At a close friend’s wedding last month, I ended up spending the majority of the evening with a girl I’d never met before. We bonded instantly, after a heartfelt discussion about the difficulties of making friends after the age of 30 and after laughing inappropriately at all the same parts of the best man’s speech, we agreed that we would definitely meet up after the wedding. Hang out. Be friends.
One month later, we are friends: on Facebook. I have seen pictures of her on holiday with her boyfriend and I know that her younger sister has passed her driving test. The chances of us meeting up in real life? Only if another mutual friend gets married, I suspect.
For some reason the prospect of meeting a new friend at the age of 30 now feels awkward and unnatural. And seemingly it’s not just me: countless studies have shown that the older you get, the harder it is. So much so the Vina app, originally created by developers in San Francisco to help women make friends, has now been launched worldwide.
It’s easy to scoff, but according to sociologist Rebecca G. Adams there three conditions crucial to making close friends: proximity, repeated unplanned interactions, and a setting that allows people to let their guard down. Herein lies the problem. My new friend lives in Glasgow. I live in London. That’s proximity out the window. Repeated unplanned interactions are unlikely as you get older too, as everyone seems to be busier than ever and there is something about planning drinks two months in advance that just sucks the fun out of it. As for letting your guard down, that’s something the generation that has grown up with the privacy pitfalls of social media have become more reluctant to do, as
A new study suggests that, generally, we continue to make friends until we reach our mid-20s, with our friendships starting to decrease rapidly by the time we reach 30. This decline continues for the rest of our lives. So, not only are we getting worse at making new friends, we start to lose the ones we already had.
“The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Making and Keeping Friends as an Adult. In our 30s we are closer to our closest friends and tend to shed those who aren’t quite right for us. While the lucky ones benefit from this more discerning approach to friendship, loneliness – most commonly associated with the elderly – is affecting younger generations now too.
“Loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions among 30- and 40-something adults,” according to Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester.
The Office for National Statistics found the UK to be the loneliness capital of Europe last year and a relatively high proportion of us have nobody to rely on in a crisis. The Mental Health Foundation cited a link between our “individualistic society” and the increase in common mental health disorders in the last 50 years. According to their report, 42 per cent of those under 34 would feel embarrassed to admit it. In a way, it’s the newest stigma.
A study from earlier this year published in the British Journal of Psychology found that people who have more interactions with close friends reported being happier with their lives overall.
This doesn’t necessarily mean making new friends is the answer. It’s also about valuing the friends we’ve got, and not making the mistake of allowing the Facebook feed to act as a substitute for real life interaction. So I should really give my wedding friend a call. It’s rare to have that instant connection with someone. My diary is quite full until Christmas though. Maybe next year.