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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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  1. 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…

  2. 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.

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