The Hard Facts: The Seven-Year Itch

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

“Some friendships last a lifetime, but the truth is most don’t.  In fact, the average friendship only lasts seven years.” (“Surviving a Friend Breakup”; Katie’s Take 10/30/2012)

According to Katie Couric’s interview with friendship expert Irene Levine, most friendships don’t make it past seven years. The reason, she says, is simply that people change over time, so friendships change over time. But if I look at my dearest friends, I’ve been tight with every single one of them for longer than seven years. My very besties are friends from high school and college–both of which took place more than seven years ago.

Some of these friends are people I might not necessarily be close with if we met today. But that’s what’s so great about old friends. Whether you would be pals today or not doesn’t really matter because you’ve grown together.

I know it’s naive to assume all your friends will be around forever. But I generally believe that when it comes to the pals I’m close with, we’re close for a reason. And we’re in it for the long haul.

But, research says, that haul will likely be seven years. Just enough time to get the itch and perhaps a wandering eye and start noticing new potential friends. What is it about this seven year span that makes us question our partner choices?

Let me ask you: How long have you been friends with most of your BFFs? Am I being uber idealistic to think that seven years seems on the speedy side? Do I have too much faith in friendship? I’ve had plenty of shorter peripheral relationships with friends, but when I meet someone who’s the real deal, I do what I can to keep her around. Am I crazy?

35 Comments

Filed under The Search

35 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Seven-Year Itch

  1. My best friends have been either WAY over 7 years, or we’re hitting seven years but I don’t see it ending soon, or it’s within the first 2 years (but again, I see it lasting a long time). So I don’t think you’re being naive. I think that many people just form the right friendships for them🙂

  2. I don’t think there’s fact in the number of years. I think it has more to do with when you meet your friend. For example, you may lose friends after moving, leaving high school, etc.

  3. Im finding this to be true…people grow into their families more as they age as well..

  4. Rachel, did you ever have friends who you were very close to and suddenly they just disappear from your life without any warning or explanation? I mean, you know they’re alive and well through other friends, but they just suddenly want nothing to do with you.
    It happened to me with a very good college friend who came to visit us last Christmas with her new boyfriend. We had, what my husband and I thought, a wonderful fun weekend. They left inviting us over sometime. The next day she removed me from her FB friends, didn’t answer any of my numerous calls and messages. I have no idea why.
    How do you explain that?

    • Hi Tanya — I don’t know how to explain that. It’s so strange. It sounds to me as if something went wrong that weekend in HER opinion, but I don’t think it’s fair of her to not be willing to share with you what the problem is and to just blindly cut you out of her life. I’m so sorry, though, as I know how hurtful that must be. I wish I had better advice, but I would definitely say to remember all the wonderful friends you do have and would never do that, and concentrate on them.

      Good luck!

    • Alex

      Did you do something wrong? But people change over time, maybe her new friends spread rumors about you, and she doesn’t want to associate herself with you

  5. Thanks for this post, Rachel! You are so lucky to have the friendships skills and personality to be a “keeper.” I just posted some thoughts on my blog about why some people aren’t as “lucky” as you: http://www.thefriendshipblog.com/the-law-of-averages-do-all-friendships-last-for-the-long-haul/
    Warm regards, Irene

  6. Janelle

    I’ve never thought to number the years for drifted-away-friends, but it does happen. I am very different now than I was in HS, so I drifted away from those friends. I joined the military right after HS, when I got out, I drifted away from those friends as well. I’m now married with two kids and my friends now are keepers, if you will. For me, once I figured out myself and what my goals were in life, I found like minded friends that will likely be lifers now. I don’t see myself going through any more life changes (other than menopause, ha ha), thankfully!

    So in conclusion, if you make drastic life changes as I did between the ages of 14-21, chances are you may evolve in your friend tastes. And vice versa, your friends might not like the new you either.

  7. I think there’s a difference between “best friends” and even “close friends.” I’m hanging on to college friends 7 years now, but I’ve got one sole high school friend left of nearly 12 years. The others, I see on facebook, I would love to catch up for coffee, but honestly, don’t feel the need to initiate that. Are they “friends” still… I guess so, but we never see each other.

    On the other hand, I’m surprised some friendships last as long as 7 years in a moveable world like ours. Between choosing grad school across the country, moving for jobs, and the huge life change of having babies (some people choose this at 23, others choose it at 33, and that can really change who your “best friends” become.) It’s almost surprising that anyone is around for 7 years in the same vicinity.

    And, like I learned in a Psychology of Adulthood class, contrary to popular opinion, the older you get, the more dissimilar you are from other people your own age. That is, each person starts out with their own interests and then develops them along the trajectory they see fit. And this can really change your friendships if you become interested in studying psychology, and your friends continue to stay interested in late night partying.

  8. I move alot so five years is my max friendship so far and thats including letter sending.

  9. If you ARE crazy, then I might as well go ahead and book a room in the psychiatric ward right now. I see how some friendships can come and go like the wind, but my most cherished friends are those that I have known long–at least 7 and a half years, if not more. I married young, and so did a lot of my friends, so we have memories together of New Years’ past spent staying up all night watching movies when we were all younger and childless and had all the time and energy in the world. We have celebrated birthdays, marriages, births, and heartaches over the years.
    I am all for new friends, new perspectives, but I will always cherish my longest-standing friendships.

  10. I’ve never had a friend for more than 4 years. When I do have a friend, it’s only one.

  11. amommys2cents

    I plan to write a post on this subject called “Friends Forever? Bullsh*t!”😀 I don’t know if you can stick a specific year on friendship but I think that most friendships are not forever. Most friendships have an expiration date, some are just sooner than others.

  12. Reading these comments makes me feel better about my situation. I also moved around a lot and always have short term friends. It still sucks tho; sometimes I wish I had someone who knew me real well to connect and hang out with.

  13. Ellen Lederman

    These comments make me feel better, like it’s not just me! I guess in a world where everything is so fleeting—where we have stopped communicating in person or phone calls or even e-mails and just want to text a few words, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we have expectations that a friendship will last for our lives. The trend is serial monogamy, so why wouldn’t friendships also follow in the same vein?

    I also had a good friend who now has disappeared. Absolutely nothing happened, except that after almost a couple of years, she just didn’t have any more energy to put into maintaining our friendship. I’m not high maintenance; getting together even once every month and an e-mail once or twice a month would be sufficient, but when it is 100% coming from me, that’s not a friendship.

    I e-mailed her this, but received no reply:
    “Not sure why we have lost touch—-I really regret it. If things should change with you in the future and you are up for resuming our friendship, please feel free to do so! But in the meantime, take care…..”

    And now I think I am ready to detach. I’ve done all that I can do. There is a history of depression and lethargy with her parents (she has made fun of them about this, but she is twenty years younger and is exhibiting similar characteristics). I tried to be there for her, but needed something in return (not necessarily 50-50, but a little more interest and energy put into our friendship).

  14. Ellen Lederman

    Sorry—don’t mean to hog this forum (and thanks for all you do, Rachel) in helping make the world a friendlier place (or at least helping us deal with our battle scars in our quest for friendship). In some ways I am almost embarrassed acknowledging a desire for friendship. It almost seems needy or uncool. In today’s world, people feel they need the newest electronic device or name brand of shoes, but friends? A luxury at best, often more trouble than it’s worth (in the eyes of most people).

    But in other ways, I think it speaks well of me and us here that we do have the desire to have friends and are willing to expend some time and energy into it…..used to be that this would actually be considered a characteristic of good mental health!

  15. Laura

    I dunno. My two bffs I’ve had for 14 and 12 years respectively. I met them both in college. We are now in our early 30s. We all live in different parts of the country but try and see each other several times a year. I think we’re about 100% confident that we will always be friends though bc we are more like sisters than friends. I’ve had a lot of friends that have faded over the years though. Which I think is fine. Some people I make a point of trying to reconnect with, others I let fade to obscurity. It usually depends on whether I run into them and we reconnect. We recently went out to dinner with an old friend I ran into at a wedding. We seemed to click with her and her bf, we’ll see where it goes.🙂 Another friend I met for coffee several years ago after not connecting for several years and it was just really obvious that she was in a really different place then me. We haven’t talked since.

  16. What a great discussion. It seems to me that people who value longevity in friendship will more likely create that. There are a lot of obstacles to maintaining long-term friendships, but if you want them, I suppose you would find a way to overcome them. The obstacles are real though. People do grow and change; it seems the best friends are those who are both committed to this process independently and also together. That’s how I feel about my husband…he’s my bestfriend. I’ve had many girlfriends, they come and go, but my hubby has weathered them all.

  17. Nancy

    I must be your oldest reader! I still have a best friend that I met 40 years ago when I first started teaching. She is in Florida and I am in TN, but we still communicate and visit, and we would do anything for each other. Another best friend from school and I stay in touch as well and see each other as often as possible even though she lives in Chicago. And my local best friend and I have been buddies for almost 20 years. So I don’t know about this research. Of course, I have had other friendships that haven’t lasted so long, but the people I have considered my best friends are listed above minus one friend who just hasn’t made the effort to stay in touch on a regular basis. Funny thing is that when I do see her on rare occasions, it’s like time has stood still and we fall right back into best friend mode. Guess I’m just blessed!

    • I’m so happy to have the company of another “mature” woman. This is a very relatable situation for everyone I know.
      There are school friends, work friends, gym friends, then couple friends.
      I am having my 50th high school reunion next summer and I still keep in touch with at least 10 of them. I have 3 BFFs from 7th grade. We have birthday lunches without fail, especially now that we are living in the same city.
      Over the decades, I’ve lost friends for reasons still unbeknownst to me and mourned the loss, questioning what I might have done to hurt the other person…
      I’ve changed jobs and become tight with my new work “family” at the expense of losing the closeness with my last work “family.” There is no reasoning or rule for how it works.
      This is a great topic that could be a book in itself along the lines of “He’s just not that into you.” No one knows why someone disappears from your life. Doesn’t mean YOU did something wrong. I’ve tried to repair old friendships and it’s never, ever worked. Like, never.

  18. It is difficult to maintain a friendship after a certain amount of time, because of the inevitable amount of change that happens in most people’s lives during a seven year period. What determines the friends from the best of friends are those people who are able to transition with you and you with them. Holly and I have known each other for fourteen years. We’ve definitely had to “work around roadblocks (code word, deal with each other’s crap),” but the effort has always been worth the overall benefit of having the other in our everyday lives. Boils down to whether, the work or effort is worth continuing the friendship.

  19. Chandra Lawrie

    I agree with this, most friends won’t last that long. But there are some that will be there all the way. I think it comes down to how you nurture them. I am currently reading a book called Women I Want to Grow Old With. It’s written by 2 women who seem to have a real handle on how to keep friendships going for the long haul. There are some really great insights in it. You just never know when you’ll need those people to be there for you! womeniwanttogrowoldwith.com is where you can find this book, if any one was wansting to check it out. But I guess all I can say is that I hope a few of my really close friends stick around, but we all have to do our part. Thanks for the great post!

  20. My VBFF and I met 16 years ago and we’re still tight, although we live in different continents. Even though we don’t see each other for months sometimes even years, when we meet up we’re still close. We’ve both changed along the way but I think she and I were soulmate and I doubt I can find anyone like her ever again. I think those who didn’t make it after 7 years are just ‘regular’ friends, not BFF-potential.

  21. I sent this to the friends I’m still close with and who lasted more than 7 years. We’re on year 10+. Makes me grateful!

  22. I have had some friends for more than 30 years and some that lasted 10 years and then fizzled out. Many friends are in the background – I know they will be there when I need them. But if your friendship is becoming more of a chore or even inducing a bit of stress, I would guess it’s probably time to just let it go. I held on to some for too long.

  23. Well let’s see… One I’ve been friends with since 2nd grade. The other for six years. None survived from college or high school😦

  24. Anonymas

    I have recently met a new friend at University, I really hope our friendship lasts longer than 7 years. That is a depressing figure…but I have had friendships that have been even briefer than that. Yet some have been very long. One of my friends Arianna I have known since we were 3, we grew up together and she was more or less my only friend throughout childhood. Despite a difficult period where we drifted apart when we were about 14 which led to me joining another group of girls, we came back together two years later. We are now 18 so that means we have been friends for about 15 years, the first 10 we were extremely close, now less so but better than it was around that difficult time.

    Another friendship with a girl called Denise lasted only 4 years. I terminated that friendship just today actually., that is how I found this page, I was looking for some consolation.. This girls selfish ways, and her absolute disrespect for me drove me to the end of my tether and today I had a meltdown and told her to get stuffed and never contact me again. We became friends about this exact time of year 4 years ago, we were 14, I befriended Denise during the time when Ariana and I grew apart. I thought Denise was wonderful at first. For the first 2 years were great! and I am heartbroken that our friendship ended the way it did. The third year an incident happened that change the way I thought of her and it all spiralled down from there, the fourth year was hell and at times I actively hated her and realised that too much emotional energy was being wasted on a friendship that was dead!

  25. Hannah

    I’ve been friends with my best friends since elementary school. I don’t get to see them as often now because we go to different colleges but they’ll always be my best friends. One of my favorite quotes is “Best friends don’t need to talk everyday. They don’t even necessarily need to talk every week but when they do it’s like they never stopped talking.”

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    I’ve been friends with my best friend for 11 years, we hang out with each other all the time. I stay at her house, she stays at mine. Its always one or the other.

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    I been friends with my bestie for 14 years since we met back in our primary school days and with other people quite a pit longer then 7 years

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