now. We’ve all seen each other grow up. It’s really crazy seeing how everyone’s life is turning out.
To me what makes a good friendship, number one, is loyalty. When I was facing some of the darkest parts of my life, I was able to depend on them. They’ve always been really dependable people who I can count on.
My brother passed away in 2017. That was a really, really tough time. The reason why I can say I’m sane today is because of my friends. I think people expect grief to be linear, but to this day my friends are still here for me.
I feel like they helped me to experience joy in different parts of my life. If I didn’t have them, I don’t know if I’d have any joy. I’ve also found peace through them. They’re truly kind, loving, and protective people.
A lot of times people believe that men can’t be friends with women, or there can’t be platonic friends — but I beg to differ. My friend group is a good mix of both.
Kayla Taylor, 24, Chicago, Content acquisitions editor
My closest friendships are friends that I met through my religious community, the Baha’i community. One of my best friends is Asiyih. Maybe two weeks into our friendship, I realized how important a spiritual component is in a friendship. We connected with each other on a level that I had never connected with any friends before.
We met in February of 2022. I had just moved away from home to Washington, D.C., for graduate school. One of the nights, we realized we were like the same person; we were just singing old Disney Channel songs. It usually takes me a really long time to get comfortable with someone, but I felt that with her right away.
She welcomed me into her life, the same way that I welcomed her into my life.
I was going through a really hard breakup at the time, and I needed a social circle. I think she intentionally and unintentionally helped me heal through that. And helped me realize there’s so much love outside of a romantic relationship. A friendship with other women is stronger than any romantic relationship I could ever build.
This time in my life feels a little bit next level, and I think part of it is that I’m getting the physical affection that I never really got growing up. Laughter is my favorite thing about these friendships.
Chantel Philip, 36, New Jersey, Photographer
My closest friends are from high school. A good friendship to me is a space to allow me to be my full self and authentically me. A lot of friendships I’ve had had to be in alignment of who I was in that moment. Navigating that is very difficult when you’re an adult. Because it’s uncomfortable and lonely when you’re growing and the other people are not, but you don’t want to let them go.
It’s important to create boundaries and have friendships that respect that and don’t push them. I’m a recovering people pleaser. When I was younger, I just wanted to be liked and to fit in. I was blessed and cursed for being very popular. I’ve realized my light is very bright, and my personality is very pure and fun to be around. With that energy, sometimes you attract the wrong people, who want to use your energy for their own means.
I still had difficulty in college as well. Now when I see people being jealous of me — it’s weird. That has been something that I had to learn internally and let it guide me in the direction of better and more supportive friendships.
I do appreciate those terrible friends. I appreciate the jealous ones. I appreciate the toxic ones, and the ones that slept with my man.
There was a time when my ex cheated on me. We lived together. They came over and helped me pack and move into my new space. And my friends sat me down and said ‘I think your problem is that you don’t love yourself enough and you don’t see yourself as worthy.’
I didn’t know I wasn’t confident before. I didn’t know I had low self-esteem. I didn’t know I deserved more.
How ever you treat yourself in those friendships and how those people treat you will show up in your romantic relationships. Loving myself more attracted people in that same energy, because we’re growing together..
I’m so blessed to have curated the people who are close to me. I really, really want to make new friends this year. I realize they have to be in alignment with me and doing the work internally in their spirit.
Probably the toughest thing you will learn in your adulthood, is to understand not everybody can come with you — and it’s OK. They just can’t come with you on your journey, and they have to have their own journey.
I thrive in joy and happiness. For my mental health, I need people to remind me I’m a good artist, and I know what I’m doing, and that I’m brilliant. The reminder of your worth is so important. I feel like artists are very moody.
They force you to celebrate yourself. Even the littlest of things — (they tell me) ‘don’t be humble.’ They are my cheerleaders. They are my therapists. They’re my spiritual coaches.
I need the support. I need the love.