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An Ode to Having Just One Good Friend: Why Being Popular Sucks

New research claims having a BFF as a teen, rather than lots of acquaintances, makes you happier later in life

We’ve written before about how friendship is more about quality than quantity: Socialites who are constantly out and about with different friends have demonstrably weaker friendships (even within their inner circle of friends) than those who stick to their core friend group.

That being the case, it wasn’t so surprising when a 10-year study, published earlier this week in the journal Child Development, revealed that teens who had just one close friend through adolescence generally ended up better off than those who had a ton of friends in school. These people reported higher levels of self-worth and lower levels of social anxiety and depression later in life than those who were super-popular as teens.

Suck it, Chad!

There’s prior research to support this new study, too: A 2009 study claimed that having one best friend, as opposed to many peers, promoted stronger psychological health and a better stress response (that is, the ability to approach a stressful situation in a calculated way, rather than sobbing helplessly under a desk). Another study from 2006 found that having a single close friend inspired academic motivation during adolescence.

But why is this the case? The newer study offers a couple interesting thoughts on the matter:

  1. Forming close friendships early on develops our self-worth, since knowing that there’s someone out there who actually enjoys spending time with us is reassuring. It also provides us with the confidence necessary to build trusting relationships — like romantic partnerships — later in life.
  2. Building a close friendship early on also teaches us how to build strong extrafamilial relationships — for instance, a friend who you’d feel comfortable taking care of your child during a family emergency — later in life, which can be vital if your family isn’t always around.

It should be noted that these findings aren’t set in stone: It’s tough to tell whether close friends lead to less depression down the road, or if less-depressed teens are simply better at making close friends (it’s certainly possible for depression and anxiety to inhibit teens from forming close relationships) or if it’s a little of both.

Either way, I’d like to take a moment to thank my teenage best friend for contributing to my own healthy and happy adulthood. Who knew bonding over smashing a pumpkin down the school toilet could have such a big payoff?