Three female friends having coffee in a cafe

Dr Zaidi on Friendship

Every friendship evolves uniquely however research shows there are a few factors that help form and maintain friendships through the years:  these are accumulation, attention, intention, rituals and flexibility.


The time spent together is an important factor. Research studies show that people have to spend  40 to 60 hours together within the first six weeks for it to turn from an  acquaintance to a casual friend, and on average between 80 to 100 hours for it to be more meaningful than a casual friendship. So friendships unsurprisingly tend to form in places where people spend a lot of their time, for example, work, school, community, extracurricular activities.

It is the gradual accumulation of shared moments over time that add up to make a meaningful friendship.”


Friendships can be found in so many unusual opportunities we have to be open to and pay attention to these moments. It is noticing when you feel the connection with someone, which requires us to step out of our autopilot living, looking away from our devices and being present in the moment. Having moved countries so many times I have had to learn to be more proactive to seize these opportunities and be open to chance encounters as an expat, I have not had the privilege of social networks that are permanent and settled. 


Paying attention and then taking action when the opportunity presents itself is important. Most of us have lost our social support network in HK in 2022.  All of my close friends and most of my colleagues have left HK. It is hard to put yourself out there again and be vulnerable as this requires courage and constant effort. This is the hardest part of the friendship journey and like all of our important relationships this too requires effort, energy, thought and planning.


During the pandemic, isolated on my first quarantine, I felt the urge and need for close connections I missed so much. It is the rituals that make these close interactions possible as a result of the long sense of isolation. For the first time ever I joined a book club and organised one myself with my remaining close friends in Hong Kong from all different parts of my life. I thought after one year of this get together the group would be bored yet here we are in 2023, looking forward to good discussions on books, life and everything in between. The power of ritual that makes you feel part of a community cannot be underestimated in maintaining solid friendships and having a date in the diary helps maintain that connection.


More than just feeling a connection, the beauty and the challenge of friendship is its diversity over time. A friendship can be whatever you want it to. I’ve come to believe that friendship doesn’t always have to be about presence; it can also be about love and care that can weather absence and I think the pandemic has been a testament to many friendships that have weathered not just the absence but have survived due to our flexibility and adaptability in our friendship. 

Finally, like in any meaningful relationship friendships do well with being present and paying attention.

Written by Dr. Quratulain Zaidi

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