If you have a full-time job in an office, you inevitably spend a lot of time around your co-workers.
Maybe you get lunch with some of them, or go out for drinks, or occasionally like one of their posts on Facebook. But chances are — at least according to the New York Times — that there aren't very many of them you consider Real Friends, however you define that.
This is certainly true of us: four BuzzFeed Life editors who literally sit within five feet of one another, but have never really made an effort to get to know each other or hang out outside of work.
At least on paper, we're very similar: We work on the same team, we live in New York, and we're around the same age and come from similar backgrounds. And we probably spend more time with each other than with anyone else in our lives. So why weren't we friends?
So we couldn't help but wonder: Could four young women, who seem to have everything in common, go from barely speaking to best buds?
We decided to design our own social experiment to find out if acting like best friends — intentionally spending free time together, sharing our deepest, darkest secrets, and communicating every day — could actually bring us closer. Here were the parameters:
1. We would give ourselves one week to conduct the ~highly scientific~ experiment.
2. We would schedule three official hangs over the course of the week: drinks after work, a girls' day out, and a romantic rooftop dinner for four.
3. We would consistently talk throughout the week via group text and Gchat.
4. We would all make an effort to talk about personal things that we'd usually save for our Real Friends.
5. And of course, as Real Friends do, we would get truly, properly drunk together at least once.
Here's us, co-working hard:
And here's where each of us was coming from, pre-experiment:
ANNIE, 30, friendship overloader: I've had five different jobs already during my time in NYC, and I've made a couple solid friends at each one. I make it a priority to keep in touch with them, not to mention my other non-work friends, so I often feel like I have reached my friendship capacity. Of course I'm not closed off to making new friends — that would be lame and narrow-minded of me — but I'm certainly not on the prowl for them. I will happily hang out with new people if the vibe is right, but I'm more picky now than I used to be; I'm trying to limit my "yeses" to people I feel totally comfortably with, who consistently make me feel like me.
That said, I was still excited about this experiment. Even though I am trying to be more conscious of how I spend my free time instead of always saying yes to everything like I used to, the fact of the matter is that I love hanging out. I enjoy the process of getting to know people (even if it turns out that what I get to know, in the end, is not all that great). I usually prefer one-on-one hangouts when I'm first getting to know someone, but since that was not going to be the case here, I knew I'd have to just go with the situation at hand.
CHRISTINE, 27, reluctant socializer: I've noticed that I go through periods where I'll be super-engaged with friends for a couple of months, then get overwhelmed and go pretty quiet for weeks at a time. Probably because of this, there are a lot of people I would consider friends, but very few that I would consider "best" friends, or even close friends. I've always liked to spend a lot (a LOT) of time alone, and don't have much patience for any social situation that I don't really want to be in. I'm definitely an introvert, and spending time with big groups of people exhausts me, even if they're people I really like.
I was excited about this ~experiment~ because I genuinely like all three of these people. I don't go to a lot of work happy hours, so I hadn't spent much time with any of them outside of work. I worried that all the Mandatory Fun might get tiring — hanging out three times in one week is a lot for me, even with my close friends — but I figured it might actually be good for me to not be allowed to cancel plans for a week.
LINDSAY, 28, friendship buffet: All I want in life is more friends. Basically what I'm saying is, I'll be BFFs with anyone who wants to be BFFs with me. Sounds like desperation but really, I've always enjoyed having a mix of friends and not being in a group: In college I was close with everyone from from my classes as a painting and photo major and also from my sorority.
But! I am also shy, so I didn't know how to approach Christine and Rachel, since they'd been working at BuzzFeed for many years and ~intimidated~ me. Since Annie and I were both newbies, it was easy to talk to her about the challenges of starting our new jobs and get to know each other.
At past jobs, I made some of my closest friends who are still in my life, but I was finding it hard to bond with my new co-workers. I had high hopes that we would feel closer because of this experiment, and that it would create the closeness that I'd found at my past jobs. Basically what I'm saying is I was STOKED to have new besties.
RACHEL, 27, social collie: I am truly #blessed to have a tight-knit gang of friends from college in New York that essentially operates as one big and frequently drunken family. I often find myself playing camp counselor for the group, and came up with "social collie" as a shorthand to describe my own herding instinct: If there's fun happening, my default mode is to want the whole family to be having that fun together.
I sometimes worry that having such a strong social network already in place when I moved here has made me less inclined to develop close friendships with people outside it, including at work. And I have really valued the few close "stand-alone" friends I've made, because they're people I can share a different version of myself with.
The kind of intimacy I have with my primary friend group developed over years, not days, so I felt very aware of the obvious limitations of our weeklong stunt. But at the same time, I was sincerely excited to see if this experiment could give me the motivation I needed to look beyond my comfortable friend bubble and form some new, real connections with my co-workers.
It was time to find out if we could actually become...
Step 1: Make it official.
We followed each other on Facebook and Instagram, exchanged numbers, and initiated a group text and Gchat.
Activity 1: Post-Work Drinks
We met up at Good Night Sonny, a cute bar downtown that Annie suggested.
RACHEL: Getting drinks is a time-honored and extremely efficient bonding activity, because a) alcohol and b) it's nothing but talking. Once you start a conversation, everyone's on the hook to help keep it going, so you inevitably end up sharing some things you wouldn't when you're just sitting next to each other at your desks.
ANNIE: I am and always have been a huge advocate for co-worker drinks sessions. In fact, one of my favorite parts about having a job in the first place is hanging out after the job is over. Having happy hour drinks brings you closer to your co-workers, without question — which, in turn, makes each day in the office a bit more enjoyable. Who doesn't want that?
It became clear the next morning that we were already getting to know each other better.
LINDSAY: Let it be known that I have no shame about aggressively liking people's instas. It is the ~true sign~ of love.
Activity 2: Girls' Day Out!
We blocked off a full day to spend walking, brunching, and shopping together around NYC.
We started with a leisurely brunch in NoHo.
After brunch, we moved on to shopping...
ANNIE: This was one of the moments that stood out for me. I hate shopping — like, really really hate it — and always say that I will only go if I'm with real friends who will tell me what looks good and basically pick out my clothes for me. And it happened: Rachel found me a white sweater! I was being fussy and couldn't decide if I liked anything, and she told me to just get it because I need sweaters and it looked good. Thank you, friend!
...and coffee, when we got tired of walking.
RACHEL: I was surprised at how long we spent chatting here, since it wasn't like we had decided we had to — we were (or at least I was) legitimately having fun. And even though we did some complaining and talking shop about work, that didn't make up the bulk of the conversation. It definitely got personal, and I left knowing a lot about each of the other three that I hadn't before.
This was the moment I think it clicked for me that in any relationship, if you put in a certain number of hours, you achieve a certain level of intimacy, if for no other reason than that you can't just talk about the same thing over and over. I was surprised by how affectionate I felt toward everyone when we parted ways. The spontaneous hugs were real!
CHRISTINE: "Trading secrets" really is just that. This reiterated for me the fact that, if you go out on a limb and share something personal with someone — or, in this case, three other people — it's usually their instinct to reciprocate.
LINDSAY: So much about becoming friends is putting in time chatting, and this was the first time it was like normal, effortless bonding to me. I have no problem sharing secrets, but I know it's more sensitive for Christine and Rachel, so them opening up was a marker of us actually getting close.
Activity 3: Romantic Rooftop Dinner for Four
We joined Lindsay after work at the BuzzFeed test kitchen, where she had spent the day cooking.
We also made sure to Instagram...
CHRISTINE: The combination of wine and a dark rooftop really sets the stage for brutally honest conversation, you know? We'd also spent a pretty good amount of time talking by this point in the experiment, so a lot of what happened this night felt like talking to Real Friends, as opposed to getting to know each other.
LINDSAY: I love a drunken secret swap. Is this not the only reason to have friends? I think so. I think so.
We followed up on important friendship matters via text the next day...and chat the next week.
So, did the Great Experiment work?
ANNIE: In a way, it did, because I definitely feel closer to all three girls at work. I'm still relatively new at BuzzFeed — I started in July — so it's nice to come into the office now and genuinely feel like I'm part of something bigger. I learned quite a bit about my co-workers during our allotted hangouts, facts and mannerisms that I know I only know because I got a front-row seat to the show.
That said, I don't feel that much more comfortable with them than I did at the beginning. When I'm first hanging out with someone, I need some solid one-on-one time to really go deep and get to that next-level understanding of each other. While we had our fair share of deep talks, it still wasn't quite enough for me to let my guard down and reveal myself fully.
In general, it's easier to make friends quickly when you're in school — because you are together so often that chance heady bonding moments are simply more frequent. In the job world, though, things just take longer — friendship cannot be microwaved, heated up, and ready to go within minutes. I think that we will all get to be better friends as time goes on, but, as we all know, friendship is something that grows naturally — and cannot be artificially enhanced. In the meantime, I'm happy that I got to know Lindsay, Christine, and Rachel on a deeper level, and I think that they're all super-smart and strong women. I'm happy to have a friendlier co-worker vibe with all of them than we had pre-experiment.
CHRISTINE: I do feel closer to all three of these people post-experiment. We got to talking about very personal things, which is definitely the quickest way to bond. That said, while swapping secrets and stories makes you feel closer to someone in the moment, that closeness seems a little bit artificial. To become truly close friends with someone takes time and shared history, I think. To me, the distinction between Real Friend and casual friend/acquaintance is in how well a person really knows you and your life.
My new litmus test for whether someone is actually a "friend" or not is: Could I talk to this person about an everyday but significant thing that happened — something great that happened at work, a date, an awkward run-in, an important conversation with my mom — without having to give any context outside of the thing itself?
A friend would understand why the thing was important, and would probably have a good sense of how I felt about it without me even telling them. While I really like these three people and could see myself becoming Real Friends with them, I don't think the week we spent doing this experiment was really enough to solidify that.
LINDSAY: I definitely feel more affectionate toward all of these people, but there was something strange about forcing a group friendship, instead of becoming friends one-on-one and then naturally forming into a group. (Or, maybe it's just that I don't feel comfortable in a clique.)
I loved the night that we sat drinking wine and talking for hours on a rooftop. It felt like something I'd do with my "IRL" friends. And, since it was the last night of our project, so after talking constantly for 10 days, I felt really close to them all. I think if we had maintained that level of hanging out and talking, we would have stayed really close. It was fun to learn more about everyone's dating life, what people want out of their jobs and futures, and of course, the talk of how much longer each of us can stand to live in NYC.
For me, the best part of this project was gaining confidence in my own bonding skills. I genuinely love making friends with all different types of people, and whether that works or not with this group of people, I liked realizing that I was down to be friends with whomever. I expected to stay closer, but the reality is, this was a project that brought us together for a short amount of time. I've had insecurities in the past about liking friends more, or wondering if people wanted to hang out with me, and I felt those coming back full-force.
The truth is, making good friends is both something you need to force slightly and also something that will come naturally if it's right. I wished the project had lasted a month or two months because then I think we really would have become "real" friends. And yet, who really wants to be forced to be friends? No one.
RACHEL: On the one hand, no, duh, this didn't work. How could it work? Friendship isn't a just-add-water proposition, and it turns out that going shopping together or even spilling your deepest, darkest secrets with people isn't instantly going to make them an important part of your life. No, we're probably not going to hang out much more than we did before, and yes, the group text thread, despite a solid week of post-experiment activity, has since died a quiet death.
But where I see this as being an actual success is that, when I came into work after our Week of Friendship had officially ended, I didn't feel awkward or relieved or ready to get back to ignoring these people. I felt happier to see them! I felt excited to Gchat them about stupid stuff. And because we opened up to each other in very real ways, I have a higher level of trust and affection with all three of them now that extends to all of our interactions (professional or not).
We intentionally granted that trust to each other, and it's within my power to grant it to anyone, when I choose to. Bottom line, our experiment reminded me in a way I think will stick with me that friends aren't something the stork drops down the chimney. You make your own friends, and they make you.