The Shelf Life of Friendships
New study explains why you have the friends you do
While 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.