Friendships are an important part of life for most adults. Having strong social connections and close friendships has been linked to better physical and mental health. However, in today’s busy world, adults may find it difficult to maintain a large circle of close friends. Surveys show that many adults only have a few very close friendships.
What is considered a close friend?
A close or best friend is generally someone you feel a strong personal connection with and can confide in and rely on for support. Close friends are people you voluntarily spend time with and communicate with regularly. There’s a level of trust, caring, understanding, and solidarity in these relationships.
How many close friends on average?
Research shows that most adults only have a small number of very close friendships at any given time. Studies find that the average number of close friendships for adults ranges from around 2-6.
One large study of nearly 3000 adults in the United States found that the median number of close friends reported was 3. This means half of adults had 3 or more close friends, while half had 2 or fewer. Only about a quarter of adults reported having more than 6 close friends.
Other data indicates similar patterns:
- A survey showed the average number of close friends for adults over age 55 was 4.
- Among younger millennials ages 22-35, the average number of close friends was 5.
- A poll found that the typical American adult has 2 best friends.
So while there is some variation depending on age and individual circumstances, most research suggests that 3-5 is the typical number of close friendships for most adults.
Why we have fewer close friends as adults
There are several reasons why adults tend to have a limited number of close friendships compared to when they were younger.
Less free time
As people grow up, they take on more responsibilities with work, family, and other obligations. Adults have much less free time to devote to friendships compared to when they were in school. Maintaining close friendships takes time and effort.
Juggling busy schedules can make it hard for adults to connect regularly and nurture close bonds. Having fewer quality close friendships enables adults to devote enough time to those relationships.
Adults become more selective and intentional as they form friendships. In youth, friendships may form spontaneously through school, activities, or neighbors. Adults seek out friendships that provide meaning and fulfillment. They may look for friends with common interests, shared values, and similar lifestyles.
Adults invest in friendships that are truly rewarding. This means being more selective and focusing on nurturing deeper connections with a smaller number of close friends.
Focus on family
For many adults, family becomes central and spouses or partners can take priority over friends. Adults with children may devote most of their free time to parenting. The focus on nuclear family relationships may reduce the number of close adult friendships.
However, friendships remain important for family balance and support. Research shows adults with satisfying friendships are happier in their marriages and family life.
As people move through adulthood, their circumstances and preferences become more established. The volatility and constant changes of youth give way to greater stability in where and how adults live.
With less changes happening in school, jobs, and living situations, adults have less exposure to new friendship opportunities. Social networks stabilize, leading adults to have long-term friendships that endure for years.
Personality changes as we mature also affect friendships. Studies show adults become more conscientious, agreeable, emotionally stable, and socially dominant as they age. Adult friendships reflect these traits, with an emphasis on loyalty, commitment, and emotional support.
The drama and volatility of youth fades. Adults desire sincere friends who provide security. This leads to more selectivity and having fewer, but deeper close friendships.
There are some notable differences between men and women when it comes to close friendships.
Number of close friends
Research consistently shows that female adults tend to have more close friends compared to males:
- One study found the average number of confidants was 3 for men and 5 for women.
- Among older adults, the median number of close friends was 3 for men and 5 for women.
- A survey showed that half of female adults had 5+ close friends versus half of males having 2+ close friends.
So while there is considerable overlap, women on average have a slightly higher number of close, confiding friendships.
Types of friendship interactions
The nature of close friendships also differs between the sexes:
- Women’s friendships are more likely to involve intimate communication about personal issues.
- Men tend to connect through shared activities like sports or gaming.
- Same-sex friendship is more common for men, while women often have cross-sex friendships.
These patterns likely stem from both social norms and biological differences in communication styles. But friendships provide similar emotional benefits to both male and female adults.
Changes over the adult life span
The number and nature of adult friendships often change as people move through different life stages.
Friendships take on increased importance in early adulthood. With more independence from family, friends provide key social and emotional support.
Young adults typically have the largest friendship networks, with an average of 6-7 close friends. Making new friends is easier in school and college. Shared living situations also facilitate friendships.
Friendship networks tend to decline during midlife responsibilities of career and family. One study found adults reported losing touch with over half their close friends from young adulthood.
Marital, parenting, and work obligations place time constraints on friendships. Geographic relocation can also separate friends. However, midlife adults also intentionally invest more in meaningful friendships that support personal growth.
In later life stages, retirement brings increased time for friendships. However, health declines, loss of loved ones, and reduced mobility may limit social activity.
The average number of close friends drops to around 3 in later adulthood. But friendships take on renewed significance, providing vital social support and benefiting well-being. Contact with close friends buffers loneliness and depression.
Friendships and well-being
While the number varies between individuals, having a few meaningful close friendships provides social, emotional, and even physical health benefits.
Research clearly shows positive links between adult friendships and health:
- Adults with more close friendships have reduced risk of mortality by 50%.
- Strong social ties lower rates of chronic disease and boost immunity.
- Friends encourage healthy behaviors like exercise while discouraging smoking and excess drinking.
Friends give meaning to life and reasons to take care of oneself. Face-to-face contact releases endorphins that reduce stress. Laughing with friends also boosts mood and health.
Quality friendships substantially increase happiness and life satisfaction. Studies find:
- Adults with close friendships are happier in their marriages.
- Seniors with satisfying friendships experience less depression.
- Time with close friends is a top source of happiness for most adults.
Close friends not only provide joy directly, but give support during difficult times. More than family, friends are linked to mood, self-confidence, and a sense of purpose.
Close friends provide the empathy, advice, and assistance that builds resilience. Research shows adults with more close friendships manage stress and cope with crises better.
Friends can help problem-solve and put situations in perspective. Knowing loved ones are there reduces anxiety during difficult times.
Meaningful friendships may also deter risky behaviors when faced with stress. Actively participating in a social circle leads to healthier choices.
How to cultivate close adult friendships
While forming friendships can become more difficult with age, it is possible to actively cultivate meaningful connections.
Deepen existing ties
Making time for current friends is essential. Set aside regular face-to-face activities or check-ins with close friends to nurture relationships. Share feelings, offer support, and create memories.
Don’t let friends take a backseat to other priorities. Make your social circle a priority in your schedule. Accept efforts to deepen friendships as an investment in your well-being.
Broaden your network
Look for opportunities to meet new potential friends with similar interests or lifestyles. Taking a class, joining a club, volunteering, or attending local events opens doors for meeting relatable people.
Deep discussions help form bonds when spending time together in positive social settings. Moving outside your comfort zone can lead to connections you may not have otherwise formed.
Enhance your skills
Strengthening social skills can help make forming adult friendships easier. Being open, empathetic, and a good listener attracts friends. Offering emotional support to others cultivates authentic bonds.
Practice mindfulness, vulnerability, and presence in conversations. Don’t be afraid to show genuine interest in learning about others while being open about yourself.
Friendships take regular nurturing. Make communicating with and meeting up with friends a consistent priority. Social media and texting can supplement face-to-face interactions, but do not replace them.
It takes time together to build the trust and support needed in close friendships. Consistent investment of time strengthens bonds between friends.
Value quality over quantity
While having more friendships may seem ideal, focusing on the quality of connections matters most. A few sincere friends provide more life satisfaction than many superficial acquaintances.
Look for friends who uplift you and meet your social needs. Don’t spread yourself too thin trying to maintain too many casual friendships. Invest where you find reward.
Research indicates most adults only have a few very close friendships at a time, averaging around 3-6. Busy modern lifestyles, increased selectivity, and personality changes impact friendship formation and maintenance as adults. Women tend to have slightly more close friends than men.
While keeping and making close adult friends presents challenges, they provide many benefits for health, resilience, and happiness. Prioritizing time for meaningful connections, deepening existing ties, and expanding your network can help cultivate rewarding friendships that support well-being throughout adulthood.