Friendship has obvious benefits. Apart from helping us feel less alone, research shows that socially active people are healthier and less likely to die from heart disease. But as our age goes up, our number of friends tends to go down.
In high school, the size of your gang was reflective of how “popular” you were, regardless of how frivolous those friendships were. With each passing year, social circles tighten leaving us with fewer and fewer close friends.
Your early 20s become a time of social exploration, in which doing things in groups is the norm. In this blissfully youthful period of life, it’s common to go out partying with an entourage and for females to travel to bathrooms in flocks. But come mid-20s, things start to shift.
A recent study by Oxford University and Aalto University in Finland found that around age 25, friendships dwindle – and fast. In this phase of life, when people start settling into careers and relationships, superficial friendships take a back seat. So if you can secure a crew of about six or seven good pals at this stage – one of whom must make a good bathroom buddy – you’re doing pretty well.
In your 30s and 40s, a small, tight-knit group is optimal. Having three to five close friends allows for paired activities (tandem biking, charades), as well as intimate group outings (movie nights, wine tastings, group discount rates). Anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar found that while most people have an extended social circle of 150 casual friends, which can be leftover acquaintances from formative years, adults typically have only five or so people in their intimate support networks.