You wouldn’t go months without speaking to or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.
Still, survey upon survey upon survey shows how important people’s friends are to their happiness.
In the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom.
Romantic partners, parents, children—all these come first.
And though friendships tend to change as people age, there is some consistency in what people want from them.“I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University.
“Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy.As people move for school, work, and family, networks spread out.Moving out of town for college gives some people their first taste of this distancing.The ideal of people’s expectations for friendship is always in tension with the reality of their lives, Rawlins says.“The real bittersweet aspect is young adulthood begins with all this time for friendship, and friendship just having this exuberant, profound importance for figuring out who you are and what’s next,” Rawlins says.“And you find at the end of young adulthood, now you don’t have time for the very people who helped you make all these decisions.”The time is poured, largely, into jobs and families.In a longitudinal study that followed pairs of best friends over 19 years, a team led by Andrew Ledbetter, an associate professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, found that participants had moved an average of 5.8 times during that period.“I think that’s just kind of a part of life in the very mobile and high-level transportation- and communication-technology society that we have,” Ledbetter says.This is true in life, and in science, where relationship research tends to focus on couples and families.When Emily Langan, an associate professor of communication at Wheaton College goes to conferences for the International Association of Relationship Researchers, she says, “friendship is the smallest cluster there.Not everyone gets married or has kids, of course, but even those who stay single are likely to see their friendships affected by others’ couplings.“The largest drop-off in friends in the life course occurs when people get married,” Rawlins says.