Since arriving in London about 18 months ago, I’ve developed a few friendships, but none at the level of “best friend” status. Not surprising really, since I’m very cautious when it comes to opening up about my self. Now I know I do it here, but this is an edited version of my real life. There are many things I still keep private. Truth be told, outside of my older sister and my best guy friend, I don’t think I have any true confidants. And since both are in the US, there are alot of things I just keep to myself.
The Sunday Times October 22, 2006
Best friends: a dying species by John Harlow and Claire Newell
Work and internet leave men with no close confidants
LONGER hours in competitive workplaces and the rise of the internet society have led to a generation of young men almost bereft of close friends, new research has found.
Twenty years ago, sociologists found men had an average of about 3.5 “confidants”. Now researchers, based at Duke University in North Carolina, have repeated the exercise and found that the average has gone down to just two companions with whom men feel they can share their closest secrets.
A quarter have nobody at all in whom they can confide, twice as many as in the 1980s. The most lonely include twentysomething men who have lost touch with school or university friends and found nobody to replace them; and male pensioners who have outlived their peers.
The researchers find close friendship has been replaced by a multitude of “semidetached” work colleagues and “chatroom chums” met on the internet.
The situation has been made worse by trends such as the break-up of communities as families move home with greater frequency and lose touch with neighbours.
Typically, people have as many as 750 acquaintances by name or sight, but nearly all such people fail the “trust test”, according to Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociology professor at Duke: “You would only share your most vulnerable secrets with a true confidant if it is already proven you can trust them.
“Another significant change is who we trust: 20 years ago a young man might have counted a drinking buddy as his best friend, even if they only discussed sport or politics and avoided the personal. Now the best friend is more likely to be a spouse with whom we share more interests.”
The researchers, who questioned 1,500 people, found middle-aged men in their forties and fifties had closer to three friends, but after the age of 60 the figure goes down again to an average of 1.6. The dying-off of friends is compounded by the decline of communal activities such as sports clubs and church-going.
According to the study, women have “marginally” more friends than men but, in the past 20 years, have seen a decline in the number of family members in whom they confide.
The study also finds noticeable changes in who people trust, with spouses now far more likely to be closest confidants than in the past.
In 1985, 30% regarded it as being their husband or wife. This has now increased to 38%, while the number of people trusting a parent has declined slightly from 23% to 21% and those trusting a sibling from 21% to 14%.
The numbers who trust work colleagues with secrets has gone down from 29% to 18%, possibly a reflection of a more competitive workplace.
Simon Kassianides, 27, a stage actor who is appearing in Spooks, the BBC spy drama, agreed that for his generation it was difficult to form close friendships. “It’s hard for men to have many close friends these days,” he said.
“I socialise a lot, but it’s difficult to keep friendships going. Sometimes you are so busy you suddenly realise it’s been six months since you have seen a good friend, and some with more regular jobs get upset.
“After university it’s difficult to start making friends again. In the last four years I have only made one good friend and that was someone I met on Spooks.”
Amy Jenkins, who created the 1990s BBC series This Life, which charted the surrogate family life of young professionals, said she believed large numbers of people lost friends in their thirties when juggling career and family.
“A lot of intimate chatting I used to do with girlfriends was about finding a mate, but now we are all coupled up we haven’t much to talk about,” she said.