We all have neighbors, but you may be wondering if neighbors can double as friends. Loneliness has become an epidemic in our modern world. Though the pandemic hasn’t helped, the situation was bad even before COVID. In 2019, 61% of Americans over the age of 18 reported feelings of loneliness. Neighborhoods can be one building block of counteracting isolation.
While neighbors can certainly be friends, neighborliness doesn’t have to mean friendship. Either way, investing in relationships with your neighbors can be beneficial for both your own well-being and the development of your community.
What Do Friends and Neighbors Have in Common?
Friendships and strong neighbor relationships have few elements in common. Both can be sources of social support and boost well-being. Neighbors and friends often celebrate events together, both in the world and in their community. They can represent a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds, providing valuable insights and enriching our understanding of the world. And they can have long-standing relationships that evolve and change over time. Neighbors can also be people to share both joys and concerns with, providing a sense of support and understanding.
How Friends are Different than Neighbors
Of course, there are also ways in which neighbors are different from friends. For one, we don’t get to choose our neighbors in the same way we choose our friends. Geography determines who our neighbors are, and as a result, they may be quite different from our chosen circle of friends.
This default proximity means that our neighbors may represent a broader diversity of life stages, ages, ethnicities, and family structures than we may find in our friend group. It also means we can’t escape our neighbors in the same way we can escape friends!
Our neighbors’ habits and actions impact our daily lives, whether for better or for worse. In many communities, it can be difficult to avoid at least seeing or being aware of each other. And unlike friends, neighbors can also impose rules on each other through city zoning regulations or homeowners association agreements. These elements mean neighbors can wield a significant amount of influence on our homes, lives, and environments.
In the same vein, neighbors have a unique window into the intimate details of your life. You’ll both face the same systemic and geographic realities – like the fact that no one pays attention to the stop sign at a particular intersection, or the fact that the school system is struggling to meet its budget. These commonalities can drive partnerships for change at a community-wide level. Friends may not understand these factors in the same way.
How Neighbors can be Friends
When neighborliness extends into friendship, the result is beautiful. Even if you’re not sure about the depth that a particular neighbor relationship might reach, take a risk and plant seeds of friendship.
Be friendly – even in small interactions. Take the time to wave, smile, and offer small talk in the driveway. Consider which neighbors might need help shoveling snow or bringing in groceries. Drop off extra baked goods or even dinner leftovers when you have a surplus. When you extend a kindness, it’s the first step in exploring if a neighbor relationship might deepen into something more.
Authenticity is Key
Recognizing the similarities and differences between friends and neighbors can help us set right-sized expectations – and convince us not to skip building relationships with the people who live nearby. By embracing the role that neighbors play in our lives, we can create more flourishing communities and find a sense of connection and belonging right in our own neighborhoods. And as community developers, it’s important to recognize that friendship and neighborliness are different, allowing us to authentically invest in relationships with our neighbors without trying to “force” anything. Just be yourself, and enjoy people for who they are and the unique role they have to play.
To begin a conversation about how to start the process in your neighborhood, connect with us by booking a call!