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Are Our Friendships Becoming Shorter?

And, if so, can we do anything about changing friendships?

Key points

  • Loneliness is on the rise, and friendships as a whole have appeared to be less lasting in recent years.
  • Isolation is linked to several deleterious health outcomes ranging from depression to mortality.
  • Friendships often have a natural cycle of connection, breaks, and repairs.
  • With practice, we can take steps to preserve our friendships better.

Best friends forever. We '90s kids drew these words on our hands with markers and ink; most people I knew had at least one person they considered their BFF. Perhaps we imagined each other at weddings, meeting each other's kids, and going on vacations to Antarctica someday.

These simple understandings of friendship are naturally challenged as we grow. Geographical moves, personality changes, and conflict are a few reasons we drift apart. Nonetheless, it does appear that the number of long-term friendships is decreasing.

Our sense of social connection has decreased to a level that a loneliness epidemic has been declared in America, leading the U.S. Surgeon General to release a health advisory on the topic in 2023. Loneliness is linked to 32 health outcomes ranging from depression to heart health and even mortality (Hong et al., 2023). A review of the literature has also uncovered a striking link between social isolation and suicide (Shoib et al., 2023). With rates of death by suicide higher than ever, this is of particular concern.

Why Are Friendships Becoming Shorter?

As opposed to the ideal of lifelong friendships, more and more friendships seem limited in time. Sometimes, it is as simple as lost contact. With more people working remotely and fewer "third spaces" existing in the community, we see each other less, which can lead to losing touch.

Another reason may be less tolerance for conflict. In decades past, it seemed that waxes and wanes in friendship were expected. Most of these were not the end of the friendship. Today, there seems to be much less tolerance. We are quicker to block each other out or label one another "toxic," even when the friendship might be valuable to us.

Social media trends have certainly sent a message that cutting someone off when they aren't making you feel good is a positive thing to do. Yet is this always the case?


Sometimes, the end of a friendship is a good thing—for example, when you are seeking recovery, and someone is encouraging you to use substances, or when a "friend" has acted in abusive ways. Still, this is an extreme.

There is a natural cycle in relationships involving connection, breaks, and repair. Relationship expert John Gottman has identified this reconnection as perhaps the most important part of the cycle because conflict is inevitable and can ultimately bring us closer (2000).

In friendships, we get close (connect), have times of conflict (break), and then work through that conflict through a reconnection (repair). Otherwise, the friendship ends—and more and more, it seems, friendships are ending before repair is given any possibility.

Continuing a friendship through conflict can also help us learn things about ourselves that can be difficult to face, but which enhance our lives. When we repeatedly disconnect from people who tell us things we don't want to hear, we are vulnerable to an echo chamber of our own thoughts.

Three Steps to Repair

If you are looking to build capacities in repair, it's a skill that requires practice. Here's a three-step method

1. Let Your Friend Know

Sometimes, conflicts exist without one party knowing until we realize our friend is ghosting us. Discussing conflicts early on is key to maintaining the friendship.

2. Ask for the Change You Need

If you are frustrated or flat-out angry with someone, it can be tempting to rant about the ways they have wronged you. Yet asking directly for the change you need has a greater chance of success.

If you can, ask for something specific. For example, if you notice you and your friend do the same things repeatedly, you might say, "Can we check out the Cat Cafe this weekend? It's something different, and I'd like to try doing some new things."

3. Be Kind to Your Friend as a Fellow Human

Our friends will inevitably let us down at times. Similarly, we will let our friends down at times. Giving some grace without assuming the worst can go a long way toward friendship preservation.

In Closing

Friendships do appear to be less long-lasting in recent years. While some may choose to accept this, it doesn't have to be the case if we don't wish it to be. Taking a few small steps can help us to repair and preserve friendships.

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Gottman, J. (2000). The seven principles for making marriage work. Orion.

Hong, J. H., Nakamura, J. S., Berkman, L. F., Chen, F. S., Shiba, K., Chen, Y., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2023). Are loneliness and social isolation equal threats to health and well-being? An outcome-wide longitudinal approach. SSM-Population Health, 23, 101459.

Office of the Surgeon General. (2023). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The US Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community [Internet].

Shoib, S., Amanda, T. W., Saeed, F., Ransing, R., Bhandari, S. S., Armiya’u, A. Y. U., & Chandradasa, M. (2023). Association between loneliness and suicidal behaviour: a scoping review. Turkish Journal of Psychiatry, 34(2), 125.

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