These Are My People.

In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh, these are the people who I hope live for 100 years, as long as I get to live 100 years minus one day.


The Project

My friend Amy (see turquoise bubble above, “Friends from Western Mass” below) says she can’t keep track of my groups of friends. Here is my attempt to lay it out and fill her in, with the help of a few visual aids.


What’s a Friend?

Defining friendship, it turns out, is no easy thing to do. I made some categories, drew a few defining lines in the sand, and stuck to them. But still, it’s fraught.

So here goes: The friends here are people I like a lot. They are people I see with some regularity or people in already well-established groups. Partners of friends, for example, are not included by default. They are included when they fall into the above categories (e.g. Aaron).


Who They Are: By the Group

I tend to make friends in groups. Of course there are those who stand alone — the purple “solo” bubbles above — but by and large my network of friends is composed of a series of discrete micro-communities.

Siblings

It’s not taken for granted that siblings are friends. Siblings and friends are two different things. But my siblings are here because they happen to be friends. I like them. They make me laugh so hard I snort milk out my nose.

The Barn Girls

Lily, Alex, Isabel, Emma, and I grew up riding horses and working on a farm in Maine. We spent as much time as we could with the animals and with each other. They called us the Barn Girls. Now well into adulthood, we’ve earned advanced degrees, built careers, and developed partnerships, but the name still sticks. Their friendship bridges into family. On the graph above, they get their own green line for their special brand of friendship-sisterhood. They are my best shot at future communal living. The nuclear family be damned.

Chapman

These are my college friends — the ones whose friendship prevented me from transferring between schools. Chapman was the house we lived in. Everyone told us that it was an impossibility, ten women living together peacefully. Surely our home would devolve into catfights and petty competitions. We proved those disbelievers wrong. Of all the groups, these friends are the most geographically dispersed. And yet, by sheer force of love and will, we manage to see each other, all together, at least once or twice per year. After we do, I ride a happy wave for weeks.

Friends from SIT-Bolivia

Just at the start of adulthood, Ella, Tarn, Maggie, Kate, and I forged our friendship through a study abroad semester with the School for International Training in Bolivia. For months we rode a bus together through the country — up into the Andes and down into the Amazon. We grew intimately familiar with one other’s digestive patterns. We got to know each other’s families — American and Bolivian — from afar. We’ve since returned Stateside, but friendships that begin this way are meant to last forever.

Friends from Western Mass

After graduating college, I stayed in Western Massachusetts for four years, where for the first time I made friends through work. And a good thing too. These are the friends who went through a year of poverty-wage “volunteerism” with me, who got arrested with me, and who got fired with me. Through their friendship, I actually became an adult. There isn’t a day where part of me doesn’t wish I was still their neighbor.

My Soccer Team

When Lily convinced me to join a soccer team with her, her fiancé Aaron, and his childhood friends, my network in New York City grew instantly and exponentially. The team is bigger than these six, but these are the teammates I’ve seen the most and gotten to know the best. I don’t play anymore, but they’re kind enough to let me still hang out with them.

Honorary Mention: Partners

Ellice and I met when we were 17, and we’ve been life partner-friends ever since. In high school we talked on the phone for three hours a night. I would think it’s a myth — this idea that someone can know you better than you know yourself — but here I have this friendship to prove it true. Sometimes I wake up with the vague feeling that something’s wrong, but then I realize that Ellice and I have just gone too long without seeing each other. We don’t date, but we celebrate our friendship anniversary, travel together, and talk about our shared future. If that’s not partnership, I don’t know what is.

Ari is my manfriend. He is generous, thoughtful, kindhearted, and smart as a whip. Plus check out that good-looking face. He can improve my mood just by showing up. I could go on but it might get kind of gross. I’ll just leave it here: as far as dudes go, he is the absolute best. All my friends think so too.

Knowing full well that adding Gordie here lands me squarely and publicly in the category of Crazy Dog Lady, I am including him nonetheless. Gordo is my most constant companion, my favorite pillow, and my most photogenic Snapchat subject. When I see him, my blood pressure instantly drops.


Who They Are: Friendship Demographics

Where They Live

Click on the link to see to see who lives where. Click on the bubbles for each friend. Don’t forget to zoom out to see Cait in Bali.

My friends are by and large coastal. Like me, most are in the Northeast.

By group, some of us are geographically congregated. Sadly, some of us are all over the place.


Friends by the Numbers

Of my 11 male friends, three are siblings, four I met through a co-ed soccer team, two I used to date, and one I currently date. I only have one male friend whom I have never dated, who is not related to me, and who doesn’t play on our soccer team. And he deserves a lot of credit. He is the first male friend I have ever witnessed stand up for me in the face of blatant sexism — and more than once at that. Way to be, Malcolm.

The point is, as shown by the data, I’m really freaking picky about who my dude friends are. My tolerance for dudey behavior is at an all-time low.

Women and gender-queer friends, on the other hand, are my lifeblood.

White people are mostly friends with other white people. I’m no exception.

I was surprised to notice that five of my eight mixed-race friends are half-Asian/half-white — a high percentage considering I grew up in Maine and not California.

I’m 29. My friends are basically 29.


How Friendship Happens

In 2001 I met the Barn Girls. In 2005 I made my first wave of college friends. In 2007 I went to Bolivia and developed friendships there. 2008 through 2010 saw new friendships through college and work. In 2013 I moved to New York City; in 2015 I joined the soccer team.

In a seeming catch-22, if people want to make friends it seems they should already have friends. Other options are to go to college. Or grow up working on a farm. Or travel. Or get a job. Or join a soccer team. All of these strategies have worked for me.

But really this data is way too anecdotal to draw any conclusions, so do whatever you want.

The powers of Snapchat should not be underestimated.

I quit Facebook and Instagram; they’re not shown as options here. My friends have never been big Tweeters. Many friendships are maintained through in-person visits, even if only a few times per year. We may not keep in touch well in the interim, but we pick right back up from wherever we left off.

The truth is I’m communication-agnostic. I don’t care what medium we use. I just like to feel connected.


A Few Notes on Methodology

Who’s missing: There is one group noticeably missing — a community of teenagers I used to teach. I left my position as their teacher last summer, but they’ve transitioned from students to friends. I now see them at least once or twice per month. But because they’re minors, their privacy feels more precious (though they’d probably be the last to say so — you should see their digital footprints). Had they been included, they would have altered a few graphs in statistically significant ways: skewing the age histogram younger; the race/ethnicity graph more black and significantly more Hispanic/Latina; and adding a bar for the messaging app Kik in the modes of communication graph.

On Gender and Race: I would have much preferred to represent gender as it truly is — that is, a spectrum, and one that shifts for each person with time — rather than as three discreet categories. Because we all know by now that that’s not how gender works. But quantifying each person’s place on a gender spectrum would require their self-identification; I wasn’t going to decide each person’s identity for them — that would be weird. Unfortunately there wasn’t sufficient time to administer a survey, so here we are. I confirmed friends’ gender identities with them as needed.

The race/ethnicity category by far required the most confirmation on a case-by-case basis.

Privacy: Friends were alerted about the project and consented by default. Exact addresses were not used on the map — that would also be weird — which is why partners who live together appear to live apart.

Tools: Charts, graphs, and maps were made with help from Gephi, Google Charts, ggplot2 in R, CartoDB, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade.