• Keeping Friends

The Fragility of Friendship

Published: November 26, 2013 | Last Updated: April 7, 2024 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading

Based on research on the fragility of friendship, “friends forever” is usually a myth



Maybe it’s just me, but I have the feeling that adult friendships are terribly fragile.

Kids seem to rebound, forgive or forget much more easily. Is there any science behind the fragility of friendship? Is this a correct or incorrect assumption?

Signed, Nancy


You are correct in your assumption about the fragility of friendship among adults. although children also switch friends frequently, so they are not necessarily better at maintaining long-term friendships than grownups.

There is not too much research on the fragility of long-term friendships, but psychologist Laura Carstensen, for one, found that the number of friends we have dwindles after high school, increases in our 30s, and then declines in our 40s. A European study even found that we shed half of our closest friends every seven years!

I suspect the myth that friendship is mostly stable and long-lasting for adults has the paradoxical effect of making these relationships even more fragile than they would otherwise be.

Women in particular, says psychologist Terri Apter, are raised to idealize friendship and to believe it to be conflict-free. This makes us avoid addressing small resentments and hurts head-on, which can lead to major blow-outs and break-ups down the line.

Acknowledging that conflict is consistent with friendship (and thus learning how to communicate and “work” on these relationships, the way we “work” on romantic relationships) could help us hold on to more of our friends over time.

The scientific evidence showing how much close, caring friends positively affect our health, happiness, and success in life is overwhelming. So, to paraphrase you, it’s well worth rebounding from, forgiving, and forgetting past grievances with our friends!

Signed, Carlin Flora

Author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are

*Carlin Flora is a friend and colleague of the Friendship Doctor.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Chris says:

    In the first quarter of 2013, I met a girl online an we started to hit it off. I was just coming out of a relationship and had hoped that this new girl would be interested in dating. Long story short, we ended up being friends. It’s been about 2 1/2 years now and we’re getting closer as time goes on. I don’t know if there will ever be romance in our future (as a guy I’m naturally “hopeful” of that possibility), but if there isn’t then I will still be happy; I am content to be her friend for as long as she’ll have me. I’ve been wondering recently whether or not our friendship is fragile, and if this research is any indication, it seems that worrying about that is normal. I’d like for us to be the exception and not the rule. I guess only time will tell!

  2. LaTrice says:

    I know for a fact that my best friend and I had our disagreements. Yes, we’re two strong-willed women, and sometimes, we have differences in opinions, but we’re always working them out. I feel that my friendship with my best friend is a lot more fulfilling, because we’ve grown together, we’ve supported each other through the good times and the bad times, and most importantly, we have each other.

  3. Sienna says:


    Wow, you’re nice.

  4. Amy says:

    Your point about neglecting to address small hurts is an important one. I think people’s unrealistic expectations about friendship “shoulds” and “should nots” sometimes make for unnecessary angst and resentment.
    Friendships can ebb and flow in intensity, particularly when family, work, illness or other outside stressors must take precedent. In my experience, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as connecting with and old friend and rekindling a relationship, when both people have a shared history and interest in moving forward.
    For me, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’m able to allow others to be imperfect presences in my life and reap all the positives they have to offer.

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