Why you may ac­tu­ally be hap­pier with fewer friends.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - ByMegMa­son

Ex­piry mate? It might be time to break up with (some) of your friends...and that’s okay.

COM­PARE YOUR 21st-birth­day party to your 30th. More than likely, your epic com­ing of age in­volved a bath­tub filled with party ice and Bac­ardi Breez­ers for the 80 friends who had an­ni­hi­lated your par­ents’ lawn by the time the cops ar­rived to shut it down. The more re­cent mile­stone, on the other hand, was prob­a­bly more along the lines of a well­ness week­end/wine tour/pri­vate de­gus­ta­tion for your five clos­est friends and their part­ners.

But if you’re wor­ried, even a lit­tle, about your so­cial ros­ter hav­ing come down by 90 per­cent in less than a decade, don’t be. “You ac­cu­mu­late friends and you shed friends and you get closer at cer­tain mo­ments to some than oth­ers,” ob­served au­thor Nora Ephron. “You have a huge bench of friends. And then that’s just not true.” It’s also just as it should be, ac­cord­ing to a study by U.S. re­searchers who tracked the evolv­ing friend­ship pat­terns of 222 peo­ple from young adult­hood to mid­dle age. Not only do we not need a vast friend­ship net­work in our 30s, the study found, but we may be hap­pier without it.

Our quan­tity of friends mat­ters most in our 20s, since so much of that defin­ing first decade of adult­hood is spent ac­tu­ally learn­ing how to be one. The col­lec­tive wis­dom of the crowd is what gets apart­ments rented, ca­reers de­cided on and tat­too-re­moval tech­ni­cians se­lected, and when it comes to de­cid­ing what kind of adult

we want to be, a broad and eclec­tic net­work is where we find op­tions. But, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral Amer­i­can stud­ies, by the time we reach our 30s, our re­liance on “so­cial in­for­ma­tion seek­ing” sub­sides and “iden­tity ex­plo­ration goals di­min­ish”—which means, in plain terms, that we’ve seen what’s out there and we’re ba­si­cally good now. That, plus a di­min­ish­ing de­sire to go out eight times a week, re­moves the in­cen­tive to keep cur­rent with ev­ery ex­room­mate, former col­league and Face­book ran­dom. And so be­gins the switch: Sit­u­a­tional and pe­riph­eral friend­ships tend to fade out on their own un­re­marked, but as life choices are locked down, even close friends can find them­selves ac­ci­den­tally out of sync.

The sin­gle most dra­matic de­cline in the num­ber of ac­tive friend­ships oc­curs when one party gets mar­ried, which—iron­i­cally, when you think about it—makes wed­dings also a gi­ant farewell to your 100 most im­por­tant peo­ple. Stay­ing in a re­la­tion­ship with some­one who went in an­other di­rec­tion be­gins to re­quire ef­fort in a way it didn’t be­fore. “A lot of women, when they’re young, feel they have very good friends and find later on that friend­ship is com­pli­cated,” says au­thor Zadie Smith. “It’s easy to be friends when ev­ery­one’s 18. It gets harder the older you get, as you make dif­fer­ent life choices.... A lot of women’s friend­ships be­gin to founder.”

All of a sud­den, time is a thing too—specif­i­cally, not hav­ing any. Be­tween the ages of 20 and 24, women spend an av­er­age of six and a half hours a week so­cial­iz­ing, but how many women do you know in their 30s with a part­ner, chil­dren, ca­reer or all three who have six and a half hours to spare? Time is like friend­ship oxy­gen, and sup­ply is short.

At first, the con­trac­tion of our so­cial cir­cle is so grad­ual that we may not even no­tice the num­ber of favourites in our phone slip­ping to­ward sin­gle fig­ures. Rarely is the se­lec­tion it­self even con­scious. In­stead, as British beauty colum­nist Sali Hughes wrote, “the cu­ra­tion of a gold-chip friend­ship squad is an un­reg­u­lated, hap­haz­ard and serendip­i­tous process.” But maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe the task of de­cid­ing which friend­ships we’re go­ing to in­vest in and which we will let go of is one we should take on more mind­fully.

On av­er­age, most peo­ple have a to­tal net­work of 150 peo­ple and a tighter cir­cle of 15 friends. But the num­ber of very close friend­ships we’re able to sus­tain—the num­ber that’s con­sid­ered op­ti­mal for well-be­ing—is just five (of­ten in­clud­ing fam­ily mem­bers), ac­cord­ing to Robin Dun­bar, an evo­lu­tion­ary psy­chol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford. And when you con­sider the out­sized im­pact those few in­ti­mates have on ev­ery­thing from our phys­i­cal health to our over­all hap­pi­ness, “hap­haz­ard” sud­denly seems like the wrong modus operandi. For many rea­sons—con­ve­nience, mis­placed loy­alty, a lack of cur­rent al­ter­na­tives—we end up yoked to the pes­simistic and per­pet­u­ally sad, the flaky and self-in­volved, friends in con­stant need of res­cue and friends who leave us feel­ing flat for rea­sons we can never quite pin­point ex­cept that they al­ways seem avail­able to work­shop our flaws and too busy to cel­e­brate our suc­cesses.

Women are of­ten de­scribed as “the so­cial sex.” Be­ing hard-wired for re­la­tion­ships makes us more re­cep­tive to their ben­e­fits and much more vul­ner­a­ble to their com­plex­i­ties, it’s the­o­rized. A brief, un­pleas­ant in­ter­ac­tion with a friend has been shown to raise a woman’s blood pres­sure but has no such im­pact on men. Some 88 per­cent of women say they have suf­fered from “cur­rents of neg­a­tiv­ity em­a­nat­ing from other fe­males,” says Kelly Valen, re­searcher and au­thor of The Twisted Sis­ter­hood: Un­rav­el­ing the Dark Legacy of Fe­male Friend­ships, who also found that a third of the women she sur­veyed had sought ther­apy or be­come de­pressed as a re­sult of the omi­nously named “in­trafe­male trou­ble.”

Anx­i­ety, ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, lower im­mu­nity and higher blood sugar are part of the laun­dry list of health is­sues linked to toxic friend­ships, but on top of that, “so­cial dis­eases” like obe­sity are now un­der­stood to be “con­ta­gious” within a so­cial cir­cle too. Our risk of gain­ing weight spikes by 57 per­cent or higher when close friends’ weight goes up—much the same way we’re more likely to smoke and binge-drink if it’s the cul­ture around us. The op­po­site is true as well. Our like­li­hood of ex­er­cis­ing, eat­ing prop­erly, cul­ti­vat­ing good sleep­ing habits and seek­ing early in­ter­ven­tion for health is­sues in­creases sig­nif­i­cantly when friends do the same, and our ability to man­age stress, stave off pre­ma­ture ag­ing and in­crease re­silience is bol­stered by friend­ships.

Then there’s a con­cept called “Shine The­ory,” which coun­ters the dusty stereo­type that says that women are h


so in­nately in­se­cure and prone to jeal­ousy that we can’t hap­pily be friends with any­one we per­ceive to be more in­tel­li­gent, suc­cess­ful or pow­er­ful than our­selves. Rather, Shine The­ory, orig­i­nated by New York Mag­a­zine colum­nist Ann Fried­man, sug­gests that we can ben­e­fit from peo­ple who are bet­ter than us. She calls it the “as­so­cia­tive prop­erty of awe­some­ness”—her idea that an­other woman’s con­fi­dence, ability and am­bi­tion have a way of rub­bing off. “It’s just plain tough out there,” she writes, “[with] the econ­omy and the dat­ing scene and body-im­age pres­sures. I want the strong­est, hap­pi­est, smartest women in my cor­ner, push­ing me to ne­go­ti­ate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about my­self and re­spond­ing to my out­fit self­ies from a place of love and stylish­ness, not com­pe­ti­tion and body snark­ing.”

Maybe Shine The­ory is just that—a the­ory—but take it to the ex­treme, just for ar­gu­ment’s sake, and it seems un­likely that if your go-to girls were Michelle Obama, Misty Copeland and Amal Clooney you’d spend tapas

A 75% larger night com­plain­ing about your dead-end job, se­ri­ally un

back* pro­vides faith­ful boyfriend up to and 10 hours lack of abs. Surely Mobama and Co. would have of no pro­tec­tion, time for your pity talk and you’d rise up.

Be­yond so the­ory you and can so much sci­ence, be­yond statis­tics and ideas of sleep “in­trafe­male through trou­ble,” most of us would say from ex­pe­ri­ence the night. that the true, felt ben­e­fit of friend­ship is the emo­tional bal­last women pro­vide for one an­other. As mar­riage rates fall to record lows—a quar­ter of mil­len­ni­als, vs. Al­ways Ul­tra Thin Reg­u­lar with wings

it’s es­ti­mated, will never get mar­ried—friend­ships that func© Proc­ter & Gam­ble, 2018 tion as a proxy are be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant.

The num­ber of friends we take into adult­hood won’t be the num­ber we move on with. The friend­ships that form us in our 20s aren’t al­ways the ones we’ll find ful­fill­ing later on. But some­how just know­ing this makes it pos­si­ble to em­brace the in­evitable tran­si­tion from the many to the few, make more mind­ful choices about who the few should be and even­tu­ally, maybe, be okay with the fact that never again will we have the num­bers nec­es­sary to thor­oughly de­stroy a front yard. n


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