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Why do some women have such a hard time making friends: Nature or nurture?

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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Comments (1,056)

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  1. Darlene says:

    Glad to have found this website, there are a lot of insights here.
    After reading these posts, I thought that I should give back to those here and share my journey….I was moved from place to place a lot as a child, my family life was full of stress, chaos and strife. Most of my energy was used up in coping with my family and trying to survive. I had few friends and no resources left over to learn how to make friends. Over the years, I had a few friends here and there, but struggled with loneliness and isolation. I am happily married, but felt like I needed more connections in my life.
    So….in my early 30’s I began trying to learn how to talk to people, by putting myself in positions at work and other places to be with other people, to observe what works for others, to try new things to get along. I’m not talking about being someone I am not, I’m talking about learning about how to connect and give myself a chance to become part of things. I chose people I felt were decent people, that’s critical and tried to open up a bit and to trust (very hard for me, as I can’t even trust my own parents). Slowly, with some therapy, gentle self evalutation (what works, what doesn’t) I discovered the person I should have always been. I am actually quite funny and likeable! Who knew?!? People like me, after all these years. Still a bit of a shock to realize that.
    Basically, I learned to like myself and to realize that I deserve good friends, then I learned how to communicate that to people. It isn’t about being someone you aren’t, or being fake, or anything of the sort. It’s about being yourself and having the tools and skills to connect with others. As hard as this journey has been, I wouldn’t go back for anything.
    All the best,

    • Jen says:

      Beautiful story Darlene! Ours are very similar! And so great of you to share how effective a path of therapy and gentle self awareness can be. It took me many winding years to realize that learning social skills is an avenue for my authentic self, and is not “being fake” at all. Very affirming and inspiring. Best wishes on your life journey!

  2. Edna says:

    I can’t count the number of times my family moved when I was a child, and I know I went to at least 12 schools before grade 9. I’m also an introvert. I tend to appreciate deep, close one-on-one friendships; I’m not much for a ‘girl’s night out’, in fact, I don’t know what I would do if in that situation. Anyway, ten years ago I moved with my husband for his job, and I have been lonely and sad ever since. I work outside the home, and I’m not afraid to join new clubs or to talk to strangers. I’m pleasant–funny, even, and it seems that people want to be my friend. I get invited out often. But I don’t connect to anyone that I meet, so eventually, the calling, the texting, and the emailing from these wonderful women stop. I’m not sure what to do, because, like I said above, I feel lonely and sad almost daily. I want friends, but I don’t want the ‘lightness’ of a casual friendship. I want to feel a connection like I use to have, but I think as you get older, your friendships change and becomes lunch, the gym, dinner etc. You don’t have the deep conversations anymore. BTW- thank you for your site and article. :)

    • Kay Geeguardia says:

      Friendship is like dating. Very rarely, you can skip all the superficial “light” stuff and move directly to intimacy and have that work out. More often, you need to “date” first and build up to more intimate friendships. Like you, I’m an introvert but I can muster extroversion when I’m motivated to. I suggest you put on your most extroverted self and make the effort to go to the events, be part of the activities, and then plan your follow up with the women who interest you most. Be the one to suggest and invite, give it time, and see what grows.

  3. Jen says:

    This is for Islandgirl,

    Hi! I am writing back to your most recent message on my email, but didn’t see it on the blog. So I just hit “respond” and hopefully you will get this….

    Perhaps your area has a higher cost of living? I can’t remember if you mentioned where you live. The midwest in the United States is not too bad. But you are right, it is a BIG challenge! We cook a lot from scratch, hardly EVER shop (!) and when I do, almost everything is used, from Goodwill or Salvation Army or yard sales (except unders and shoes). And nobody knows the difference as long as our clothes are clean LOL. We also get used cars and are blessed that my hubbie can walk to work if/when the car breaks down. The kids have tons of used toys, games, books, etc. We get used bikes from yard sales, etc. The only time it gets really stressful is if a necessary appliance breaks down and sometimes with medical bills. We are so grateful for all we have and don’t need to live like Martha Stewart. ha ha Hope you are getting along o.k. Best wishes.

    • Islandgirl says:

      Hi Jen,

      I’m still trying to figure out how to get around in this site. I don’t know what you mean that you didn’t see my reply on the blog? I see it.

      I do live in a high-cost area. I no longer teach as I’m on disability for chronic illness and chronic pain.

      I’m super impressed with how well you’re doing with managing your family finances and lifestyle, and I’m glad it’s easier for you to do that in the midwest. The other thing is, because of my health issues, I have a lot of expenses that I can’t control.

      I sure do miss teaching though. I love kids. I taught 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades at a public school. What do you teach?


  4. Karen says:

    I’ve read a number of your comments about the challenge of making and keeping friends and this blog inspired me to start up a meetup group here in Auckland, New Zealand for women wanting to make new friends.
    In less than 2 weeks the group has grown to 82 so there is certainly a need out there.
    A group of 12 of us met for the first time last Saturday at a local cafe and it was great. There’s been lots of positive feedback.
    If you haven’t heard of it meetup.com is a worldwide organisation where people can meet others with similar interests. You can find a group and join it or start up your own if you like.
    Best wishes

  5. Islandgirl says:

    Throughout my life, I’ve had friends at times, and at other times, I’ve had to go it alone. I think this is normal and natural given human nature and the changing seasons of our lives. This forum really makes me think more about my past friendships and when I could have been a better friend to others, and why so many of my friendships came to an end. I can see myself in so many of the stories here.

    One thing that sometimes happened to me that might help explain why some of you feel baffled about being left out, is that I have had friends whom I’ve gotten close to, who didn’t want me to be friends with anyone else but them. I know that sounds like elementary school stuff, but believe me, some women are still that way even as adults. Sometimes I chose to drop friends who imposed that kind of ownership on me, but other times, I chose to stay friends with the person, and I would be distant with everyone else.

    Personally, I don’t play games like this with people, but I had no problem accepting the fact that others do, and if I wanted to be their friend, that was the stipulation.

    I think this is why I understand when established friends won’t let me in. It’s human nature….

    “You say why? why? Tell them that it’s human nature. Why? Why? do they do me that way?” – Michael Jackson

    Now I’m chronically ill and in constant chronic pain and I can’t have normal friendships anymore, except for a few email buddies who are in a similar situation. It’s too bad, but that’s just part of life, I guess. For one thing, I’m up all night and I sleep all day, and that’s just one of the reasons I don’t fit in with the mainstream and can’t maintain a friendship in the real world.

    It has been interesting to me to see the same social dynamics play out on the forums I’ve joined for my illnesses. We usually never even knew what each other looked like and yet the same social crap played out over and over again, and that has really made me think. I guess this is just the way people are. Human nature. Heh.

    I’ve gotten solace from reading about Sister Wendy. She’s the nun who taught about art on PBS. Google her interviews, or check her out on YouTube, if you’re interested. Try typing ‘Sister Wendy living alone’ into Google. She seems to have being alone down to an art. I find her to be very inspirational. Maybe her story will help others here too.

    I hope those of you who want friendships will find them soon.

    • Jen says:


      You are right, there are people who get very possessive. I had a couple of friends like that in the course of my life and I felt very choked. I totally understand the human nature there, when we find something we like or that’s good, we want to hang on to it and don’t want it taken away. Friendship just really can’t be that, b/c we can’t control others and make them our emotional or phsychological prisoners for our own sense of safety. Friendship by it’s very nature (I believe) is fragile and unpredictable. True friendship is sometimes wounding, sometimes gratifying and above all, is NOT for sissies (insult not intended). So we arm ourselves with a sense of humor, we comfort ourselves when people leave or betray us, we remember we are the only ultimate “steady” in our lives. Even spouses can be hurtful and leave us, as many have experienced. I am in a place in my life where the wounds piled up and got to be too much, so I stepped back. Some solitude has been great, but too much has been lonely and a pain in the rear end. So I am praying and trying to go where the Lord leads me. I am very sorry for your suffering. I suffered for 9 years b/c of mold in our house. We thought we got it all about 6 years ago, b/c we did a remediation and couldn’t find anymore. But after these past 6 more years of suffering horribly, we FINALLY figured out it was just too high of a level of mold for me and was making me terribly ill (the rest of my family has been fine). All it took was putting a few dehumidifiers in our house, which we just recently did, so I am coming out of it and feeling better, praise God!! I feel like a million after years of deteriorating health, and thinking I wasn’t going to make it thru. I hope your situation improves!! I appreciate the “pen pals” here. Thank you for your insights and wisdom. God bless you!!!!

      • Islandgirl says:

        Hi Jen,

        Thanks for your reply. What you’ve written about friendship here really helps me and rings true to me. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through similar circumstances too. You seem to have gained a lot of wisdom from your experiences and I admire that.

        I’m so glad you were able to identify that mold was at the root of your health issue and that you were able to get to remedy it with humidifiers. That’s awesome. Isn’t it amazing that some folks react that way to mold, when others in the same household have no problem with it? I’ve heard about many others with that same issue. I don’t think they knew to try humidifiers though, that’s good to know.

        Thanks so much for your support, too. :)

      • Nathalie says:

        Jen, you worded such a complicated concept so eloquently and simply. Thank you. It really does seem to boil down to what you describe and I resonate with. Personally, I don’t push or force anything. I believe the right people will appear in my life at the right time, as I will appear for them in theirs’. I witness way to many people fill their lives with empty friendships in hopes of obliterating loneliness, when really, only we can do that. I’ve recently realized: Love yourself, be your own fried….the rest will fall into place…

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