The Shelf Life of Friendships

A new study explains why you have the friends you do.


The Shelf Life of Friendships

New study explains why you have the friends you do

-Brittany Fenning

Three friendsWhile some people may attribute their less-than-desirable romantic relationships woes to the seven year itch, new research suggests that this “itchy” situation has placed an expiration date on platonic relationships as well.

Presented with earlier research suggesting social networks are decreasing in size, Gerald Mollenhorst, a sociologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, became interested in the average lifetime of a friendship and how social networks can shape, make or break them.

For his research, Mollenhorst selected 1,007 individuals ranging in age between 18 and 65, according to MSNBC. Through a survey, Mollenhorst asked participants questions such as: Who do you talk with regarding personal issues? Who helps you with “do-it-yourself” jobs in your home? Who do you pop by to see? Where did you get to know that person? And where do you meet that person now? Seven years later, Mollenhorst then contacted 604 participants from the original research group and interviewed them again.

Mollenhorst found that earlier research was off the mark in claiming social networks are decreasing in size, however, his research did show a surprising twist in the shape of social circles. Although many of us have close friends, only 30 percent of our current social circle will stand the test of time and have the same position within the group seven years down the road, while 48 percent will still remain part of the overall social network. Essentially, half our pals will attempt to stay in the friendship for the long haul, while the rest are more likely to move on to grazing greener pastures. For those who move on, others will typically replace them, leaving the social circle at about the same constant size.

Mollenhorst also found that forming friendships are less about the acquisition of certain qualities in a friend, but more over, the lucky place you land them. Being placed in certain social situations enables people to meet and bond with other people in unique ways, which then begs certain questions surrounding fate and the future. Would your husband still be your husband if you had ran into him at a local bar as opposed to being set up by mutual friends? Would your best friend still be your best friend if you had not ended up at the same college for four years? Certain life decisions, no matter how insignificant, allow us to be placed in socially specific contexts which can yield a life-long friendship, or perhaps a seven year folly.

In the end, the opportunity to meet reigns above it all, as you can’t fall in love with Mr. Right or meet Miss Best Friend if you never have the opportunity.

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0 thoughts on “The Shelf Life of Friendships

  1. This was interesting but why is everything based on location. It is a bit sad though, thinking of how in a few years you could be in a completely different social network with stranger

  2. it reminds me of elementary and high school. It seemed ever year there was a new environment that caused for a new social network. And only some friends lasted with the changes

  3. I believe if you are true friends you want to make it work and even when you’re in different social networks you’ll find a way to remain friends. I think a lot of friendships dissolve because of laziness.

  4. I just graduated and I already see people drifting away. It requires a lot of effort to maintain long distance friendships. There has to be a really deep friend connection to manage it, I think.

  5. Only disabled people know and believe this: Your “abled” friends drift away, no matter what you do. You can not talk about your problem, you can conceal pain in your expression and voice, you can do your best to keep on as before, but people find more and more reasons to be busy when you call and not call back. I did have one weird departure, and this was of a friend I’d known since 3rd grade — she turned into a rabid right-wing Republican and took up football as a pastime (watching it, that is). Now, I’ve always been very left-wing and still am and I loathe football. I suggested that since we didn’t agree on these topics, we just talk about other subjects, as we had before. She refused by continuing to yammer endlessly about Reagan, then the Bushes, and football players, stats, etc.
    Finally she sort of let me know I woudn’t be welcome in her house any more — and she’d never liked coming to mine. How can someone let politics and sports end a friendship? Maybe they were excuses, because she made it clear she never wanted to hear about my disability at all. Doesn’t this sound weird to you?

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