Why is it harder to make friends after 30?

Increased work and family demands and responsibilities are two of the reasons why creating affective bonds becomes more difficult

study by Aalto University in Finland and Oxford University in the United Kingdom reveals that it is at the age of 25 when we reach the maximum number of social connections. After analysing the data of 3 million mobile phone users in a number of European countries – to identify their behavioural patterns when making phone calls (frequency and duration) and using social media – the researchers explain that young people are continuously making friends up until that age, but then start losing them quickly.

According to the research, women usually lose them more quickly than men, but after a few years, towards the age of forty, men end up with fewer friends than women. The researchers think that women invest more effort than men in finding and maintaining friends that meet the “best friend” ideal. Once they feel that they have found them, they invest more time in nurturing these relationships and they let go of others that they value less.

For UOC Psychology professor Adrin Montesano, another factor that can trigger this phenomenon is that, around thirty, people’s life interests are more clearly defined, and very often the “peer group” of their teenage years and early youth ceases to be an essential reference in constructing their own identity.

As sociologist Francesc Nez, emotions researcher at the UOC, states, the selection criteria and the ability to create affective bonds become more restrictive. “When you are young, what you have ahead of you is full of enormous, undefined potential; you haven't defined your life, or your tastes, or your selection criteria. As you get older, you progressively define yourself, and as friendship normally works between peers, you find increasingly fewer 'peers' in the world”, he adds.

Also, in this new stage of life, explains Natlia Cant, fellow emotions researcher and sociologist at the UOC, a lot of people take on work and family responsibilities (partner, children, etc.) that take up a large part of their daily activity, leaving little time to cultivate their social sphere. “People do not get to know each other in five minutes, and in these circumstances, new spaces where they spend enough time to really know people may be parents’ groups”, comments Cant.

Nowadays, many couples that split up in their thirties or forties find it difficult to find friends to hang out with. “This can happen because the couple shares their circle of friends, and after the separation, one of them is left out, or because the couple was so close that they forgot to devote time to their individual network of friendships”, argues Montesano. To avoid this, Nez recommends that, life permitting, we should always cultivate friendships by meeting up, albeit with greater or lesser intensity. “In any event, time won’t erode a good friendship”, claim the three UOC experts.


Tips for making new friends

To make new friends as an adult, Cant advises learning to be receptive to others, being tolerantsharing and understanding that friends do not have to feel and think the same way. For his part, Montesano recommends travelling to discover oneself and meet other people, getting over the fear of talking to strangers and connecting with communities that like to do the same things, such as sports. Nez, meanwhile, stresses the importance of having the desire to build up a friendship and being able to create meetups without judging them in cost-benefit terms.

For millennials who travel often or frequently change their city of residence and for whom meeting new friends is difficult, in recent years, apps for meeting people have appeared all over the world. This is the case of the well-known Meetup, with 32 million active members in 182 countries and with an average of 15,000 meetups worldwide every day, which offers users the possibility of attending activities linked to groups that are united by a common interest (culture, rambling, photography, etc).

Two other examples of apps that claim to get away from the dating platform concept are Pattook, with the slogan “The Strictly Platonic Friend Making App”, and HeyVINA, an app that describes itself as a Tinder for women who travel or who have gone to live in another city and want to make women friends.

For the three UOC experts, these types of app are useful, as they can bypass a lot of stages on the way, such as finding out who is in a similar situation or who is receptive to meeting people, thus providing an initial filter. However, they underline that a good friendship takes time and effort.


Friends to combat depression 

Some international research projects remind us that it is important to keep up friendships as they have mental health benefits – for combating depression, for example – and physical health benefits. In this latter case, there are studies that link social isolation with cardiovascular risk.

 

#UOCexperts

Photograph of Natlia Cant Mil

Natlia Cant Mil

Expert in: Sociological theory, social philosophy, and in sociology of the future, of emotions and of memory.

Knowledge area: Sociology.

View file

Adrin Montesano del Campo

Expert in: Models and change processes in psychotherapy, construction of self and identity, interpersonal relationships, sexual and couple therapy, family therapy.

Knowledge area: Personality, psychological evaluation and treatments, and health and ICTs.

View file
Photograph of Francesc Nez Mosteo

Francesc Nez Mosteo

Lecturer in the Arts and Humanities Department
Director of the Humanities programme and of the master's degree programme in Contemporary Art, Literature and Culture

Expert in: Sociology of knowledge and culture, the sociology of emotions, and contemporary philosophy.

Knowledge area: Social and cultural anthropology.

View file