I’m about to lose all my friends.
No, this isn’t some sort of irrational, quarter-life crisis induced panic. It’s science.
According to a new study released last week, the number of people we connect with in our social circle (also known as our “friends”) is highest when we’re 25 years old. Right after that age the number of friends we have falls off a cliff, and continues tumbling down before stabilising in our 40s.
The study also found that men tend to have more friends than women, up until the age of 25. But men also lose friends at a faster rate, meaning that by the time we hit 40, women have bigger social circles.
As someone who is about to say goodbye to the humble age of 25, I’m freaking out. Where are my friends going? Will I ever get them back? Why don’t they love me anymore?
When I catch up with an old workmate, or someone I hung out with at uni, I start wondering 'Is this the last time I’m ever going to see you?'
Even though we might not prioritise friendships in the same we value relationships with partners or family, they’re an incredibly important part of ensuring our happiness, as well as our physical and mental wellbeing. So the idea that our friendships are going to start evaporating is a little bit scary.
In a way, this study is just quantifying something most of us experience as we grow up. Once we leave institutions like school and university, we’re no longer thrust into environments where making friends is both easy and necessary. We start to get consumed by work and settle down to have families; both activities detract from building and maintaining friendships.
But just because we know it’s likely to happen doesn’t make it any better. In fact, now we know exactly how many friends we’re going to lose, and the exact age we’re likely to lose them, it makes the whole situation even more anxiety inducing. When I catch up with an old workmate, or someone I hung out with at uni, I start wondering “Is this the last time I’m ever going to see you?” or “Are you going to make the cut and end up being one of the people I’m still catching up with in my 40s?”
Does it have to be this brutal?
When we’re younger it seems much easier to make friends. We interact with more people, we do more structured activities, we have more time for social activities and it just seems like entering a new social group is much simpler and less taxing than it is once you’re in your mid-twenties, or older.
As we age we tend to meet fewer people, and most of the people we do meet tend to be work colleagues. Work friendships can be great, but most of us don’t want to be in a situation where our only social relationships are with workmates.
It’s also possible that as we age, we value deeper, more meaningful friendships more than a high number of superficial relationships.
Balancing work and family life with friendships can be hard, but we also have the tools to help connect and communicate with more people than ever.
Whatever the reasons, I think it’s concerning. I’m experiencing a diminishing social circle right now, and according to studies, it’s going to get worse. Because of work, I have less time to spend with friends, which means those relationships tend to deteriorate and fall away. And because I have less time to spend on social activities it’s actually harder to meet new people.
Even though it sounds counter-intuitive I think the internet can help. Social media can help us meet new people and start new conversations relatively quickly and easily. And those relationships can translate to friendships offline as well.
Developers are busy building news apps to help people with shared interests meet up and strike new friendships.
Despite the apparent inevitability of losing friends and becoming social recluses as we get older, I actually think we’re in a good position to do the opposite. Balancing work and family life with friendships can be hard, but we also have the tools to help connect and communicate with more people than ever. The challenge is translating those brief, transactional interactions into something more meaningful. I don’t think we have to accept narrowing our social circles as we get older. Sure, we might not have the same deep connection with everyone we know, but as we get older, change jobs or careers, start families, get new hobbies and learn new things it seems like we’re going to keep meeting new people. Instead of assuming it’s too late to make new friends, let’s give it a go and prove science wrong.
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Image courtesy of Flickr/ Mark Walley.