Why 'Ambitious Friendships' Could Be The Key To Banishing Loneliness

Friendship might be one of the last things most of us would associate with ambition, and it kinda shows. Even as people climb the corporate ladder or launch their side hustles, many find less success when it comes to socializing. According to a 2023 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, Americans are more isolated and significantly less engaged with friends compared to just two decades ago. This has led to a loneliness epidemic, which the report notes puts people at risk for disease, mental health issues, and even premature death.

But what if we all treated our social relationships to the same ambition we apply to work, family, and other facets of life? The concept of "ambitious friendships" is beginning to catch on, starting with an Elle article written by Rainesford Stauffer, who also authored a book on the topic of ambition. Since then, others, such as TikToker Nickey Skarstad, have chimed in to support the idea, giving a whole new meaning to the term "friendship goals."

So what exactly is an ambitious friendship? Think of it as a friendship where both people actively strive to strengthen their shared bond. You might schedule regular coffee dates, offer help when your friend hits a rough patch, or send spontaneous texts just to check in. While ambitious friendships take work, that work is likely to pay off by keeping us socially active and engaged — which could even help solve the loneliness crisis many of us are facing.

Luck isn't enough

Ambitious types know that luck isn't enough to succeed. Hard work and consistent effort are just part of the process, whether you're trying to get into a top college or applying to a competitive company. The same principle applies to friendships too. While some friendships might form after a serendipitous encounter, good fortune simply isn't enough to make them last.

Still, there's a misconception that belonging to a tight-knit squad or maintaining a long-term friendship is all up to luck — and this belief can do more harm than good. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships discovered that people who believed that friendship was determined by fate were more likely to feel lonely. By contrast, their counterparts who believed that friendship depends on effort (or, put another way, the ones who pursued ambitious friendships) were more likely to put themselves out there, actively socialize with people, and — unsurprisingly — struggle less with loneliness.

Social media can't do all the heavy lifting

Social media and technology were, in theory, supposed to help us stay connected with friends and loved ones. And, to some extent, they do — if it wasn't for social media, you may never talk to your high school BFF again, and you probably wouldn't know that your old college roomie now has a baby.

However, passively hitting the "like" button could be slowly driving a wedge between you and your friends. In a survey of British adults commissioned by Pernod Ricard (via SWNSdigital) six out of 10 respondents admitted to catching up with friends less often since the world became more digital, and 55% believed that social media made their friendships "more superficial."

The poll also confirmed that many people don't view their online followers as real friends, though it's not that they don't crave deeper connections — one in three surveyed said they wished they had more close friends. The takeaway message: While there's nothing wrong with using technology to bolster friendships, a more ambitious approach might be necessary to maintain meaningful bonds. Investing time and energy, both online and offline, can take a budding friendship and turn it into a genuine alliance that outlasts the latest social network craze... and the next one... and the next one.

Ambition may be the antidote to ghosting

Unfortunate fact of life: Ghosting, no matter how much it hurts, has become the norm. "Ghosting is becoming more common because it is so easy to do," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" told Glamour. "Social media and tech make it easy to be sloppy in relationships, and ghosting is just one more form of this. Why face down a conversation when you can just disappear?" While this is particularly true in romance, friends can leave each other on read too.

Though you might not be able to stop someone from bailing on you, taking an ambitious approach to friendship can sometimes interrupt the cycle of avoidance and prevent a BFF — or even yourself — from peacing out. As Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert and author of "Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness," explained to Insider, "Research shows that we need five positive emotions for every negative emotion for a relationship to stay healthy. By the time we're breaking up, that ratio has usually gotten reversed." In other words, ghosting often occurs once negative interactions outweigh the good ones.

So how can ambitious friends deal with negativity? They respectfully discuss conflict, own up to their mistakes, and make time for uplifting hangouts. Who would ever want to ghost on that kind of friendship?

Friendships are just as important as romantic relationships

If you've ever signed up for a dating app or tried to reignite the spark in your long-term relationship, you're probably pretty ambitious about your love life. You want a serious relationship, and you're willing to put in the work to find (and keep) it. This is the norm in many modern societies where romantic relationships are prioritized above almost all other relationships. Meanwhile, platonic friendships are forced to take a backseat.

Choosing to cherish friendships — or at least cherish them as much as romantic relationships — might make more sense when it comes to personal health and well-being. One 1993 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that friendship was associated with a lower risk of heart attack, yet having a romantic partner had no impact. Another 2006 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found a link between breast cancer survival and friendship but noted that having a spouse or "confidant" didn't affect survival rates.

If friendship is the real key to health and happiness, it deserves the same attention we might devote to a partner or spouse. That means building trust, voicing your needs, and loving your friends through their love languages to start.