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After years of interviews, Julie Beck has defined the 6 forces that fuel friendship


Over the course of three years and 100 conversations, Julie Beck has come to know a lot about friendship. She started a series of interviews for The Atlantic known as "The Friendship Files," where she talked to all kinds of friends about their friendships. And even though she says she's just scratched the surface of the infinite ways that such relationships shape our lives, this month saw the last installment in the series. Julie Beck, senior editor at The Atlantic, joins us now. Welcome.

JULIE BECK: Hi, Ayesha. Thank you so much for having me.

RASCOE: So you did so many interviews for the series. I want you to tell us about a few of them. Now, I'm not going to ask you to choose which ones are your favorites so people feel left out, but maybe can you talk about kind of the range of conversations that you had?

BECK: Totally, yes. They're all my favorites.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

BECK: But, yeah, in the course of the a hundred, I did, almost every single time, talk to the friends all together. And so that would sometimes just be two friends. I sometimes had slightly more chaotic calls up to, you know, six, seven, eight people on the line. And then the subjects really ranged - you know, anybody with an interesting friendship story. We did have some more, you know, high-profile folks - like, I interviewed a couple of astronauts who were friends, a couple of people from "The Great British Bake Off" who were friends. But a lot of times it was just normal people who had really interesting philosophies and friendship experiences.

RASCOE: Oh, wow. And the same day that you published the last interview in the series, you did write this reflection on the series as a whole, and you talked about six forces that fuel friendship. Can you tell us a bit about what you think those six things are that really build and solidify a friendship?

BECK: Yeah. Some of them are a little more obvious than others. One is accumulation, which, obviously, just the more you spend time with someone, the more likely they are to become a friend. The next one is attention, which is just - a lot of the folks who I interviewed kind of found friendships in unexpected places. For instance, there was a woman who stayed close friends with her ex-boyfriend's mom for 30 years. So really, it's just a matter of kind of noticing when we click with someone, being open to these opportunities even if they're kind of in unexpected places. The next one is intention. And that's - you know, attention only goes so far without action. If you sort of drift through life, friendship may occasionally fall into your lap, but a lot of times it requires, you know, courtship to, like, woo the person a little bit.

RASCOE: You have to take the first step, right? So you have to - or not necessarily the first step, but you have to take a step and sometimes reach out, right?

BECK: Yeah, sometimes reach out. And even after the friendship is established, you know, it doesn't grow and be maintained without some intention on your part throughout the friendship. One way of doing that and another one of the forces is ritual. Something that a lot of the friends I spoke with had was just something built into their lives. It could be as simple as a book club or a monthly hike that they don't have to put the effort into scheduling every single time. It's sort of baked in that they're seeing each other regularly. Other people had, you know, more intense rituals. I spoke with a group that had been playing the same Dungeons and Dragons campaign for 30 years.

RASCOE: (Laughter) That is commitment.

BECK: That's commitment. But even a simpler ritual, whatever works for you and your friends is really great. And then another one was imagination. Something that I thought about a lot with this series is that society tends to kind of place friendship on the sidelines. We are sort of expected to have our friends play second fiddle to our romances, to our careers. And it takes some imagination not to kind of default to that when that's the cultural pressure and to design your life so that friendship really plays the role that you want it to.

And a lot of people who I spoke with were able to do that and kind of did radical reimaginings for themselves. I spoke to some friends who bought a house together, some friends who went to therapy together. And so it was really nice to see that there are people out there who are thinking beyond, you know, what bounds society might want to put on friendship. And then the last one was grace. And that's really just because everything that I've mentioned so far - those are ideals that are great to strive for. But, of course, like, life has its own limitations.

And we have limited energy, and so, you know, we have to be realistic about not being able to live up to those all the time. So I kind of think about it in two ways - you know, grace in the sense of offering each other forgiveness and space to be imperfect and to not abandon the friendship if we go through periods where we are a little bit more estranged, and then also grace kind of in the more spiritual sense, really, of just a gift that is so huge and so profound that you could never earn or deserve it. And I do think that that is what friendship is for a lot of us.

RASCOE: That's Julie Beck, senior editor at The Atlantic. Thank you for being with us.

BECK: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.