Low Optionality and Adult Friendships


This week we talk about a few topics that Taimur's been noticing more and more with a particular focus on an article about low social optionality and adult friendships.

Table of contents

This week we talk about a few topics that Taimur's been noticing more and more — low social optionality (applied to adult friendships), the plight of kids in society, and treating your personal life like a business. We also touch on the ideology of social media lynch mobs/"haters".

Some of the highlights of this discussion:

Relationships we have with our friends are fundamentally different to the connections we have to families. Taimur raises a blog post called the Families We Choose by Helena Fitzgerald which is about the relationships that we have with our friends over time and how these change as we grow older. She notes how friendships suffer from the lack of any sub-categories. When you have legitimate categories around relationships, such as through familial ties, they come with some of obligation and commitment which keep your family relationships alive. Yet with friendships, there is no forcing function to keep your friends interacting regularly which invariably leads to friendships breaking down.

With more committed relationships like family ties, there is much less optionality whereas with friendships there is too much optionality. This leads to friendships breaking down more easily as people drift apart. (This links back to Episode 33 and the need ‘Intentional Socialising’ that would act as a forcing function to help friendships to be maintained).

Quotes taken from the article:

“There is no widely understood way to mourn friendships when they recede from centrality in our lives – romances, even if they end amicably, come with mourning periods and a language to explain the loss but a friendship that fades into the margins is mainly considered a condition of growing older”.
“The defining utility of a biological family is the very aspect from which we rebel – it’s built in obligation. Families [are] where love and inconvenience are one and the same, they are the people we see even if we wish to turn away…to distance ourselves from our family is a definitive action, a clear and visible break…Friend groups on the other hand often end in an anti-climactic fade out – there is no external structure that compels us to keep up friendships when they are inconvenient. The closest friendships, the ones that feel like family, can end in a slow undramatic muttering with no defining end or explanation until the word friend simply becomes someone that you used to know”.


  1. "The Families We Choose" — the piece by Helena Fitzgerald, that we spend a lot of the episode talking about
  2. Jojo Rabbit on IMDb — go watch it!
  3. "How will you measure your life?" — article by the late Clay Christensen, summarising part of his book by the same title
  4. "Will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest" — historical backstory for this excellent reference

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What is this? Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.

Follow Not Overthinking on Twitter: https://twitter.com/noverthinking.

Who are we?

Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram

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