The secret to
keeping lifelong friends.
December 2022 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

The transition to university can take a toll on friendships. You get busy with school, study in different cities, don’t have the same courses and meet new people. You can easily find yourself drifting away and in many instances no longer with any friends. Studies have shown that even best friends in high school reported a loss of satisfaction and a loss of investment in that friendship during the first year of college. Interestingly, it didn’t matter whether or best friends were at different schools or in different cities. 

Learning how to make, keep and reconnect with friends is a lifelong skill that you may not have needed while you were in high school. After all, you used to see your friends every day, in school or at work. It was easy. You didn’t have to do very much at all. Your friends would always be at school and in class.

We are increasingly alone.

However, large-scale research by sociologists has identified an alarming trend in the size and quality of friendship circles. Over the past 25 years, the number of people considered to be close confidants (i.e., friends) has shrunk by a third and the number of people who now say there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled. And now, for the first time, the most common response given by people is that they have no confidant in their lives. 

Other studies have confirmed that loneliness is on the rise and has now reached epidemic levels.  As many as 80% of Americans under 18 years old and 40% of adults over 65 years old, report ‘sometimes being lonely.’ In 2019, loneliness increased to 61% from 54% just a year earlier. Moreover, research has shown that younger generations are lonelier than older generations: 79% of people less than 24 and 71% of those between the ages of 24 to 39 had the highest loneliness scores compared to individuals between the ages of ages 55 and 75. 

What’s the secret to keeping friends

Research on friendships that have stood the test of time has identified the key ingredients to what it takes to make and keep friends. The top 10 behaviours reported as essential to maintaining friendships were as follows: 

  • Communicate (call, facetime, text)
  • Share experiences with each other
  • Visit each other
  • Share interests with each other 
  • Ask for help
Interestingly, the most important factors for strengthening a friendship were slightly different.
  • Prioritize and invest time
  • Offer support to each other
  • Be vulnerable and share personal information 
  • Strike a balance (reciprocity) between what you both want to do
  • Be authentic and open with each other
  • Share similar interests
  • Be loyal to each other
  • Say ‘Yes’ to invitations to do things
  • Be honest with each other
  • Don’t judge each other
  • Respect each other
What’s the common ingredient?

Of all of these behaviours identified as crucial to maintaining and strengthening a friendship, the most important factors were communicating with each other on a regular basis and to prioritize and invest time.  These were listed as the most important factor twice as often as the next most important factor. 

What’s the take home message?

To maintain and strengthen friendships you need to spend time with and communicate with friends. Not sure you are doing enough? Take the quiz here.  


Are you doing enough?

Not sure if you are doing enough to maintain your friendships? Take the Friendship Maintenance Scale, which was designed to assess five different types of behaviours that are related to maintaining and fostering lifelong relationships; these include:

  • positive behaviours (e.g., complimenting your friend)
  • negative behaviours (e.g., criticizing your friend)
  • supportive behaviours (e.g., standing by your friend)
  • openness behaviours (e.g., sharing your worries and doubts with your friend)
  • interaction behaviours (e.g., doing things with your friend).

You will be provided with individualized feedback that will help you pinpoint which behaviours you could increase and which ones you should consider trying to decrease. 

Why do friends matter? 

The friendships you have over your lifetime, whether they are friends from school or work, from your extended family or your partner, are one of your most important assets.  Your friends are the people in your life that you can vent to after a bad day, remind you that you have worth and are important to others, and help you find those first jobs and new jobs later in life. 

And remember, it is never too late to shore up existing friendships, strengthen old friendships and even make new friends. 


What’s the secret to making new friends

Making friends is a little bit different than keeping friends. We tackle this important topic in a separate article coming in 2023. 


Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine : A Publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2).
Loeb, E. L. (2019). Close Friendship Strength and Broader Peer Group Desirability as Differential Predictors of Adult Mental Health. Child Development, 90(1), 298–313. McPherson, M., Smith-Demarinis S. Loneliness at epidemic levels in America. Explore. 2020;16:278–279.
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.
Oswald, D. L., Clark, E. M., & Kelly, C. M. (2004). Friendship Maintenance: An Analysis of Individual and Dyad Behaviors. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(3), 413–441.
Oswald, D. L., & Clark, E. M. (2003). Best friends forever?: High school best friendships and the transition to college. Personal relationships, 10(2), 187-196.Narr, R. K., Allen, J. P., Tan, J. S., & 

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