The Hard Facts: Friendship In Your Twenties

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

“According to research by the late Bernice Neugarten of the University of Chicago, who helped launch the academic study of human development, people choose most of their adult relationships, both friends and lovers, between the ages of 22 and 28. The friends we make in our 20s are not only BFFs; they’re also our first truly chosen friends, people we discover as a result of our adult decisions—where to live, work, or study—as opposed to our parents’ choices.” (“Just How Many Facebook Friends Do You Need?” ; Newsweek 10/15/2012)

This recent Newsweek article is chock full o’ stats for Research Wednesdays. This bit above is from the very beginning, and is one of the most fascinating nuggets of research I’ve read in a long time. Since OD’ing on friendship science back during my Year of Friending, it’s rare that I come upon a piece of research that is entirely new to me. Often it seems to be a rehashing of something we already know — that Facebook is changing relationships, or that friends are good for your health. But this is so specific about how and when we make new friends as an adult. Like I said… fascinating. 

According to these researchers, we’ve only got a six-year window during which we become friends with the majority of our lifers. The span makes sense if you think about it—22 is when we graduate college, and 28 is just about when the average American gets married (as of 2011, the average age of marriage for an American women is 26.9,  while the average age for an American man is 28.9). The idea, then, is that we create most of our bestfriendships during those “emerging adult” years when we’re on our own but still figuring things out.

It’s amazing, then, that I was 27 when I started my friend search. It’s as if my inner self knew the clock was ticking! (It’s hard for me to really believe that but the science does line up well.) And while of course this friending window isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s also crazy to me that my prime friend-making years might be behind me. Good thing I met so many good eggs when I did.

Like I said, research like this can’t be exact but it does make you think about age in regards to friendship. I’ve always expected that when I have kids, a whole new world of mom friends will open up to me. But this research says probably not. I guess only time will tell on that front.

What do you guys think? Is this 22-28 window surprising? Did you make most of your besties during those years? And if you’re in the 22-28 age range, do you see yourself choosing friends now in a way you never have?



Filed under The Search

41 responses to “The Hard Facts: Friendship In Your Twenties

  1. I found it scary because im 31 lol. But I think one of the things that I am realizing now, is that I already have friends who love and whom I love dearly. The thing for me is I now need to realize that this is the case and work on cultivating these relationships. and Ironically, I met them during this window lol. Guess this research has proven true for me.

  2. Wow! This is really so true for me! I made ALL my best lifers when I went away to work on the mainland at age 23. The people I met during that time frame of 23-26 are still my most treasured BFF’s! Now at age 33, I am struggling to make new best friends back in Hawaii.

  3. yablogtherapy

    Interesting research! I’m in that age bracket and I find that it’s not so much about making new long-lasting friendships during these years. In my experience, it’s more common for twenty-somethings to start “culling” obligatory friends who you no longer have common interests with, like friends made in high school or at university.

  4. I disagree with the statement about this period of time being the first time a person makes autonomous decisions outside of one’s parents. After all, don’t most students choose their own colleges (I write “most” because, of course, there are exceptions.), and thus, their own friends?

    Truly picking friends is based on maturity, in my opinion. This may be why people stick with friends made during this time because they are less influenced by peer pressure, cliques, etc.

    • Everyone’s firsts are based on their own personal conditions. The research article was merely making generalizations based on the given information. While you personally may have made friends before this period that were solely based on your own thoughts and feelings the truth is that most people are still quite under the influence of their parents even while in college.

  5. Yikes!! According to this survey I’m s.o.l. most of thefriends I did make during that time period are in a different state. I still don’t have friends I n the same city I live in and I’ve been here in Augusta, GA for 3 years. And my 29th birthday is Friday so..yeah. I have found that I get along better with people who are older than me like in their 40’s and 50’s vs people my own age. Maybe you should do a blog about that if you haven’t already or find some research that discuss that topic. I’m interested in knowing more about it.

    • SnowfoxBandit

      I would be interested in that too! I’m in my 20s and while I have a few friends younger than me/my age left over from school days, the majority of my friend group falls between 25-40.

    • dorkista

      I have a similar issue. I’ve been in Atlanta for two years and don’t have any good friends. I’m 24 and just don’t have much in common with people my age.

  6. Interesting. I would not have guessed this. All of my lifers have come before age 22 (and from reading your book, it seems like many of yours did as well). But I’m only 26 now so we’ll see. Although I feel that my “options” for friendship have actually decreased from when I was younger. In school there are always people around to choose as friends. In the real world it is rare to be around that many people all the time, I think.

    • It’s true that many of my lifers are pre-22, but I think in 20 years a number of them will be from the 22-28 period too. It seems too soon to tell just yet!

  7. Yikes. I’m 31 also and don’t have any friends. I got your book from the library to read for ideas. Hopefully it’s not too late for me. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Interesting post. I’m now a 40 yr old and trying to make new friends. All of my major life friendships are pretty much destroyed with my divorce. I’d be curious to read some of this research and what it says about people my age.

  9. I have made several really close friends in my mid-thirties, friends I can see being lifelong friends. Also, age brings wisdom, which may lead you to shuffle some of your friendships, and age also brings change, which will lead to the loss of some friends and the addition of new ones.

  10. I think that window applies more to meeting your mate/spouse than meeting your friends. This is the first research I ever read on the subject but I’ve said for decades (i’m 55 now) that if you don’t meet a potential mate between the ages of 20 and 26 you will most likely be single well into your 30s and maybe longer.

  11. Kristen A.

    Yeah, I’m 29 and my friends are all of the knew each other in high school, may not talk as often but fall right back in when we do manage to get together variety. I guess I’m screwed. (Actually I’ve been with my fiance since before this window started.)

  12. Research may indicate it, but I believe that people make friends all through their lives, regardless of age. And yes, when you become a mom, lots of new friend options open whether research says so or not. I think maybe people consider those people they meet in that time frame their very best friends, but not necessarily their only friends. I don’t really like putting a time limit on such important things as friendship because then people tend to quit even trying to make friends after that and I believe that you can and will.

  13. The majority of my friends are from high school (I’m 24) but I think that during this window I have become stronger friends with people who were just acquaintances at the time we met, and have shed several friends from high school that no longer align with my lifestyle. It’s good to know that there is still “time” to make more besties though, as it does often feel like the time for friend-making has passed.

  14. I disagree. I’m in my thirties and have made plenty of good friends that I feel will be just as much “lifers” as my BFF who I met as a kid, at 11-years-old.

  15. Jen Q

    It may be the trend, but doesn’t apply to me at all. I have a couple great long time friends, made one at 3 yrs old, and one at 15, and the rest I spend time with and adore I made mostly at 35+. I also got married at 20, so I guess I didn’t to anything typically. There is always a chance at making good friends at any age. At least that is my ongoing experience as a 41 yr old.

  16. I’m 24 and I do feel like I’m in the window of friend opportunities right now. I find that my early twenties are the point in my life where my friendships are changing and meeting people happens in a different way, based on work, volunteering, hobbies, meeting friends or friends, and just random social interactions.

  17. I actually was thinking about something in this vein the other day. Snooki tweeted a picture of herself and a BFF since pre-school. My first thought was, wow, that’s amazing. My oldest friend is from middle school and even that was hard to keep up for some of our formative adult years. Then I got to thinking, how do pre-schoolers keep friends? Really it’s mostly the work of their parents hosting parties and playdates or scheduling meetings at the park. So Snooki and that BFF owe a great deal of gratitude to their parents. And then I think, wow, I’m a mom of pre-schoolers. Now’s the time for me to get this friend train running. Toot-toot!

    • Emily

      I actually took a tip from my preschooler one time! We had just moved to our current city, and we were at the pool. She got in the water of the kiddy pool, where there were a couple girls about her age, and she said, “Hi! My name’s Grace.” And they were off in conversation. Those girls’ mom was sitting near the pool by herself, and I thought, “If Grace can do it, I have no excuse not to introduce myself.” Once I got past the whole “she’s gonna think I’m crazy” fear, it was really quite easy and we discovered our husbands had actually played golf together.

  18. The whole concept of choosing friends is new to me I had never given the topic much thought, untill now.

  19. amommys2cents

    I turned 25 this year and I definitely have felt a shift in the way/why I seek friends. Most of the people I’ve called friends were people that I went to college with. There wasn’t a lot of choice there, they’re mostly people that became friends because of proximity (hall-mates or someone a hall-mate always had around). Now I’m much more specific and selective. I’m married with a child. That’s a big life difference that many other people my age don’t understand.

  20. alexiroseni

    Being 22 and just entering this stage I am find myself at a loss b/c making friends, choosing friends is really hard. I think it’s mostly because I am not stable and then I think that I want friends to be there as I figure out who I am or else when I am finally “grown up” I might be standing all alone. And that would be a bummer.

  21. I think when you have kids you will make new mom friends – but I think that mom friends don’t become best friends, at least from what I’ve noticed. My mom and my bestfriends’ moms all like to hang out, but they aren’t best friends with each other even though we’ve all been best friends for at least 15 years or so now. So the science definitely is interesting and seems accurate.

  22. danit1107

    I loved this. Funny, i actually just wrote a blog of my own about my personal experience with being new and making friends.

  23. tunie

    I wonder if this statistic is just a collection of meaningless facts with no basis in truth – in the same way that no one is actually ‘normal’. Because I’m 45 and have no friends left from my 20’s, having moved and grown so radically since that period of my life. I’ve been in touch with a few, but we’ve grown in such radically different ways that friendship isn’t really possible. My closest friends, people I can call on for anything and who wouldn’t hesitate to call on me, I’ve met in the last 10 years, with one or two in the last 5. So it’s definitely not a fixed thing. But statistics never are. I would love to have had friends for that long who’d grown along with me, but that wasn’t my experience. Maybe those statistics reflect that many people marry in their 20’s and once I do marry, it will change at that point?

  24. I’m just approaching graduating from university. I’ve started on paying attention to which people make me feel good to be around, and spending less time with those that don’t make me feel good. I’m looking forward to getting a job and discovering a whole new set of people!

  25. Yes! I can totally agree with this. I’ve definitely made some of bestest friends in my 20’s. However, I’ve also rediscovered friends that I had “lost” contact with from my earlier years. So I think that choosing friendships is a huge factor!

  26. Emily

    Don’t give up on the idea that once you have kids, you won’t meet any besties. You might; it won’t happen right away, but it might happen eventually. My older daughter is 4 and it is through her that I have made all my new friends in a new city (I’m 34, so quite out of the range of this study, and I cringe at how accurately the study applies to me!). I’m still in the “meeting” phase with these fellow moms, so no besties yet, but I have definitely enjoyed the company of those I have met. My next step is to pull them all together for a book club or something! Hopefully that will lead somewhere!

  27. Katie

    I agree with the statistics, but they also scare me because I’m 32 and don’t have a BFF. I lost mine due to miscommunication at 30 and have been on the search since. And now I’m scared and sad that it may never happen. I have friends, but no one that I can call at any time when I need to talk. I just don’t know what to do.

  28. Just finished your book and really enjoyed it! However I am 39 so if I am too impressed by the research, I am pretty much screwed 🙂 Rather I note the general trend, but still learn the lessons so that I can make at least progress in developing a network.

  29. jdflotow

    My personal experience is different, but only in the technicalities. I began making lifelong friends at the age of 16. I’m only 28 now, so I suppose it may be hard to say who is a lifelong friend at this point, but my closest friends have been around for about 12 years now and I don’t think they are going anywhere. However my situation is also not typical in that I moved out of my parents home and began supporting myself at that age. Most of the friends I made during that time were in fact in the 22-28 year old age range, so it doesn’t really contradict the statics, if anything it supports them. I was just an exception to the rule because of my circumstances. I definitely developed my closest friendships during the same time frame (the first several years on my own). As I got older I did find that the type of friends I chose changed. I began to seek out the type of friendships that were based on mutual interests as opposed to just party acquaintances. As I recently lost my lifelong BFF to cancer, I certainly hope to be an exception to the rule again, but I’m sure there is still some time to make another close girlfriend. Twenty-eight isn’t really old after all.

  30. This is an interesting topic, I recently read a post on how highschool friendships break during college years. I think its true that we are able to make better selection of friends in the early 20s. This is because, in the process of growing into adulthood , we make friends and relate with them in a more mature while evolving together. I agree that most friends made during the early to late twienties are long lasting but they don’t just stop there, significant friendships can also be made in the early to mid 30s.

  31. I COMPLETELY agree with this! I think it also goes beyond friendships to relationships. I just turned 28, so I’m on the “last year”…and I really have focused on real friendships and who I want to “be active” in my life in the last few years. I know what makes me happy and what I want out of it (more so discovered in 26-28 that I don’t want those people in my life that take away from enjoying what I love)…but based on my life “timeline” I definietly think this is all true and relevant. I’m just missing the marriage/awesome guy part 😉 *haha

  32. You know, it does seem so. I’m 22 (so apparently just entering my window) and I’m finding that I’m dissatisfied with my current friendships. I’m asking myself things like – “why are we friends again? Oh bcos we had class together” or something and now we don’t have class anymore, hanging out is a bit of a chore and I’m less and less willing to put up with it and just hang on for friendship sake. I’m kinda scared though, while there’s something comforting and exciting in knowing that over the few years I’m permitted (by scientific research of course) to “let go” of the friends I have now and make new ones; there’s also something quite scary. To think that most of my bossom pals (do you use this expression in America? Cos I’m in London) right now I’ll probably not even speak to in a few years. That’s scary!

  33. Definitely! My friendships are more fulfilling than ever. Since I am 24 and not past that age bracket yet, I can’t say what will happen after 28. But right now I enjoy time with people I have chosen to be in my life and I am pretty sure they will stay a long time…

  34. This was definitely NOT the case for me. I spent those years of my life traveling the world – rarely staying in one place even for as long as a year. By the time I decided to settle down a bit, I was turning 30. So, most of my friendships have been made SINCE then (except for a few university-days hangers on!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s