Friendship Myths are stories we hold around friendship. Stories are our interpretation of the reality going on around us. We collect ideas about friendship every day. Family, movies, TV, books, social media, etc… all tell us what friendship should look like and shape our interpretation of the relationships we have. Holding onto stories can hold us back from making meaningful connections.
What myths of friendship are you bought into?
What are you telling yourself to hold you back from making connections?
MYTH #1: If you struggle to make friends, there is something wrong with you.
A common story is adults should know how to make friends and if you are finding yourself struggling to make connections, there is something wrong with you. Friendships come and go –according to this study¹ we replace half our friendships every 7 years. We may find we have fewer friends at times.
While a lack of friends may not indicate something inherently wrong with you, it could indicate you’re not engaging in patterns of behavior in line with cultivating connection. You may be going about gaining friendship in the “wrong” way. For example, you may be unengaged with cultivating connection if you:
- Avoid social engagement
- Demonstrate behaviors that cut off connection
- Overly involve yourself with work or family
- Avoid intimacy or demonstrate shyness
Holding onto the story that there is just something wrong is a hindrance because it validates the patterns of disconnection and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Explore ways to let go of stories and make new friends:
Check out the New Friends (and How to Meet Them) Page
MYTH #2: The more friends, the better.
On social media, people are constantly competing for likes, more followers, and more “friends”, giving the idea that in real life we should strive for a similar result. Logically speaking, if only a small percentage of the people we meet become our friends and even a smaller number of those become our close friends, we should strive to make as many friends as possible right? The Theory of Dunbar’s Number says we can only have about 150 relationships at a time.2 You may think having more friends will fill any gaps present. Actually, 3-5 close friends is really all you need,3 with the rest of your network filled by acquaintances and co-workers. 3-5 close friendships is also the amount of friends the average person can sustainably keep up with. As Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy, writes: “We don’t need more or better friends, we need better friendships.” 4 When it comes to friends, value quality over quantity. Having a few close, intimate friendships is overall more fulfilling than having many surface friendships.
Wondering how to assess the quality and types of your friendships?
Take a look at the Types of Friends Page
MYTH #3: Intimacy is only for romantic relationships.
an interpersonal state of extreme emotional closeness such that each party’s personal space can be entered by any of the other parties without causing discomfort to that person. Intimacy characterizes close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationships and requires the parties to have detailed knowledge or deep understanding of each other.5
While intimacy is often used as a euphemism for sex, sex and intimacy are independent of one another. Sexual relationships can exist without intimate feelings, and intimate relationships can exist without sexual feelings. Intimacy at its core is about the closeness and warmth one feels with another, which exists in romantic and non-romantic relationships. Believing intimacy doesn’t belong in friendships will limit the level of vulnerability one is able to experience with friends and the friendship will eventually reach a standstill in terms of growth.
Friendships with intimacy…
- Welcome vulnerability
- Provide support to both parties
- Feel safe
Friendships without intimacy…
- Remain surface level in terms of sharing
- May feel awkward at times
- May have a gap of understanding between friends
- Lack familiarity and closeness
MYTH #4: Men don’t need intimate friendships.
Most of the resources you will find online tend to be geared towards strengthening female relationships, which could imply women need more help with their friendships. However, the scientific data suggests it may be harder for men to make and maintain friendships than women.6 On average, men show no indication of needing fewer deep friendships than women. In fact, all the science outlined in the Why Friendship section applies to both men and women. According to a study published in 2006, between 1985 and 2004 the average number of friendships men have dropped by 44%.7 In other words, going from 7 friends to 4 friends. With fewer connections, men may have a harder time developing deep connections and gaining the health benefits from deep and lasting friendships.
According to Art of Manliness, in the 19th century, friendships between men were deep, vulnerable and full of sentimentality. With the 20th century came a rise of homophobia and thus male friendships began to dwindle for fear of being called gay.8 For his book, Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, author and researcher Geoffrey Greif interviewed over 400 men about their friendships. He concluded it may be harder these days for men to form deep connections. Reasons included prioritizing work or marriage, a societal norm of steering clear of vulnerability, a focus on experiences rather than feelings, and primarily relying on spouses for support.9
Guys Say “I Love You” To Their Male Friends | Social Experiment
A Nigerian youtuber takes to the streets of Lagos and asks men to call their friends and say ‘I love you.” How would your friends react if you said “I love you” to them?
See More on the Resources Page
Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships
Citing interviews with nearly 400 men, therapist and researcher Geoffrey L. Greif takes readers on a guided tour of male friendships, explaining what makes them work, why they are vital to the health of individuals and communities, and how to build friendships leading to longer and happier lives.
The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships, and Live Their Fullest Lives
Howes explores the various masks men tend to put on how to open up and embrace the journey of self-discovery and vulnerability.
Breaking the Male Code: Unlocking the Power of Friendship
Garfield explains the perceived Male Code, a rigid set of guidelines equating masculinity with stoicism, silence, and strength. Robert Garfield has worked with men struggling with emotional issues for more than forty years. Through his Friendship Labs—clinical settings in which men engage in group therapy—he teaches men how to identify inner conflicts, express emotions, and communicate openly.
The Art of Manliness Podcast #274: Building Your Band of Brothers
Episode #274 of The Art of Manliness Podcast discusses the bleak statistics on male friendship, the myth of the lone alpha male, and why making friends in adulthood is so hard for men today.
A Little Life
A Little Life follows four college classmates as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. Connected by their devotion to each other, Yanagihara explores the families we are born into and those we create for ourselves.
Of Mice and Men
Over seventy-five years since its first publication, Steinbeck’s tale of commitment, loneliness, hope, and loss remains one of America’s most widely read and taught novels. Following the friendship of an unlikely pair, George and Lennie, two migrant workers in California during the Great Depression, as they grasp for their American Dream.
MYTH #5: Friendships should look a certain way.
We are constantly shown groups of attractive friends laughing and having the best time ever in TV/movies/the media. The great thing about friendship being so subjective: there is no model for how an ideal friendship should look. Wanting your friend group to effortlessly get along like the Golden Girls is like wanting someone to drop $10 Million on your front porch. Ok to hope for? Definitely. Likely to happen without any effort from you? Not a chance.
Examples of “a-typical” ways friendships CAN look:
- Long-distance friendships
- Exclusively online friendships
- Extended friend groups where not everyone knows each other
- Large age gap between friends
- Cultural (race/color/nationality) differences between friends
Explore ways to let go of stories and make new friends:
Check out the New Friends (and How to Meet Them) Page
MYTH #6: Good friends don’t let you down.
It happens. You make plans and preparations, and at the last minute, your friend calls and says they can’t make it. When we trust people there is a certain level of dependability we rely on and when things do not go as planned it is normal to feel disappointed.
Is your friend a bad friend? Maybe. And, more likely: they are human.
Humans make mistakes! They make commitments and break them. If we automatically label someone a bad friend when we feel disappointed, connection is cut off and responsibility is limited.
Shifting mindsets surrounding being let down:
- Empathize. Be curious. Listen. What is going on with them? What caused the broken commitment?
- Communicate your boundaries and make clear requests. No one can read minds and you need to ask for what you want. Setting boundaries and being assertive (asking for what you want/need) are also important here when outlining your friendship.
- Take responsibility for the situation. Instead of getting into the negative mindset of “they messed up and let me down” think “Did I communicate that I needed help or what they were supposed to do?”
- Forgive. Holding grudges cuts off connection. Open connection by forgiving and understanding and offering strategies to make things better next time.
MYTH #7: Friends should just “know.”
We want to trust our friends to know us well enough to predict what we want/need, and to prioritize our needs above other things. Like in Myth #6, no one can read minds. Often, you and your friend will have differing viewpoints and expectations, so communication regarding what you need is so important. Blaming a friend for not just knowing what you need is like blaming a young puppy for peeing on the carpet. We have to teach and train our friends and let them know we appreciate their support, and even after years of friendship if they have an accident we have to have empathy for their experience too.
Curious about different communication methods?
MYTH #8: Friends = happiness.
The idea of friendship leading to happiness is a half myth.
The true part: surrounding ourselves with happy people can trigger our own happiness. As this Harvard study shows, when our friends are happy, we have a higher chance of becoming happy. Specifically, if a friend within a 1-mile radius of us is happy, we have a 25% increased chance of becoming happy.10 More broadly, the science of friendship shows huge benefits to wellbeing and health, all of which contribute to our overall feeling of happiness.
The myth part: The idea that having lots of friends will instantly boost your happiness levels is a myth. The above study found people with more friends were not necessarily more happy than others, and if one’s friends were not happy, they did not contribute to the individual’s happiness. No one can make you happy. There is no magic ‘Friendship Level 10’ you can achieve to have happiness. Friendship is an ingredient in the never-ending recipe of happiness. Check out the Happiness Section for more.
MYTH #9: Friendships should always be easy.
TV, books, movies, and the media give us the idea that perfect friendships exist where you never need to work to keep up with each other. “Should” is always a good myth/story indicator. Friendships take time, effort, patience. In childhood/high school/college, proximity made friendships easier (in the frientimacy triangle, consistency was automatically filled).
As adults, friendships are harder. Typically, adult friendships have:
- Larger distance between friends.
- Longer time periods between interactions.
- Other priorities (work, dating, kids, etc…) taking time away from focusing on friends, which means we have to choose to prioritize spending time connecting.
- Less mediation and guidance when navigating conflicts.
- More concrete boundaries needing to be set.
- Shifting and difference in lifestyles and priorities.
Most adult friendships deal with multiple of the above, meaning the going is never really easy.
The Sound Relationship House model applies to friendships too, you have to build the house together, and it will not always be easy breezy.
MYTH #10: You need one “best friend.”
Friendships are not one-size-fits-all. As adults, the idea that one person has to fulfill all of our friendship needs is not sustainable. We can have a few friends we feel close to whom can be called upon for different situations or in a time of need. We need variety in our network. As stated in Myth #2, having 3-5 close friends is closer to the magic number.3
Dive deeper into the different types of friends in your life:
MYTH #11: Introverts are bad at friendships. // You need to be outgoing to make friends.
The first part to unpack in Myth #11 is the idea of introversion vs. extroversion, which is not a binary concept, but rather a continuum. The majority of people (66%) would not identify as extroverted or introverted, but rather somewhere in between.11 So, blanket statements of “introverts are …” are difficult to quantify, as only a handful of people are true introverts (all the way left on the spectrum).
Leaning one way or the other on the spectrum doesn’t make you bad or good at making friends, though it may affect the way you approach making friends and how easy you find it. While more talkative and social people may find it easy to connect with people in large group gatherings, people who are more reserved may favor meeting one on one or in a small group.
While skipping small talk and large gatherings may make it harder for more reserved individuals to meet lots of people, the connections made can still be deep and meaningful. If you find yourself leaning towards introvert on the scale, here are some ways you can form more connections:
- Be intentional about how you spend your time with others
- Cleanly communicate your needs and boundaries
- Self empathize and check-in with yourself in social situations
- Take breaks to recharge
Looking to brush up on social skills and meet new people?
Try the Social Skills Page
MYTH #12: Friendships are forever. // We should hold onto childhood friends.
Research shows we actually tend to lose about half of our social network every 7 years.12 People change, friendships come and go. Research also shows that on average people make 396 connections in their lifetime, and only a handful of those (12%) stick.13 Sometimes, friends grow apart, which is normal. Check out the section on Nurturing Existing Friendships for more.
Rewrite the Narrative
Stories are not necessarily bad (or good). Recognizing stories can be helpful in being able to create deeper connections and cultivate friendships that provide support, intimacy, and belonging. Perspective heavily plays into enabling (or not enabling) connection.
In the friendship section, stories, examples, and exercises provide windows into exploring perspective to let in more connection. Commit to cultivating the connections you are looking for and opening yourself up to receive those connections.
Recommended Next Steps:
- NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). (2009, May 27). Half Of Your Friends Lost In Seven Years, Social Network Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 11, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090527111907.htm
- Ro, C. (2019, October 9). Dunbar’s number: Why we can only maintain 150 relationships. Retrieved February 07, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191001-dunbars-number-why-we-can-only-maintain-150-relationships
- Pinker, S. (2017, April). The Secret to Living Longer May Be Your Social Life. [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_pinker_the_secret_to_living_longer_may_be_your_social_life
- Nelson, S. (2016). Committing to Closing Our Intimacy Gaps. In Frientimacy: How to deepen friendships for lifelong health and happiness (pp. 13-28). Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Apa Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved September 16, 2021, from https://dictionary.apa.org/intimacy.
- Chander, R. (2019, March 08). The Bromance Myth: How Men’s health suffers from their lack of Fr. Retrieved February 07, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/men-bad-friendship-harms-health
- McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M. E. (2006). Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. American Sociological Review, 71(3), 353–375. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30038995
- McKay, B. & K. (2021, May 30). The history and nature of man friendships. The Art of Manliness. Retrieved September 17, 2021, from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-history-and-nature-of-man-friendships/.
- Greif, G. L. (2009). Buddy system: Understanding male friendships. Oxford University Press.
- Cameron, D. (2008, December 05). Having happy friends can make you happy. Retrieved February 07, 2021, from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/12/having-happy-friends-can-make-you-happy/
- Psychebites. (2019, August 07). Introvert, extrovert…or ambivert? Retrieved February 07, 2021, from https://firstname.lastname@example.org/introvert-extrovert-or-ambivert-cbe226c4f16
- Mollenhorst, G., Völker, B., & Flap, H. (2008). Social contexts and personal relationships: The effect of meeting opportunities on similarity for relationships of different strengths. Social Networks, 30(1), 60-68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2007.07.003
- Smith, L. (2010, March 31). What happened to wotsisname? He was one of 396 Friends. Retrieved February 07, 2021, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/what-happened-to-wotsisname-he-was-one-of-396-friends-7zmw0dr85t9