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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Circles of Friends

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QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I stumbled across your blog, and I think it's so helpful and needed in a society that seems to place greater value on romantic relationships than friendships.

I'm in my late 20's, and the older I get, the harder I've found it to keep deep, meaningful female friendships. We're growing in different directions, moving to different states, pairing off romantically, etc. I have three very close female friendships that I treasure but they aren't connected; they are friends from different sectors of my life. So I feel like I'm lacking a "friend group." I also feel as though I don't have enough deep friendships, in general.

It bothers me that most people my age seem to have a "group." I've been in friend groups before in my life, but I find that in friend groups, I can't connect as deeply to each friend. So I prefer one on one time. I know this sounds like a sort of hard question to answer, but what's the average number of close female friendships that women my age have? Or any thoughts you have on how friendships change as you get older.

Thanks very much,
Jane

ANSWER

Dear Jane:

What a great letter! You raised so many thought-provoking questions. A few ideas:

Some women have the good fortune of having groups of friends who have a shared history--based on where they were, where they lived, or what they did together.

There have been a spate of books lately---Friday Nights by Joanna Trollope, The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton, and more recently, The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow---that make women feel like they're missing out on something big if they don't belong to a friendship circle. In fact, when I interviewed Mr. Zaslow, he said that he had two types of readers: those who had a circle similar to The Girls from Ames and those that wish they did!

When I read that literary trilogy on sisterhoods, I have to admit I was envious because, like you, I'm in the latter category. I have close friends but my friends aren't friends with each other. They come from different ages and stages of my life that don't intersect.

While it isn't impossible to forge a sisterhood later in life, it's generally easier to do it as a teenager or young adult because you're likely to have more time and to be thrown together in similar circumstances--whether it's a team, sorority, or neighborhood. As we marry or divorce, move, or graduate and our lives diverge, it becomes tougher to sustain circles of friends.

Keep in mind: Even in a circle of friends, there are usually twosomes (dyads or pairs) who seem to have more in common, either temperamentally or situationally. Thus, each woman doesn't have precisely the same relationship with each member in the circle. Zaslow figured out that there was a possibility of 99 different pairs in the 11 Girls from Ames.

People generally have far more acquaintances than they do close friends so it isn't surprising that deep and meaningful friendships are the most coveted and difficult to achieve. Just like a romance, most women say that at their start, there is a certain essential chemistry that provides the foundation for best friendships. Then, as two women feel increasingly comfortable together, they are able to become more intimate and reveal their true selves to one another.

While there is wide variability, based on the data from my friendship survey, most women have between two and five very close or best friends (there's a section in my forthcoming book that looks at the numbers). What's more important than quantity, however, is quality and whether or not you feel like you have enough of the right type of friends for you. If you feel like something's missing, perhaps it is.

I will be returning to this topic again in another blog post but would love to hear from others about the topic of friendship circles and sisterhoods (when you're on the inside) and cliques (when you are on the outside).

Best,
Irene

Do you run in circles? Are you on the outside of a clique? Have a friendship dilemma that is bothering you? Please share your thoughts. Write to me at: Irene@fracturedfriendships.com

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break-up With Your Best Friend, that will be published by Overlook Press in September, 2009. She recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.

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