The New Rules on Friendship, According to Danielle Bayard Jackson

Written by Ciara Lucas
Photography by Tim Gibson

In 2024, there’s no denying that most of us are hyper-connected with each other. Between social media apps like Instagram, X, and Tiktok, and the growing technology that makes staying in touch easier than ever, there’s hardly an excuse for anyone to be truly disconnected anymore. 

That’s what makes our current loneliness epidemic and friendship crisis so ironic. With so many ways to feel connected, how could the opposite be happening? Well, the numbers don’t lie. According to a recent Gallup poll1, nearly one in four people worldwide feel lonely. The detrimental mental and physical effects of loneliness were also highlighted in an advisory from the United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD (a 2024 Changemaker) entitled "Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation2."

Could the isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic be the catalyst for our “loneliness era,” causing us to deprioritize friendship? Danielle Bayard Jackson, a certified friendship coach and educator, has an answer for that—and she’s also committed to providing solutions for our current friendship crisis. “The number of hours we're spending by ourselves has skyrocketed,” Jackson says. “But the thing is, this trend toward being alone and not engaging with others didn’t necessarily start with the pandemic—it really started a decade ago.” 

“Friendship is a wellness imperative—it's not just something to do when you want to be entertained.”

— Danielle Bayard Jackson

Between 2010 to 2013, we used to spend nearly seven hours per week with friends, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s "American Time Use Survey3." That’s a lot of “clocked hours”—an essential component to building strong friendships, says Jackson. But in 2014, quality time started dwindling, coinciding with the sudden widespread popularity of Instagram. Some experts blame the rise of social media as the catalyst for ruined friendships: Instead of engaging IRL, we’re glued to our phones, relying on internet updates instead of meaningful conversations.

By 2019, just before the pandemic, the average person was spending just over four hours per week with friends3. Five years later—after a global pandemic, ever-changing COVID variants, and masking rules—that number has dwindled to zero for many people, begging the question: Will friendship ever look the same?

While much of the loneliness caused by the pandemic was out of our hands, in some ways, lockdown also led to intentional shifts between friends. We all experienced such a large disruption in normal life that it led to an understandable reassessing of the behaviors, lifestyles, and connections we chose to keep. “I saw some people get a lot of clarity around friendships they wanted to prioritize during the pandemic,” Jackson says. “You were having to gauge who you wanted to physically spend time with and keep your circle close because of exposure to certain health risks.”

We not only need more quality friendships, but also the willingness to participate in them.

On the other hand, Jackson says she’s also observed plenty of what she calls “friendship breakups,” with many of those separations stemming from disagreements about COVID, the heightened political climate, and social unrest. “People are getting increasingly comfortable with having fewer friendships, not going out, and not socially interacting,” Jackson says. And while we all know boundaries are important, and that the quality of friends is more important than the quantity, there's also a downside to this cultural shift: “Just because something's becoming normal to you, doesn't mean it's good for you,” she says.

As a friendship expert and coach, Jackson knows a thing or two about the importance of social connections. It’s more than just having people to hang out with when we’re bored, or maintaining a thriving social calendar. Friendships are crucial to our health and longevity. “Friendship is a wellness imperative—it's not just something to do when you want to be entertained,” she explains. 

So if friendships are proven to be crucial to our wellbeing, then the solution to this friendship crisis is seemingly simple: We need more quality friendships and the willingness to participate in them. Most of us learned how to make friends back when we were kids—on the playground, in the classroom, and during various hobbies and activities. But it’s a little more complicated now that the rules have changed. We live in a post-pandemic world, we’ve gotten older, we have more responsibilities, and the general friendship landscape is different. “It is challenging,” says Jackson. “And sometimes it's not just due to our own individual efforts.”

What adult friendships look like now

It’s time to accept there are new rules in friendship, and that starts by letting go of the old ideas of what fostering friendships looks like. “We have to evolve with what that looks like as we grow up and our lifestyle looks different,” says Jackson. And you might need to get creative with carving out time to clock hours with friends. 

Hours-long lunches and late-nights out might not be realistic anymore, but inviting a friend to spend time with you during monotonous, everyday life moments still counts, Jackson explains. “It's not as sexy, but maybe hanging out with my friends now looks like running errands at Target,” she says. “Having a friend tell you about their day while you’re shopping and looking for a shirt [can be meaningful].”

And there are plenty of technological resources that can be utilized too. Bumble, a popular online dating app, introduced their Bumble BFF platform in 2016 to help people find friends, while online communities across the internet are helping strangers connect anonymously. “Leveraging technology to expedite the [friendship] process doesn’t make you desperate,” says Jackson. “It makes you resourceful.”

Making new friends is not only harder, but also scarier now than it ever was before, especially as adults.

Jackson’s final power play to make new friends is leveraging who she calls “super connectors.” You know those people who just always seem to be in the know? Or that popular friend who takes forever to leave a party because she has to say goodbye to everyone? Those are your “super connectors” who can help you expand your own social circle, says Jackson. And no, it’s not embarrassing to ask for some help with this. “You can’t expect to get your needs met if you won't make them known,” she says. “There's no shame around it.”

Releasing shame around desiring friendship

It’s possible that making new friends is not only harder, but also scarier now than it ever was before, especially as adults. That fearless attitude we once had as kids has been tainted by judgment, critique, and comparison—mostly due to the same resources that are meant to help us feel more connected, like social media. Your feed can paint a picture of everyone living their best lives, even if they’re secretly struggling behind the scenes. 

The vulnerability of admitting “My life is a mess right now” is harder than pretending everything is okay. So as an adult looking for friends, it might feel a little embarrassing to acknowledge that you don’t already have a strong group of friends. “It’s scary to know there’s a social risk involved, and that a person could say no to you,” says Jackson. Ultimately, though, the foundation of it all is fear—fear of rejection, and fear that what you offer to a potential friend will either not be enough or too much to handle. 

“If a person is reluctant to engage more in the world, because they're so immobilized by fear of being rejected, then the first tip I give is to adopt the identity of a connector,” says Jackson. Channel that friend who boldly speaks to strangers, or even create an alter ego that exudes confidence without worrying about who will accept them. 

Jackson refers to the practice as reshaping our identities—it’s an internal reframe about who we are in order to ignite our pursuit for friendship and banish fear of rejection. Eventually, these alter-ego behaviors (like embodying a bold superconnector) become a natural extension of who you are, says Jackson, “instead of random behaviors that you only try in fleeting moments of confidence.” Basically, fake it ‘til you make it.

It’s also important to accept that not everyone will want to be your friend, Jackson says. Being turned down by a new acquaintance might be a hit to the ego and momentarily shake your confidence, but it all comes with the territory when you decide to make friendships a priority. 

The same is also true for those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of a friendship breakup. Whether a friendship ends with a blowout or a ghosting, it’s hard not to take it personally—but it’s also a natural part of life. “You need to accept that rejection is going to happen instead of being paralyzed with fear of what if it happens,” says Jackson. “It will happen, so how quickly are you going to recover?”

Jackson’s advice is to boldly share exactly who you are, no matter how you may come across. “When you put your real self out there, you find your people,” she says. “So lean into sharing yourself, being goofy, and making mistakes. It might not be well received by everyone, but with the right people, it can become a very beloved aspect of who you are.” Authenticity is an essential part of finding your tribe and creating deeply meaningful connections. Yes, the risk is rejection, but the reward could be lifelong.

Jackson’s upcoming book, “Fighting for Our Friendships,” is set to be released in May 2024 and will be a handbook on navigating and strengthening female friendships. It is currently available for pre-order.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Maese, Ellyn. “Global State of Social Connections Report.” Gallup.Com, Gallup, 1 Nov. 2023,
  2. Office of the Surgeon General (OSG). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. US Department of Health and Human Services, 2023.
  3. United States, Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Time Use Survey, June 2022.
  4. United States, Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Time Use Survey, June 2022.