I was hardly ever what you would call popular. People who attend Shakespeare camp rarely are. But in my teens and 20s, I always had a robust group of friends who shared my weirdness in differing ways. There were the misfit backstage theater kids in high school. There was the thick-as-thieves college group that wouldn’t dream of not traveling as a pack each Friday and Saturday night. There were the early career book publishing besties who, to this day, text each other upwards of 20 times an hour. But somewhere in the mix of having kids and becoming a boss myself, I stopped making the friendships that had felt so effortless in my younger years.
The difficulty of forming friendships in one’s 30s and 40s is not unique to me. As reported by The Atlantic, “the average age at which we meet our best friends is 21—a stage when we’re not only bonding over formative new experiences such as first love and first heartbreak, but also growing more discerning about whom we befriend.” Then, as our time becomes less available and our lives more complicated, “we tend to end up with less of ourselves to give.”
This isn’t to say I don’t regularly meet women (and, OK, the occasional man) whom I want to befriend. I’m constantly finding myself in a conversation on the playground with another parent and thinking, “I could actually be friends with this person!” And sometimes I even get as far as setting up a coffee date. But then it never leads anywhere. I can’t seal the deal.
The problem, says my friend (a dear one, from my early career book publishing group), is that I’m not employing the 3:6 rule. The 3:6 rule—which I don’t expect you to have heard of; my friend is fairly sure she made it up during one particularly isolating maternity leave—is the dictum that, upon identifying a new friend, you need to have three meaningful interactions with them over the course of six weeks, and at least two of those interactions have to be IRL.