Episode 60 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Kat Vellos. Kat uses her background in experience design to empower people to learn, grow, and thrive. She’s written two books about adult friendship, We Should Get Together and Connected from Afar. In our conversation, we discussed the importance and challenges of making friends.

Why focus on friendship? Kat noted that a high percentage of people in the U.S. feel lonely. As she put it,

it’s not that people don’t want friends or that they don’t want to make friends or that there’s nobody making friends, but it’s that loneliness is climbing. And my hypothesis is that the cure for that is healthy friendships and healthy communities. And for some reason there is a need for more support and more resources that will help people do that within the demands of our modern world.

“Our modern world” refers not just to the pandemic-induced lockdown in social relations, but to a generalized busy-ness that can keep us from connecting deeply with others. Kat highlights the conditions that make it possible for friendship to blossom, even in such difficult terrain. (She uses a gardening metaphor in We Should Get Together.)

When I asked if a more intentional approach to friend-making risks turning friendship into yet another thing to check off our to-do lists, Kat responded with sensible advice:

don’t treat it like a to-do list item, you know? Because if it feels like a checkbox to you, it’s likely going to feel like a checkbox to the other person and nobody likes to feel like that. So, I would suggest checking in with one’s intention and really clarifying for yourself, is your intention just to say like, “all right, I did my like one hour of friendship time this week, I’m done.” Or is your intention to actually listen and connect and commune with another person? How do you want the other person to feel when that time is done? How can you show up as who you really are, in the open-endedness of getting together in a conversation or an activity or whatever may happen… because there is a certain open-endedness to this?

Ultimately, friendship isn’t about making you less lonely but about being present with and for another person. As Kat put it,

the more you immerse yourself in what is actually happening in that time that you’re connecting with the other person, the more likely you are to feel the benefit. You know, when you’re spending time sharing stories with a friend say, focus on their story, focus on them. Get curious. Ask follow-up questions and have that be the focus of your attention, rather than halfway listening and halfway being in your own head. Like, “do I feel less lonely right now? Do I feel less awkward right now?” Get out of that mental evaluation mode and get really immersed and real curious and interested in the other person. And that’s actually when somebody feels heard. That’s actually when somebody feels more connected is when you’re really present and holding space with each other.

Kat’s work is an invitation to be more intentional and genuine in our connections with other people. Good advice at any time, but especially important now that many of us have been isolated for over a year.

The Informed Life episode 60: Kat Vellos on Friendship