Many women write to me perplexed about why they can't form close friendships. They try new approaches, put themselves in all the right places, see therapists, and read relevant self-help books. They consider themselves interesting, loyal, kind, and friend-worthy people. But for reasons unknown to them, they have a tough time forming the intimate relationships other women seem to have and that they covet for themselves. Many admit to not having even one close friend.
A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology offers some clues as to how both nature (personality) and nurture (experience) impact our friendships. Researchers at the University of Virginia and University of Toronto, Mississauga studied more than 7000 American adults between the ages of 20 and 75 over a period of ten years, looking at the number of times these adults moved during childhood. Their study, like prior ones, showed a link between "residential mobility" and adult well-being: The more times participants moved as children, the poorer the quality of their adult social relationships.
But digging deeper, the researchers found that personality---specifically being introverted or extroverted---could either intensify or buffer the effect of moving to a new town or neighborhood during childhood. The negative impact of more moves during childhood was far greater for introverts compared to extroverts.
"Moving a lot makes it difficult for people to maintain long-term close relationships," stated Dr. Shigehiro Oishi, the first author of the study, in a press release from the American Psychological Association, "This might not be a serious problem for outgoing people who can make friends quickly and easily. Less outgoing people have a harder time making new friends."
Families often have to relocate---across town, across the country, or across the globe. Yet, in many cases, their kids and young adolescents haven't yet built up a bank of friendships or garnered sufficient experience at making new friends and at handling rejection. So the conventional wisdom is to try to minimize moves for the sake of your child, whenever possible, and to move at the end of the academic year. Additionally, parents are advised to monitor and, if necessary, help guide their children's friendships during the first academic year after a move, which generally is the most difficult.
Moves during childhood affected adult friendships differently because of the unique interplay between nature (personality type, which is determined in part by genes) and nurture (in this case, the moves) for different individuals. That makes the answer to the question of why some women are more successful than others in making friends extremely complex. And this study raises the question of how many other factors come into play that we haven't even yet considered.
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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. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.