The Hard Facts: The Friendship Life Cycle

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Our social connections change as a function of age, typically forming a U shape across the lifespan, [associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence Stephen S.] Hardi says. As kids, we make friends easily because we spend so much time with our peers. Then comes a dip in early adulthood and midlife, when careers, marriage, and kids send us into lockdown. As these obligations ease up in our older years, we become socially active once again.” (“Friends for Life,” Better Homes and Gardens; April, 2011)

I find this life cycle of friendship fascinating.

But also encouraging.

Here we have scientific proof that my difficulty making new local BFFs when I first moved wasn’t because I’m a social leper or totally awkward. It’s because I was, and am, at an age where meeting new people is hard, both because I’m so busy and because my peers are too.

Last summer, my mother wrote about why it’s so important to hold on to your friends during the “lockdown” years. “Girls, don’t let the building of your adult life get in the way of maintaining the friendships you’ve spent so much time and energy developing,” she wrote. “You’ll find that whatever effort it takes—going back to your home town for a wedding or reunion, taking time out of a family visit for lunch or dinner with pals—you’ll be glad you made it. Once you emerge from those years from twenty-five to forty, those long-time friendships will mean the world to you.”

I know that she’s right, but I also like the idea that I’ll be in good shape for new friend making when I’m older. That the hardest part is right now, so if I can get through this, um, decade, I’ll be in great shape.

It’s funny, too, because when I started this search I thought not being a mom was the single thing working working most against me. I figured having a little one would mean Mommy & Me and Gymboree classes that would guarantee my next best friend. I was under the impression that the late-20s, early-30s were prime BFF time, now I know it’s the Empty Nesters who’ve won the friendship jackpot.

Now that I think about this research, I can’t help picturing the movie In Her Shoes (I never read the book), when Cameron Diaz’s Maggie moves into her Grandmother’s retirement home. Suddenly, she’s got a ton of new BFFs—and shopping buddies. I’m not saying that I want to move into a retirement community… but I’m not saying that I don’t.

Sure, age and lifestage influence who you are friends with, but do you think they influence your ability to make friends in the first place? At what age have you found it easiest to make friends? And for those of you in the so-called “older years,” is it true that your social activity has increased as you’ve aged?

11 Comments

Filed under The Search

11 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Friendship Life Cycle

  1. foxflat

    I remember in our highschool sociology class, the teacher kept reminding us that the #1 influence on friendships is distance. He’d say, “you think you’ll have these friends forever, and maybe some of them you will. But the relationship will change after highschool because it will be impossible to have the same friendship when you don’t see someone day in and day out in the hallways and classrooms.”

    I thought he was such a downer for saying this all the time!! It also sounded very obvious (even rudimentary) at the time, but in the 10+ years since highschool, I’ve remembered that again and again.

    Some of my fondest friendships were with roommates and neighbors. I think this is also why college is a great time to make friends…you’re all there together with a shared experience. I joked to my husband when we moved to a new city that I was going to hang “Do You Want a Friend?” posters in a 2-block radius around our house, because most of all I want a friend who’s easy to meet up with, make dinner with, and watch tv with.

    I’ll always want my bffs who I keep in touch with by phone and occasional visits, but there’s something wonderful about being in the same “place” with someone.

  2. Cheryl

    I’m 47, never-married/no kids, and I’ve had a full-time job almost continuously since I was 16. I’ve found that it was relatively easy to make casual friends – work is almost as good as school for that – but it has become increasingly difficult to make friends as I get older. Time, commitments to things you “have” to do versus “want” to do, single income rather than dual, and a lack of commonality with people who have children (and now, grandchildren) all interfere.

    C.S. Lewis said that friends are those that “see the same truth” that you do. His book “The Four Loves” has a section on friendship that is pretty good.

  3. Megan

    I wish EVERYONE would make The Effort to keep their friends during “these years.” The hardest part for me is feeling like I’m the only one who cares about friendships since everyone is marrying off and starting families…

  4. I’m ambivalent about this research. As a 33-year-old working mother of a toddler, friendships are just hard right now. On one hand, it’s a relief to know that my own shortage of BFFs isn’t merely a reflection on me as a person, but more likely a reflection on my place in life. On the other hand it’s a little disheartening to think that it’s going to be a number of years before the circumstances of my life are any more conducive to increased BFF-age than they are today.

  5. I love that movie… AND I’ve consistently told everyone that I want to move into a retirement community early so that I can enjoy more of that time. I mean, you’re living in a place with a bunch of people who are your same age, you don’t have any obligations other than meeting people, enjoying yourself and exploring new interests – who WOULDN’T want to re-live college without the burden of classes?

    • Jean

      My thoughts exactly. My grandparents moved into a retirement community a few years ago. They weren’t happy about it–maybe it seemed to them like they were losing their independence. But it sounded amazing to me. They’re surrounded by people their own age with fun classes and get-togethers offered all the time. I’m looking forward to it myself.

  6. Eve

    Rachel,

    We went to Fieldston together, and I found your blog from your facebook page. I love it and I am excited for your book. I was actually the class above you and Callie and I were friendly on the volleyball team. Tell her I say hi. Friendship has always been important to me as well, and I definitely relate to the feeling that it is hard when people aren’t part of your daily lives. I recently moved back to DC, but I am lucky to have a pretty good network here. However, I really miss my oldest and many of my closest friends in NYC, and though I get back often, it definitely isn’t the same not being in peoples daily lives. The only person I speak to nearly every day is my sister. I do think friendships go in a u shape, but I also think that u shape is harder now that our world has become such a busy 24/7 type of place, where people feel like having a life outside their jobs is a bad thing. I really support the idea that friendships are something to be cherished. So good luck!

  7. Emily

    My husband, kids, and I just got back from visiting my in-laws at The Villages in Florida..it’s more than just a retirement community…it’s a retirement CITY! Every year after staying there for a week we calculate until how long we retire. They have their own newspaper and there is a complete 10 page section on all the clubs/sports/groups/etc. that you could join. It’s quite otherworldly when I think of my day to day life as a full-time working mom of a 5 year old and 18 month old.
    I notice that my parents had a resurgence of a social life when my siblings and I were in high school/college. They became best friends with all the parents that were on my brother’s baseball, football, and basketball teams. They were able to maintain friendships after that…until my parents divorced that is…

  8. Emily

    Did you go to Fieldston in the Bronx? My sister was a teacher and softball coach there? If you did, then what a small world.

    • I did! Who was your sister?? So funny!

      • Emily

        I will have to ask when she worked there but i think it was the late 80’s and early 90’s. Her name was Jennifer White and Teresa McKinney was her roommate and I think worked there too. I remember getting to meet Blue Man Group because they were alumni and she had met them through the school.

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