Why The Older You Get, The Fewer Friends You Have (And Why That's OK)

by Natalia Lusinski
Originally Published: 
A group of friends sit and laugh on the curb of the sidewalk on a sunny afternoon.

You may notice that your friendships change from year-to-year — the best friend you had last year may not even be in your inner circle anymore. It happens more often than you may think, and studies have been done that prove the theory that the older you get, the fewer friends you have. One such study, "Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans," published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, found that many people start decreasing their friend pool around age 25. Scientists from Aalto University in Finland and the University of Oxford in England found this to be true by analyzing data from three million mobile phone users to determine frequency and patterns of those they contacted and when. They also looked at overall activity within those users' networks. If you think about it, you could do your own test and see who your top contacts are in your social media and text messages, as well as your phone call log. Chances are, you'll be surprised to see what people you talk to most now versus if you take a look at your top contacts from even a year ago, not to mention several years ago.

"I know that the decline in friendships continues as we get older," Dr. Suzana E. Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Our Lives, tells Bustle. "When we are in high school and college, it is easier to make friends because we are surrounded by groups of people with similar interests. However, as we get older, we lose this access and have to decide whether or not to befriend coworkers, which may come with its own complications." She added that, as people age, they also prioritize the type of individuals they want around them. "We hold onto our main group of friends versus maintaining associates," Dr. Flores said.

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It's Common For Friendships To Change Over The Years

According to the study's findings, the average 25-year-old woman contacts about 17.5 people per month, while a man contacts 19 people, and this decline continues up until retirement. "People become more focused on certain relationships and maintain those relationships," said Kunal Bhattacharya, a postdoctoral researcher at Aalto University who co-authored the study. "You have new family contacts developing, but your casual circle shrinks."

Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford who co-authored the paper, also weighed in on this theory. "Women have this idea of a best friend, who is similar to a romantic partner ... and women work hard at these relationships," he said. "Particularly with friendships, if you don't invest in them or see those friends, they will decay and quite rapidly drop." All that said, here are seven reasons that the older you get, the fewer friends you have, according to experts.


You're Not In College Anymore

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While college is one of the easiest places to make friends, once you graduate and you and your classmates get separated by jobs or time zones, you'll likely lose some of your closest, day-to-day friends. "If you're a young person, and losing high school or college friends, that's a natural progression," Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka "Dr. Romance") psychotherapist, and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together, tells Bustle. "One needs only a few friends to live a happy life, especially in the early years."


Your Friends May Couple-Up


You've probably been there — one moment, you and your BFF hang out all the time ... but the next, they start dating someone and suddenly they're gone. Not gone for good, but you see them less and less as they become closer to their significant other and start to hone in on a future with them. "Once people partner up, they will naturally focus more of their attention on their partners and less on people who they deem distant friends," Dr. Flores says.


*You* May Couple-Up

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Just as your friends may go MIA when they couple-up, you may do the same when you meet someone you're really into. Though you hate to be that person, it may happen, especially when you and your partner get more serious, possibly move cities, or your life and relationship goals change. "As one's relationship and family continues to grow, those commitments and responsibilities take priority," Dr. Flores says. "Therefore, our 'social' needs will naturally take a back seat to our primary and personal relationships."


You May Have A Remote Job

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As technology continues to advance, more and more people have remote jobs and/or work from home, which means you may lose one primary place to meet people and make friends: the office. To create a balance between being alone all day working and still having a solid friend base, there are all kinds of ways to make friends, from joining Meetup groups to volunteering to using apps, like Bumble BFF.


You Move, Leaving Many Of Your Friends Behind

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Another way your friend pool may decrease is if you change cities, leaving your primary circle of friends behind. Although there are still ways you can make friends in your new city, you may choose to focus on making a select few and put your friend energy into those versus meeting as many people as you can. "In our mobile society, keeping friends is not always possible," Dr. Tessina says. "Long‑term friendships are wonderful and valuable, but if you don't make new connections as you get older, your group of friends may diminish due to relocation."

If you're shy about making new friends, Dr. Tessina suggests joining a community — whether it's an organization you volunteer with, a book club, or creating a social network. "If you haven't made new friends in a while, updating your definition of friendship and increasing your skills at meeting people will be worth your while," she says.


Your Interests Change

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You often hear of friends drifting apart because their interests have changed. Whether this means they are now focusing more on their partner and kids, have become closer to other friends, or you prefer nights in while they prefer party nights out, whatever the reasons are, it's OK if you two no longer have the same interests. However, as a result, these friendships may fade.


You End One-Sided Friendships

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You may know what it's like to be the friend who seems to put in more effort than the other person: you contact your friend more than they contact you, you initiate plans more, and you just feel that the friendship is unbalanced or one-sided. One way to test this is by not contacting the friend-in-question and seeing how long it takes for them to contact you. Or, you can talk to them about your friendship and ask what's changed.

"When I was younger, I loved my friends," Jeffrey Sumber, psychotherapist, and author of Renew Your Wows: Seven Powerful Tools to Ignite the Spark and Transform Your Relationship, tells Bustle. "I had fun with them, I felt good with them, I even felt myself with some of them. As I have aged, I tend to cherish my dear friends because they are the ones who give as much as they receive from the relationship." He says friends he may have once considered "best" friends might not be in the picture much anymore if he realizes he's the only one trying to maintain the friendship. "I have less tolerance for excuses now, and I have very little tolerance for friends who don't show up on all levels," he says. "Life is too short for half-assed friendships."

As you can see, friendships evolve over time for all kinds of reasons. The important thing is to focus on the friends you do have and make sure the friendships are reciprocal, so no resentment builds on anyone's end.

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