A new survey has found that we have the most friends – an average of 80 – when we’re 29 years old. I'm sure I'm not the only one surprised by this figure. The only way it can make sense is if you have a very loose definition of ‘friend’. I think of a friend as someone you can completely trust, someone who knows you really well, can share silence with you and hated all your ex-boyfriends long before you did. Do most people really have such a high number of people in their lives who answer this definition?
The survey got me thinking about my own friends. Although I'd never admit it to you in person, over recent years I haven’t had many. It’s not much fun having to go through difficult times without someone to listen to your complaining, answering your call in the middle of the night or turning up at your door unannounced with your favourite chocolate. After a while you crave the closeness only a best friend can offer, and you start vetting everyone you meet as a potential friend to begin filling the void Friends help us figure out who we are and give us the confidence to be that person. They make us feel important just by giving us their time.
There’s no doubt we put pressure on ourselves to have a giant friendship group, but the pressure isn't just internal. I was recently working with a colleague on a project that targeted people my age.
For a painfully long couple of weeks, she’d ask: “What would your friends say about this? If you were on a night out with your friends, what would they think?” If my imagination were a muscle, I would have strained it. But she can be forgiven, because loneliness is not the kind of thing you’re aware of unless it’s affecting you.
Not having many close friendships can eat away at your self-esteem: it’s difficult not to take it personally when everyone else around you seems to have loads of friends.
But as important as they are, having 80 friends really doesn’t sound very appealing, quite aside from the fact that you’d be at a birthday party every five days. It’s taken a while, but now I know there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with me that makes me incapable of friendship. And if you ever find yourself in a similar friend drought, it’s very likely there’s nothing wrong with you, either.
In fact, there are some upsides to being a bit of a loner. You can be selfish: think of how many times you'd have to do something you didn’t want to if you had 80 people to placate. You don't have to compromise, or pretend to be interested in three-hour conversations about interview outfits. You don’t have to go out when you feel like staying in, or settle for your second-favourite restaurant.
The survey found that adults make most of their friends at work due to longer working hours. But despite our busy lives, we mustn’t forget the importance of alone time – which is something you won’t be surprised to learn I have in abundance.
Getting on with life without the incomparable support of friends makes you resilient, self-sufficient, self-aware and brimming with stories from when you were looking at the world around you rather than texting. In other words, it makes you the perfect friend.
So I will embrace ageing and look forward to reaching the age of 29, just in case the survey is right. But despite verging on buying a fish just so I have someone to talk to, I hope I never have 80 friends. A friend is way too special to have in such vast quantities.