It’s a wonderful fantasy: living in New York City with a group of 5 other friends who know you better than anybody else, getting into crazy adventures together. Not to mention the enormous apartment and ample free time to do whatever you want. TV shows like Friends depict what many believe to be an ideal 20-30 something life. As a result, people view their own lives as dull and lacking strong friendships. Although it is excellent entertainment, the portrayal of social life in Friends is unrealistic in the real world and especially in the modern world.
“I’m in my 20’s and early 30’s and I have a bunch of friends but don’t have any very close friends.”
Many people see shows like Friends and wonder, “why don’t I have close friends like that?” Well, research shows that most people in their 20’s are in the same boat. In a study of the social activity of people ages 20-50, Carmichael, Reis & Duberstein (2015) looked at the impact of quantity and quality of friendships. Their findings suggest that people who have a broader social network in their 20’s tend to have fewer psychological and social issues in their 50’s. In other words, it is essential to expand your social network in your 20’s. Sticking to the same group of friends can have negative long-term implications on your social life and psychological health. They did not find that quality of friendships in your 20’s predicted similar results.
Carmichael, Reis & Duberstein also found that the 30’s are the time when people narrow down their friendship circles and develop stronger connections with other people. They found that people who reported having fewer (but stronger) relationships in their 30’s had better social and psychological outcomes in their 50’s.
The other thing to note is that having a vast social network in your 20’s and early 30’s is very common. In a review of available research, Wrzus et al. (2012) found that social networks continue to grow through young adulthood. Early adulthood is for exploring different friends, friend groups, and social networks. It’s for figuring out what you like to do and with whom you enjoy spending your time. The notion that everybody should have a group of close friends in their 20’s is an unrealistic and uncommon expectation. Even more, it may stop you from exploring new social circles and meeting new people.
The 90’s vs. Today
Another significant difference between Friends and real life is that Friends took place before the age of social media. In the ’90s, your social network was limited to the people you saw on a somewhat regular basis. Today people can create friendships through in-person interactions or online interactions. A Pew Research Center study found that 57% of teenagers created a new friendship from an online platform. Our modern-day social networks are so much broader than they were in the ’90s. We are finding that we don’t just need to be friends with people based on circumstance (like our college roommates, siblings, and neighbors). We can keep friends who share common interests and this can lead to stronger relationships.
All that being said, there is still a need for in-person interactions that the internet cannot fulfill. Dunbar (2015) found that to facilitate deep friendships, humans need some direct contact. There is something about spending time with people directly that forms a strong bond that cannot be replaced by social media. In other words, the internet can be a useful tool for expanding your social network but to develop strong relationships, we also need to spend time interacting with people face to face.
The idealized social life represented on Friends is something that many people wish they had for themselves. In real life, research shows that the 20’s are a time for many different friends and expanding your social network. While the majority of Friends takes place while the characters are in their mid-late 20’s/early 30’s, research shows that people don’t have close friends at that level until their 30’s. Additionally, social networks are much larger today than they were in the ’90s as a result of social media and the internet.
The other thing to keep in mind is that everybody is different. Each person has different circumstances, friends, relationships, and family lives. There is no one way to live your young adulthood especially with regards to friend circles. Friends is an idealized version of a social life that rarely exists; instead of desiring that life, identify strengths of your own social life and enjoy those.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however, is not intended to be considered treatment.
Carmichael, C. L., Reis, H. T., & Duberstein, P. R. (2015). In your 20s it’s quantity, in your 30s it’s quality: The prognostic value of social activity across 30 years of adulthood. Psychology and aging, 30(1), 95.
Dunbar, R. I. (2016). Do online social media cut through the constraints that limit the size of offline social networks?. Royal Society Open Science, 3(1), 150292.
Lenhart, A., Smith, A., Anderson, M., Duggan, M., & Perrin, A. (2015). Teens, technology and friendships.
Wrzus, C., Hänel, M., Wagner, J., & Neyer, F. J. (2013). Social network changes and life events across the life span: a meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 139(1), 53.
Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.
Licensed clinical psychologist in New York and California.
Provides individual, group and couples psychotherapy for children (and their parents), adolescents, and adults.
Specializes in working with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and ADHD.