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Why So Many Middle School Friendships Don’t Last

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

We spent hours on the phone, giggled about crushes, experimented with makeup and sat at the same cafeteria table every day. I met my two middle school best friends early on in 7th grade and for the two years that followed, had a heck of a lot of fun with them as we journeyed down the bumpy road of adolescence together.

And then the fun came to a screeching halt.

Sometime around the start of high school, I had a falling out with one of my besties, while the other one and I just drifted apart. The friendships dissolved relatively quickly, my self-esteem dissipating along with them. In the end, things turned out OK — I found new friends and life went on, but to be honest, it’s been a mystery to me as to why both of my old, dear friends fell away.

Science may have the answer.

According to a recent study, my experience was far from unique. The study, by researchers at Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, followed more than 400 adolescents from 7th grade to 12th. Researchers looked at some 570 friendships formed between the kids and arrived at stunning results: Fewer than 10 percent of friendships that started in seventh grade were still intact by the spring semester of the students’ senior year.

The friendships that were most doomed to failure were those between opposite sex kids and those in which one friend was more physically aggressive than the other. The next most vulnerable friendships were those between kids with varying academic performance and those between kids who had unequal levels of popularity.

Reseachers’ overall conclusion? That differences between friends, in general, were bad for their friendships.

“Dissimilarity causes conflict, it interferes with cooperative activities and shared pleasures, and it creates circumstances where one friend bears more costs, such as the friend who is less aggressive; or gets more benefits, such as the friend who has lower social status than the other,” Brett Laursen, a professor at FAU’s Department of Psychology, said in a statement announcing the study. “Dissimilarity disrupts relationship bonds.”

When I think about it, I realize there were plenty of differences between my old friends and me. As we grew older, those differences — academic, social, etc. — became more glaring. Maybe had I known exactly how common such friendship implosions were in the teen years, I might have felt less heart-broken about the whole thing back then.

At the very least, I’ll know what to do when my sons get older and experience friend traumas of their own. I’ll give them hugs, kiss their foreheads, dry their tears and calmly explain, “It’s not your fault. It’s just science.”

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