About two and a half years ago, a year into the pandemic and halfway through my college years, my social circle shrank rapidly and considerably. In under two months, the number of people whom I saw regularly and genuinely trusted shrank from over 10 to just three. My initial response to this was to absolutely freak out, as anyone would when they experience a massive falling out with multiple friends at once. However, with hindsight, I’ve come to see that this implosion of my friend group was one of the best things that ever happened to me: it taught me a crucial lesson about focusing on quality over quantity in friendships.
From high school forward, we’re taught to worship the idea of the friend group. Popular media from Mean Girls to Friends tells us that in as many life stages as possible prior to marriage and kids, we should be entrenched in a squad—be it a girl group, a full-on clique, or a messy entanglement of adult situationships. I remember the phrase “floater” being used as an insult in my high school, which was something that made me so insecure that I became a mean girl in my own right purely so I could claim the safety of a friend group. The expectation of having a large, socially connected group of friends can breed an insecurity that many of us carry into our adult years.
In reality, focusing on quality friendships over the quantity of them can be one of the most rewarding ways to approach friendships in our lives. Doing so not only frees us of that insecurity but also allows us to get to know ourselves and prioritize our own needs in a way that large friend groups often impede. As someone who has now spent over two years intentionally investing in quality friendships over quantity, here’s why you should focus on going deeper in your friendships, rather than casting a wider net.
A small social circle gives you more time to invest in yourself
I won’t lie—The Great Social Circle Shrinking of 2021 absolutely did cause me to have a slight mental breakdown, as I grieved the loss of multiple relationships that I had hoped would follow me to my bachelorette party and beyond. However, the positive impact that having fewer friends who I actually trusted was almost instantaneous in terms of my own personal growth. As I focused on going deeper with the three friends who were still a part of my life, I also experienced profound changes in my priorities. After years of shutting down certain parts of myself for the sake of popularity, I re-centered. I took my first-ever solo trip, entered my first romantic relationship, and got an internship at my dream company, all things I had been wanting for years but had put on the back burner in favor of feeling socially comfortable.
No matter where you are with your friendships right now, your time is valuable. While the burning desire for a friend group can feel overwhelming, it’s also easy to sacrifice things that are important to us when we’re trying to connect to people who don’t share our values. When we invest more time in fewer friendships, we learn about the things in our lives that we’re excited to share with others, while also gaining time to invest in ourselves.
Having fewer friends allows you to be more attentive to the people you love
As the introverted daughter of a therapist, having deep (like deep deep) conversations with friends is something that fills my cup more than a night out ever could. Was this something I knew about myself before focusing on quality over quantity in my friendships? Absolutely not. Is it something that I now carry into every new connection that I make? 100%. Prioritizing quality friendships gave me more time to be the kind of friend that I simply didn’t have the social battery to be when I had a large friend group.
The ability to be there for someone you care about deeply is a gift and a huge part of building mutual trust. When you’re spread thin across a large friend group, you have less time and energy to give to being there for your friends when they need to have those deep conversations. Of course, having fun with your friends is still super important, but it’s often those moments of crisis where friendship matters the most; this is why having a few friendships to focus on can be so worthwhile.
Conflict is easier to approach on a one-on-one basis
Ever been in a real-time argument that involves multiple friends? I have, and it’s nothing like they make it seem on television. In real life, it’s excessively complicated, deeply gut-wrenching, and confusing. At the same time, though, conflict is a super important part of maintaining long-term friendships. On The Everygirl Podcast, friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson explains that arguments that are approached and resolved in a mature way will have positive impacts on our friendships over time. “At some point, we’re gonna have competing interests,” she says. “We need to learn the skills to resolve it, to have those conversations with as minimal damage as possible. On the other side of healthy conflict, people are even closer than before.”
Personally, when I bring up something that’s bugging me with a friend, I would prefer for it to feel more like a productive, serious conversation than a scene in a reality television show (or a political debate, or an emotionally charged snippet of Gossip Girl). Having fewer friends who feel just as connected to your friendship as you do means that conflict is easier to approach without involving a third or fourth party, making for friendships that can grow and change as you do.
Higher-quality friendships offer a return on your investment in terms of trust and longevity
Platonic intimacy, while something that we all crave, is also something that takes a lot of time. According to Bayard Jackson, it takes 34 hours to take someone from an acquaintance to a friend. That’s 34 hours that we’re all trying to fit into our busy lives between work, taking care of ourselves, focusing on our families, and more, which is why we ought to give ourselves some grace if we feel like we’re lacking in terms of fulfilling friendships. Quality friendships are what make these hours of building connection worth it; after all, wouldn’t we all rather put in those 34 hours to someone who’s going to be there for us for years to come?
Investing in high-quality friendships means giving time back to ourselves and our personal goals, connecting with our friends on a deeper level, and building connections that will follow us into the next stage of our lives.
As I’ve consciously prioritized quality over quantity in my friendships, I’ve experienced some of the most beautiful connections of my lifetime. Those friends that I poured my love into over two years ago? Two of them just booked flights to come to see me at the drop of a hat, now that we’re doing long-distance friendship. It’s that kind of bond that I want to attract into my life, and I know that the way to do that is to be intentional, patient, and thoughtful with my friendships.
Of course, in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, finding community is absolutely crucial to our well-being. Wherever we can find a web of people who share similar interests and want to have fun in the same way that we do, we should take advantage of that community—whether it’s a club, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, or otherwise. We need more opportunities to build community as adults, and creating those opportunities requires social restructuring in a way that many of us don’t have direct control over. It means investment in third spaces and a societal shift of focus away from both the workplace and the home—community is worth fighting for, but bluntly, it’s a fight. Too many of us put the comfort of a friend group ahead of the belief that we deserve to have both: a community and deep friendships, separate from each other and at the same time.
When it comes to the people that we truly consider our friends, going deep instead of wide will have a positive boomerang effect. Investing in high-quality friendships means giving time back to ourselves and our personal goals, connecting with our friends on a deeper level, and building connections that will follow us into the next stage of our lives. Personally, I’m grateful that my social circle shrank so dramatically right at the moment when I thought I needed it to be bigger than ever. If it hadn’t, I would be stuck worshipping Friends for the rest of adulthood, instead of loving the true friends that I already had.