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How friendships are changing?

An increasingly large number of millennials are willing to explore friendships with people different from them and hold off judgments for tolerance and acceptance.

By Swati Saxena
Published on :

Recently a friend and I were laughing over our endless loop of trying to meet. Eventually, we gave up and decided we will meet when we meet and finally our plan culminated when she messaged me on her way home and I was free and she dropped by. We decided not to plan again and let our meetings be on the spur of the moment.

Many will relate to the endless plans of meetings that never actually materialize. Long distances in metro cities, tough commutes and not so regular working hours mean that face to face meetings are becoming increasingly challenging for millennials. Moreover, globalization, economic downturns, job crunch necessitates movement. This means that young people are forever changing jobs and cities for greater mobility. As a result, our friends are scattered all over the country or the globe (creating further issues with time zones).

Thus as millennials get older many find their friend circle shrinking. Research has shown that people hit their peak numbers of friends when they are 25 after which the numbers start dwindling. According to a joint study from Aalto University and the University of Oxford, published in Royal Society Open Science, or the next 20 years, these social circles begin to steadily dwindle to a core group of people—and the decline is faster for men. Once women hit 39, they actually become more connected than their male counterparts, though these social circles stabilize and plateau for both men and women between 45 and 55.

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious one is mobility of course. People are increasingly and frequently changing cities and despite social media and various electronic means of communication, finding it harder to keep in touch. Also as friends move, get married or have babies they might find priorities and interests change. In fact, research from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University shows that a new romantic partner pushes out two close friends from friends circle. This is mainly because romantic partners absorb time that would have otherwise been invested in friendships.

Secondly, as millennials grow older they are less inclined to invest in developing and nurturing new friendships. There is a paucity of time plus many are wary of making friends at work, especially of the work environment is competitive or not conducive to healthy friendships. Moreover many young people find themselves with little time and patience and are thus reluctant to forge relationships with someone with widely divergent ideological views or even habits.

The rise of global right-wing worldwide with the vocalization of often previously unacceptable views on race, gender, religion and sexuality on social media and otherwise is leading to a Facebook purge of many ‘friends’. In fact, recent years have seen a rise in ‘unfriending’ people over their political views. The reaction to this has been mixed. While many critique this, citing intolerance and effectively trying to live in a bubble, others have defended this move arguing that there is no reason they should be subjected to bigoted views on their social media.

Many millennials, in fact, argue that the friendships they are looking for, as they grow older are supposed to be meaningful and productive. They are looking at friendships less as a way to pass time but more as a support structure or safe space. Thus there are fewer interactions with neighbours or people geographically close, and greater effort to connect with like-minded people even if it is via phone calls or social media.

Moreover, with the economic downturn and less money for going out, plus entertainment options at home like Netflix or food home delivery, more millennials are choosing to stay at home than go out and meet people. They are also exhausted and depressed. A survey by the American Psychiatry Association found that millennials are the most anxious generation. Women reported higher anxiety than men and people of colour scored 11 points higher on the anxiety scale than Caucasians.

Millennials are also too busy. Research reveals that in a cut throat economic and social environment millennials are turning into workaholics leaving little time for friends or vacations. Millennials are more likely to forfeit vacation days than other groups, even when given their juniority they earn less vacation time to begin with.

Yet all is not bad news. Millennials are leading several conversations around racism, homophobia, xenophobia and patriarchy. While there is little evidence to suggest that they may be less (or more) racist or sexist than previous generations, a large number of millennials are questioning and debating and this reflects in their friendships. An increasingly large number of millennials are willing to explore friendships with people different from them and hold off judgments for tolerance and acceptance. At the same time many are more willing to call out bigotry and sexism. If this trend continues then it may radically change how millennials socialize.