Science, Now + Beyond

Ever wondered how long it takes to make a friend? Science answers

As with accomplishing anything, you just have to put in the time.

Stepping into adulthood teaches you how hard it is to actually make a friend. Personally, I haven’t made a new friend since 2014. Acquaintances? Plenty! A close friend? Not so much.

Let’s face it. The older we get, the harder it gets to meet new people. In a way, making friends is similar to dating. You don’t know where to go to meet “the good ones” and when you do meet a prospect, you’d much prefer to jump straight to the sweatpants stage than put in the time it takes to get to know each other.

Time, though, is exactly what you need to commit. 

Put in the hours

A recent study by University of Kansas professor Jeffrey Hall found that, on average, you need to spend at least 50 hours with someone before becoming casual friends. Add in 40 more hours and then you’re real friends. Then, sum it up to over 200 hours and you’ll have a friendship you can count on. 

Hall came to these results after studying two different sets of people. The first group was asked to complete an online survey. This group consisted of 355 adults who recently moved to a new city in the past six months, thereby were actively seeking friendships. Hall kept track of their progress by factoring in where they met their “friends”, how much time was spent together and in what setting.

The second group was freshmen at his university. 112 new students who were also entering a new environment. Hall’s questions were similar and asked the students about any two people they had befriended in the past two weeks. He then followed up on the progress seven weeks later.

The data the professor collected led him to the aforementioned results. He and a colleague even posted an Interactive Friendship Tool online for the public to use to determine the course of their new friendships. I recently met a potential friend and I’m pleased to see that, according to this study, we’re casual friends.

In reality, I’d stick to calling us acquaintances but maybe I’m cynical.

Quality matters

The kind of time you spend together, though, matters more in the end.

Not all time is equal as there are “relationships of choice” and “closed-system relationships”. The former is of your choosing, as implied, and the latter falls in the domain of those you see by default such as at work, at the gym, or at school.

“There are many obligatory relationships we have at work and school or even in our neighborhood or apartment building that require us to engage — at least at a minimal level — in a courteous manner with people who we wouldn’t necessarily choose to be friends with,” Hall said in an interview with The Cut.

Essentially, time spent in leisure matters more when it comes to building friendship rather than time spent working together. 

Why do we need friends anyway?

We are social animals. By this, I don’t mean that each and every one of us enjoys being surrounded by people all hours of the day. I mean that we are a species that can’t handle being lonely. 

In fact, having friends has proven to lengthen life expectancy and reduce the risk of heart disease. You don’t need to look beyond realizing how you feel after hanging out with people you like. At times, the bond of friendship has also shown to outweigh familial relations as well. This ties back into how time is spent, as friends are often seen in leisure while family is often associated more with monotonous or even stressful situations.

However, approaching new people is no easy task. This is especially true when sticking with the old adage “go up and say hi” as it invites in awkwardness. This is an even more harrowing experience for those who have difficulty understanding social cues.

UCLA psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson created a program, Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS), in response to such issues. PEERS goes beyond first interactions and takes its communication skills into the realm of conflict and bullying within the format of a social skills training intervention that spans over a few months.

All this being said, even if you get the science down to a pat, none of it will matter unless both parties enjoy each other’s company and wish to make a friend. In short, whichever way you see it, making a new friend during your adult years is about as hard, if not harder, than dating!