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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 (1,362)

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  1. Lee says:

    I have been goin through some friendship books to resolve my feelings toward a long term friendship. I realized it was toxic and she did me a favor by fading away. It’s complicated because I am so very close to her children. I think I was stuck in the anger phase for years and didn’t realize it.it shook me to the core because I loved her so much and put great effort into making her feel secure, even when I moved an hour and half away. It blew up in my face. It scarred my sons first bday, and my first Mother’s Day will always have a bittersweet reminder. I am working on healing, but it raises questions. I do have other friends that are close but we are long distance. But I’ve had so many failed friendships over the years I can’t help but wonder what my flaw is. I do like a lot of non girly activities that I feel make it harder to find someone. I get along with men a lot easier and still have some, but being married makes them difficult to maintain. It would be nice to find one, I have made a lot of casual friends through a club but only one has gotten to the point of getting together outside of the organization. In review of all my friendships I remember being very lonely in the beginning the neighborhood girls really didn’t like me and only hung out when the others weren’t around. I was often rejected at school because I dressed differently. The few I did find always seemed to move away. I’m moving again to North Carolina with not much to lose – hoping new possibilities will develop. To read some threads help validate the what’s wrong with me syndrome.

  2. Quan says:

    I have no friends and it is difficult for me to start and maintain relationships. I consider myself an introvert. I go places and am around people,yet I do not start conversations and if we do talk it goes no further than the environment we are in. It seems so easy for other people to meet new people, but not me. People do not gravitate towards me either. I am the only child so it even more difficult. I am 33 and I do not want to continue my adult life without friends. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

  3. Kalisa says:

    I would love to start a group with like minded women! How do you propose we attempt it?

    • Irene says:

      Hi Kalisa,

      A number of posters have asked for a way to connect with others who are interested in online friendships. I created a Facebook group, called The Friendship Blog Connection, for that purpose. This might be a place where you can interact with a new person, begin a friendship, and then take your conversation to the next level off the page.

      Facebook calls this type of group a “closed group:” Anyone can see the group and who’s in it but only members see posts. There are currently more than 800 people in the group from all around the world.

      Here is more information: http://www.thefriendshipblog.com/something-new-check-out-friendship-blog-connection-facebook/

      • Lee says:

        It’s a good idea in theory but the facebook makes me apprehensive. It seemed fun at first to try and find people you lost touch with but now it seems like high school all over again. Who has the most friends the most interesting life. Some reach out to to just merely get you as a friend. I did do a thing with social Jane but I never got any responses but one. A lot of them seemed to be divorcees who neglected their friendships and are now trying to make good.

  4. RJ says:

    I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the feeling that I can’t seem to start and maintain close friendship. I constantly wonder what it is about me that people just don’t stick with, they like and gravitate to me, but maintaining the friendships just doesn’t seem to happen. Most would label me as an extrovert, but I didn’t move at all as a child so I don’t fall into the studies this article talks about. It’s extremely lonely sometimes.

  5. Amy says:

    I am a little relieved that other women fell the same way I do. I do not understand the need that women have to have a certain other friend at an event or they won’t attend. I too get along better with men just because they are more polite and don’t talk through me like women do. And all the women who don’t seem to fit in, I have tried being friends with them, but you know what happens; As soon as the women in the more mainstream group start talking to them, they say goodbye. I do think this is an American women’s condition though and I don’t experience this in friendships with as many women from other parts of the world. And the suicide rate among white women they have been talking about lately– I believe this disengagement is contributing to it. I see people from other cultures get together and have big parties regularly. I don’t see this often with whites. Hmm

  6. amy says:

    I see all these women with all these close women friends and in all honesty, it looks exhausting to me. I think it looks nice but the undertones of it to me are too much. I see my sister in law dropping everything to help her friends or vice-versa… Even when it is extremely inconvenient for her. Then if something goes bad for her she expects them all to come comfort her. If they don’t then they are horrible, she hates them, etc. The other side of it that I don’t like is a group mind. They all have to do all the same things. Then they manipulate each other at times. I see them get mad at one friend or another and then completely tear them down. Couple days later they are friends again. It seems very high school to me. I don’t have super close girlfriends but I do have friends. Our priorities are our families and our jobs etc. I moved around a lot so it is nice to not have to constantly validate my friendships to maintain them. I do find I make friends with men easier. My friendships with men to me are easier to maintain and I care about them more than my female friendships. Maybe cause there is no cattiness with men. My best friend at the moment is a woman. She is like me though more laid back, work a lot. Then my other best friend is a gay guy. The only people I feel totally 100% devoted to and would drop everything for are my husband and daughter. Sometimes I do see those friendships and wonder why I can’t form them. Would be nice to be able to trust anyone enough to be able to talk to them about everything in life. If they wouldn’t use it against you ever. For me though I have lots of friendly acquaintances. I guess that is good enough…

  7. itsamystery says:

    Many of these stories could be me.
    It’s all there–the mother who kept to herself and discouraged friendships and then ridiculed when and if I seemed to have no friends; a sister who bullied; a grandmother who bullied; etc. etc.

    Leads me to think that we need a group for “Women who have no friends.” We’d get along great!
    In her bio, Tina Fey talks about being in the group of outcast girls in high school. Now she wonders, “Why didn’t we talk to each other?”

    • Sagan says:

      Stumbled on this article while wonder what is it that a woman my age 70 years old has very few if any close friends. The reason for searching this question is I recently spoke to a neighbor whose wife was stricken by GBM a brain cancer with less than 12 months to live, and all the friends who come to visit from all,over the country USA and Canada, as well as having to get a larger mail box to receive all the hundreds of cards that keep coming.

      My heart aches for this man as he cries just updating on her recent treatments. With a heavy heart I praise her because she has made so many friends and mourn her prognosis. How did she and what are her traits that would cause her to have such a broad friendship base? What does she do? I’ve only been with her twice before her sudden diagnosis and don’t really see or know what traits she has. Another neighbor became instant friends with this woman and is in tears when she tells me how she is helping this woman. Again, my heart aches for she and her husband about their future.

      It’s sad that I was unable to get to know her before her plight as she just moved in the neighborhood less than a year ago. So I ask what is it that a person does to attach so many people to her? I want to develop more friends but don’t know how. I was raised as a Cinderella in our house as oldest of dour kinds and my mom was always in a slump because she felt overburdened with us four girls. She never was kind and loving as I was to my own son, who she despised. Long story there, but would enjoy more friends, but don’t trust, as that is most likely the issue. Thanks for listening.

      • lola says:

        I think you’re right. It’s trust. And your neighbor – I also know women like that. I watch and wonder. What makes them so special that people want to spend time with them? I mostly see nothing special except that they are outgoing.
        I’ve also noticed that people generally want something from friendships and I have nothing to offer.
        I mostly turn down invitations to things and have drifted away from old friends.
        I had a good friend several years ago and she was very catty and started to make little jokes about me. When our daughters got in an argument, she dumped me and never spoke to me again. And that’s why I don’t trust…

    • Courtney says:

      Let’s make a group of women who don’t have girlfriends! I think you’re on to something!! I can totally relate to this article. I’m introverted and shy. I also moved a lot as a kid and was picked on or burned by a lot of female friends throughout my adolescence. Every single female friend I’ve ever had had burned me in some major way, which makes me wonder… Do I have trust issues with other women? Or perhaps just your typical women? I’m bery laid back and unintersted in typical “women” things like fashion, celebrities, reality tv, etc. etc. I enjoy helping people, deep conversations, and active outdoor activities. I don’t in any way think I’m better, but I’m definitely bored by your typical woman.

      • Lynn says:

        I don’t know if it’s trust issues or?? Over the years I’ve had 3 close, long term friends “unfriend” me for no apparent reason. I have tried to figure it out, bounced it off other people, and can’t come up with any legitimate reason. I even thought of going to see a counselor or therapist, but I thought why should I? I didn’t desert the relationship, they did! It makes me kind of angry right now talking about it. But all I know, is like you say, it’s happening to a LOT of women. My 2 grown daughters (25, 29) are also experiencing it. I’m 52 and right now pretty much friend-less. I am not shy any more (use to be) but no matter what I do, or say, I cannot seem to make friends! I am in a strong marriage, and fortunately I do think my husband is my best friend, but sometimes it’s nice to have some (one?) female friend to talk to, and do “girly” things with. Sheesh, life is to short!

      • Kalisa says:

        Courtney, you sound just like me. I’ve often wondered if the reason why I don’t have friends or am unable to maintain them well is simply because I get bored pretending to be interested in small talk and meaningless conversations. I love deep conversation and I prefer doing things purposefully. I’d much rather help a friend weed her garden than go to lunch with her. I’ve also found it difficult to find women who are loyal. I realize everybody has their issues but after putting in time, effort and energy to have a friend just stop talking to me, it’s difficult to justify putting in the effort again down the road. I have too many things I’m interested in to waste time on a fruitless relationship! Lol. If I am honest I don’t feel the need to make friends most of the time until I think of how lovely it would be to have a friend who is like me. It would be pretty great to meet someone who expands my mind, who likes purposeful activities and who is willing to talk through any random issue rather than drop the friendship like a bad investment. Is there such a thing? And if so why must if be so darn elusive!

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