Should You Blame Yourself For Lost Friendships? Research Says No.

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Why do friendships end?

Ever listen to third grade girls talking? At this age, young BFFs often have very specific plans for the future of their friendships. They are certain, for example, that their eight year old buddies will one day be their college roommates. That they will marry twin brothers and live on the same street. Forever.

But by middle school, if they’re average, they’ve likely moved on and changed social circles. From there, they often grow up into a different version of themselves than they imagined back in second grade. They settle into different parts of the country and their friendship settles into warm nostalgic memories. Maybe they exchange a Christmas card here or there. Facebook messages. Hope you’re well. XOXO.

While you may or may not have been plotting out your 20 year friendship plan as a child, most adults have lost an old friend somewhere along the way. There are people we fell into friendship with, at various points in life, who we really, truly thought would be friends for life. But then, one day, for a variety of reasons, we realize this prized friendship–as we have known it, at least–is NOT going to survive the long haul.

Why does this happen?

Many adults report they feel in the dark about why these friendships end.

Did they just grow into two people who no longer had anything in common?

Do other people who managed to keep dozens of lifelong friends know some secret that I don’t?

Is there something wrong with me?

Losing friends is…wait for it…normal.

Losing friendships–especially the kind that started in grade school–definitely doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

In fact, losing friendships at that age actually means you’re normal. You’re in the 99 percentile even.

When psychologist and researcher Brett Larsen followed 410 adolescents from 7th grade through 12th grade, here’s what he found:

  • Less than 1 in 4 friendships that started in 7th grade even made it to the next school year…let alone the rest of their lives.
  • Less than 1 in 10 friendships that started in 7th grade survived the transition from middle to high school.
  • Only 1% of the friendships that started in 7th grade continued until their senior year of high school.

One percent. Feeling a little more normal now?

We tend to like people who are like us.

The friendships that stuck, researchers said, were the ones in which the kids had the most in common.

In a press release announcing the study’s findings, Larsen explained it this way. “Dissimilarity is bad for friendships. It causes conflict, it interferes with cooperative activities and shared pleasures, and it creates circumstances where one friend bears more costs, such as the friend who is less aggressive; or gets more benefits, such as the friend who has lower social status than the other. Dissimilarity disrupts relationship bonds.”

Do adult friendships work the same way?

So what about once a person gets beyond school age. Then how do long term friendships fare?

Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst of Utrecht University would assure you that it’s also normal to have some friend-turnover throughout life. When it comes to close friends, in fact, he says about 50% of them fade away to be replaced with new ones after about seven years.

Mollenhorst would also suggest the breakups are not always within one’s control. In tracking 604 adults for seven years, he found that people generally had the same number of people in their circle of friends, but that many members within the group they counted as friends had changed. Less than half (48%) of previous friends were still around. And less than a third (30%) of previous friends were still considered people whom the person could talk to or rely on for help.

Mollenhorst also found that social circles are impacted by our opportunities to spend time together.

So it’s not my fault?

Are there things some of us do that drive friends away? Or are there positive things we could do to preserve more of your connections? It’s possible. Maybe even likely. We have all probably played into the demise of our friendships, but even in saying that, we remain completely normal.

Rarely does a person get it right the first time. Friendships, like a lot of things, are a learning experience that often improve with practice. So if you’re not texting your buddy from your preschool days today, don’t sweat it. Instead, focus on growing from failed experiences, consider trying to rekindle old friendships that can still be recovered, and work toward becoming a better friend. These are the things that will help you beat the odds and hold onto your friendships longer.

Interested in reading more research about friendship? Click here or here.

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  1. Kelli Dunham

    I haven’t lost a lot of friends in life yet, but it will really bother me if it happens. It seems like a lot of it is if you’re willing to stick out the hard times and put in effort even when you’re busy, but I’m sure sometimes things fall apart anyways.

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