Robyn Vinter 3rd October 2018
Rachel is 28, a full-time mum to two girls. She’s sociable, witty and down-to-earth — exactly the qualities that people look for in close friends. So how has she ended up not even having one?
It’s mainly due to the responsibility of having two young children, she says, combined with living in a rural area.
“And the fact that all of our money goes on the kids and I don’t technically earn any, so I don’t feel like I can go out spending it all!
“Occasionally when I see all my old mates out together on Facebook, I feel a bit out of the loop with the in-jokes and stuff.
“But I don’t hold it against them or anything, 99.9% of the time I wouldn’t be able to join in with their plans anyway,” she adds.
Rachel is lucky in that it’s partly her choice. She has a close family, plenty to keep her hands full and doesn’t feel lonely — in fact, she simply “cannot be fucked” to make new friends.
But not everyone who doesn’t have close friends feels like this, though.
One man tells me his wife, who is 40, has always struggled to make friends because of bullying when she was a child.
she trusts no one and therefore can’t break down the barriers to become close
“She’s had trouble with friends, or lack of them, all her life. Not through lack of trying either! As a kid she was invited horse riding, waited for over two hours for the girl and she never turned up. At school next day she asked what happened and girl said: ‘What? I don’t even have a pony!’
“Other girls tied nettles round her legs and another beat her up.
“So, she says she trusts no one and therefore can’t break down the barriers to become close.”
This isn’t unusual though — the latest figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics, which cover 2014 to 2015, show that only 35% of people think “most people can be trusted”.
Some days loneliness ‘weighs heavily’
For those who have always struggled to make friends, it’s easy to come across as strange, aloof or desperate.
Phil* 45 says: “It’s been this way since childhood due to a combination of elements — I was a precocious child who spoke BBC English in a Northern city and register variably on the autistic spectrum. There are days when I run out of spoons very quickly and I would rather not exist than deal with other humans — making the loneliness easy — and other days when it weighs heavily.
“I’ve never formed anything close to what I’d consider a close friendship. I share interests and hang out, but I wouldn’t even call any of my relationships close.”
Phil says mental health problems have made him more asocial, which he thinks probably comes across as pretentious.
“I give less of a damn now. Social media provides better opportunities for interaction with people I actually like.”
Rachel agrees that social media can be a huge help. When she first moved to her local area she didn’t know anyone and had a five-week-old baby. She credits Twitter for preventing her from getting post-natal depression.
I’ve never formed anything close to what I’d consider a close friendship
The figures also show that 63% of people have used the internet for social networking in the last year — a figure that’s rising year on year. Meanwhile, the number of people who say they meet socially with friends or colleagues has dropped from 71% in 2002, to 61%.
A total of 97% of people say they have a close friend and 4% of people said they often or always feel lonely.
Many people don’t mind or even realise that they lack close friends when they’re able to rely on their spouse for intimacy. But when relationship problems start to get in the way of this, it can be hard to find people to talk to.
Daniel*, 40, faced this problem after he and his wife had a child. “I’ve always been relatively solitary — I left home after my parents had a very acrimonious split when I was 17,” he says.
“I moved in with my girlfriend at that age but never really had very many friends. I left for university and was sociable but totally didn’t make ‘solid friends’. I met a guy at uni and we shared a house together, but again, whilst we were ‘good mates’, once I stopped living with him I simply moved on.
I have lots of ‘faux friends’ on Facebook — but honestly would never reach out them
“Honestly I never really thought about friends/friendship — I have a job that is full on. I tend to think my job takes up a lot of my life. What’s left is my wife and son now.
“Last year there were tensions in our relationship because we had a son — it was the toughest thing we ever did together. Suddenly we couldn’t really ‘talk’ about things because we were both involved in it. I actually ended up talking it through with a counsellor — as I had become totally disconnected from our relationship.
“I think with increasingly busy lives and work, friendships are hard to keep going. I have lots of ‘faux friends’ on Facebook — but honestly would never reach out them over it — or post a needy ‘wanna talk’ status update,” Daniel adds.
Another woman I speak to, Shreya*, says lack of time has also resulted in her having no close friends, though “it hurts to admit it”.
However, it seems that the number of people saying they don’t have a close friend is decreasing — dropping from 5% in 2011/12, to 3% in 2014/15.
Meanwhile, the number of people volunteering has gone up two percentage points to 19% over the same period. While it’s not clear whether these are linked, it’s possible that for some volunteering in their community has helped bring them closer to others.
*Names have been changed.
This article was originally published on 12 October 2017.
Robyn Vinter 3rd October 2018