How do you know you’re friends with someone?
Friendship is different than romantic relationships because you never officially have the define the relationship conversations. You never have to say if you’re dating, engaged or married. But there still has to come a point when you decide that you’re acquaintances, friends or even good friends. It just sort of happens.
I was thinking about this recently because we just moved to a new block with a lot of parents our age. We went to the block party where we exchanged names and various life details, then we stopped by each other’s houses, and now our kids are already coming and going freely at each other’s homes. One 4-year-old girl who was playing with our 3-year-old even declared, “This is our first playdate!” They’re already aware of bonding relationship milestones.
If I had to introduce one of our neighbors at this point, I wouldn’t introduce them as a friend. Someone becomes an official friend somewhere between the first meeting and staying in touch with them for 20 years. But it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly that happens. There’s no metric for friendship.
But what if there was? I think that’s what might be happening to some degree with the next generation.
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of Snapchat are the streaks. If you and someone else send snaps to each other for three days, you start a streak and a number shows up next to the other person’s name in Snapchat. They show up at the top of your Snapchat list. For every additional day you send each other snaps, you extend the streak. If one person doesn’t send a snap or reply within 24 hours, the streak goes away.
As weird as it sounds to non-Snapchat users, streaks are a big deal. Starting a streak with someone is similar to starting a relationship. Breaking a streak can be like breaking up with them.
I heard about them extensively in a recently Snapchat focus group I held with Marquette University college students.
“My best friend and I kinda started a streak and it got to 365 days and we were like, ‘We’re gonna make this a thing for life! We’re not gonna break it unless severe injury or death!’” one student said. “And then I lost wifi when I was abroad and she got really freaked out and she actually messaged my other friend to make sure I was okay because she was like ‘She wouldn’t break the streak.’ It was kind of a way for her to make sure I was alive, but before that it was like ‘hey how are you’ and sometimes it would go into a conversation.”
Streaks have become a way to deepen friendships, make sure friends are alive, continue daily conversations, and sometimes even start a friendship. It gives a metric to conversations. It starts with casual snapping and leads to “Wow, we’ve been talking a lot.”
Streaks don’t happen by accident, but they can’t be too deliberate either. It’s kind of like planning to run into a crush or making casual plans to hang out with a group of friends so you can hang out with particular friends.
“If you don’t have a streak with someone yet and you really want to make one you, it’s like you just pretend you are casually snapping,” one student said.
“Sometimes it’s kinda funny I’ll look and I have a seven day streak with this person, and it’s like, ‘Why am I talking to this person so much lately?’” said another student. “That’s the weird part of streaks that you can track how much communication you’ve had with certain people recently.”
I asked if streaks ever lead to more in depth conversations outside of Snapchat. Does a casual streak ever lead to actual friendship? It could, according to the students I talked to.
“One time, I started talking to one of my friends more and he was on my best friends list and I was like, ‘How did this happen!’” said one student. “Then I snapped him more for the sake that he was at the top of my list and then I talked to him more and we’re better friends now I guess. That’s kinda weird.”
It can go from we’re Snapchat friends, to oh wait we’re actually friends! Because Snapchat said we’re best friends.
Again, this might sound weird to those who aren’t on Snapchat. But it’s just a different friendship milestone for a new generation. It’s akin to previous generations getting someone’s phone number, or wearing someone’s jacket, or wearing a friendship bracelet. It’s just a different subtle signifier of friendship for a new generation.
This morning one of the other dads on the block stopped by our house to drop off a scooter my son had left at their house the night before (The leave behind! Such a Costanza move). We talked about books and other mutual interests, and then he asked if he could get my email to send me something.
We aren’t starting a Snapchat streak, but at that moment I could tell that we are probably going to be friends.