Vax Summer's around the corner, and billions of people are getting excited to reach out to, reconnect with, and rub their genitals against those we've lost touch with over the past year. But after spending so much time in sequestered solitude, some fear it won't be easy to rekindle all those burnt-out relationships when Zoom has robbed us of our ability to socialize like well-adjusted human beings. 

Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

It's going to take several face-to-face hangouts before we stop commenting that the connection is really good.

To flatten the expected social anxiety curve, 2021 has seen countless articles and op-eds offering tips on how to best get our gregarious groove back. Simultaneously, many sociological and psychological experts have been wheeled out to reassure folks that it's perfectly normal to have been put on a "pandemic pause" by close friends. They even demothballed Robin Dunbar, famed anthropologist and inventor of the number 150, to remind people that our monkey brains simply can't juggle many close relationships during a crisis lest we forget to stock up on bananas. 

But while these broadsheets are trying to be our supportive camp counselors this summer, others are giving friend-making advice more in the vein of the snobby Mean Girls from across the lake. And the head Gretchen of the bunch has to be the New York Times. The paper has published several pieces over the past weeks tutting at people so desperate for social contact they are only a second shot away from texting "u up" to every contact in their phones. To counter this friendship flooziness, NYT columnists have dedicated dozens of paragraphs to telling readers they need to "Marie Kondo" all of the friends who didn't spend the pandemic sparking their joy -- an approach to human value every cult leader in history now shares with the NYT editorial team.

So, which toxic relationships should be cut out of our lives according to the NYT? Abusers? Takers? Anyone who has tried to get you into multi-level marketing? Sure, whatever. According to Kate Murphy, regular NYT op-ed writer and author of a top 2,000,000 bestselling book on Amazon, the friends who are truly not worth bothering with are those coping with obesity, substance abuse problems, and depression. Which, after the year we've just had, by my calculations, comes to … carry the five … literally every single human being on the planet. Murphy insists we cut the people who need our affection the most out of our lives so that we instead can "consort with studious, kind and enterprising people," quality "first-tier" friends that will guarantee a maximum return on emotional investment Mean Girls-style.

Paramount Pictures

Get in, loser; we're going social Darwinisming.

These are, to put it like an NYT columnist, some real third-tier opinions. So to back up her mercilessly mercenary advocacy for social climbing, Murphy links to research she claims proves that struggling friends are worthless friends because their "prevailing moods, values and behaviors are likely to become your own" -- leading me to assume that she spends all of her free time mingling at Patrick Bateman auditions. The paragraph in question was eventually removed by the NYT when throngs of people with still-beating hearts pointed out that her "science" was as flimsy as the excuses people will use to not have to hang out with NYT journalists this summer. One of her main research pillars, which supposedly proves that a majority of relationships are selfish and one-sided anyway, was nothing more than a self-reported survey of 84 undergrad students asked to rank their besties as ruthlessly as possible.

Jerry Zhang, Unsplash

Schoolgoing teenagers, of course, are famed for their healthy and non-superficial social structures. 

But while none of us should use this summer to complete our pandemic transformation into Howard Hughesian hyper-narcissistic hermits -- admit it, most of those mason jars wound up filled with pee instead of sourdough starter -- by cutting all our vulnerable friends with the ruthlessness of a little league coach, there is still some value to this message. Leave out the WASPy elitism and bigoted social eugenics, and the NYT is simply parroting what many behavioral experts, including Dunbar, already agree upon: maybe it's not worth further depleting your limited social energy catching up with a fantasy football buddy who was too busy chugging QAnon bleach to wish you a happy birthday on Facebook. As long as we don't go full-on sociopath, it's not a bad idea to use our dwindling social distance to take a step back and see if you can't, to quote Murphy, "withdraw from those who drain and drag us down." Like, for example, by canceling your subscription to the New York Times

You too can become one of Cedric’s low-tier friends by following him on Twitter.

Top Image: Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

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