When we were growing up, many of us may have taken our casual friendships for granted. Our classes, sports, camps, and clubs gave us plenty of opportunities to cultivate our middle circle. We saw most of our friends every day in school or around the neighborhood. Such casual connections are harder to establish in adulthood, especially when we’ve left our hometowns and plunged into career and family demands. Not only is there less time for social activities, but competition and status can complicate the bonds of friendship. Differences in achievement and wealth can cause distrust and jealousy, which make it difficult to gauge the mutuality of new relationships. This is why celebrities and people in top levels of leadership often feel lonely, why many still rely as adults on the communities of their youth, and take pains to maintain their original and most trusted friendships, rather than risking new ones.
But most of us can form new middle-circle friendships just as we did when we were kids: by joining groups. Whatever our age, humans tend to meet one another by gathering, and we tend to gather around shared interests and activities like sports, the arts, or a neighborhood potluck. Belonging to a group can help reduce stress, repair emotional damage, and promote meaning and purpose. This is why groups also form around common struggles and why so many forms of therapy today include support groups.