What Does it Mean to Make Friends in 2020?

This spring, I took advantage of everyone being stuck at home to conduct a survey about making new friends. There were just over 170 respondents draw from my extended network, so unlikely to be representative of a particular culture or geography. The sample skewed male (61%) but distribution across age ranges were fairly balanced. The vast majority of respondents were between 25 and 84. Here are some of the insights.

Our evolving context. Partnering up, splitting up, having children, relocating, and illness all have significant impacts on our friendships. Unsurprisingly, it was far more common for people 45-64 to be in a committed relationship (51%) and have children under 18 (25%). This age group was the least likely to travel more than 12 weeks a year (6%). 65 to 84-year-olds were the most likely to be single (24%) and be heavily impacted by an illness or condition (19%). 25 to 44-year-olds were the most likely to have split up with someone (10%) or to have moved away from friends and family (9%), but overall their experiences were more heterogeneous.

More than half of respondents reported having two of these impacts & 14% reported having 3 or more.

How people think about friendship. Overall, respondents had plenty to say on the topic of making friends above and beyond the multiple-choice questions we asked. Common themes that emerged from people include:

  • The importance of prioritising existing relationships and overcoming barriers because friendship is worth the effort
  • The challenges people face in making friends as they age
  • The variety of situations that change the way you make friends, whether it’s having a partner, raising children or moving to a new city
  • The belief that making friends happens organically and a general distrust of digital solutions

Benchmarking friendship. In order to describe someone as a friend, many respondents must be willing to spend time with them one-on-one (60%). Others feel that inviting them to an activity or event is sufficient (22%), while some say that they must be willing to ask that person for advice or help (11%).

What’s most important about the people you make friends with? By far the most common answer was “We’re like-minded” (39%), followed by “We like talking about the same things” (26%). However, 18% of people felt compelled to fill in something else. Common themes focused around finding the person interesting and having shared values. If doing things together was most important to someone, they were much more like to meet people at organisation events.

Friend groups. While some people have mostly one-to-one friendships (21%) and others have several groups of friends that don’t know each other (16%), most are a combination of the two (62%). People who have several groups of friends that don’t know each other were more likely to be male.

People with one-to-one friendships were happy doing things alone & didn’t seek others who “liked doing the same things”.

What do people hate doing alone? Hate is a strong word, but lots of people genuinely hate doing certain activities alone. Only 10% of people said that there are no activities they hate doing alone. The most common responses consistently among both men and women were festivals (18%), events (14%), and holiday travel (13%). However, preferences did vary by age. 65 to 84-year-olds feel twice as comfortable doing things alone as 45 to 64-year-old counterparts.

The only activity that people increasingly dislike doing alone as they age is eating.

Making friends on and offline.Overall, the most common ways of meeting new friends are through work (36%), private events (23%), and direct introductions (12%). While 23% of respondents make friends online, 19% had never thought about it. A handful of men did meet their most recent friend online or through an app. People more likely to make friends online were individuals that hate going to events alone, consider inviting someone to an event as their benchmark for friendship, or if they have several groups of friends that don’t know each other. Dating and social media apps were the most common ways to make friends online.

People in relationships were the least likely to make friends online.

Digital distrust. The most common concerns about making friends online were “don’t think it would work for me”, feeling shy or uncomfortable, and privacy. People were most likely to say it wouldn’t work for them if they found ‘likemindedness’ important. Females and older respondents were most likely to be concerned about privacy.

Methodology. If you’re interested in the background research, list of questions, or analysis, don’t hesitate to reach out.