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The Real Key To Being Satisfied With Your Friend Group

The surprising finding of recent surveys.

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Monica Garwood
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Infamous crime boss and gangster Al Capone once said: “Be careful who you call your friends. I’d rather have four quarters than 100 pennies.”

That quote deeply resonates with me. As I approach my 50s, I find it applies to more than currency. My social media feed has hundreds of so-called friends, but the truth is I have only a small group of much-loved women whom I treasure — the ones who’ll talk me down when I text at 2 a.m. sharing my mind’s anxious and racing thoughts. Their unrelenting concern and support mean more to me than the sum total of every female acquaintance I’ve ever met.

There comes a point in life when tiny but tight friendships become the only ones you need. These are the women who live in your thoughts even though you’re separated by thousands of miles, and the ones you immediately reach out to when times get unbearable. (Hey 2020, I’m talking to you!) They’re the ones you share a sisterhood with that feels stronger than biology at times, and who will carry you through the joyful and catastrophic periods of your life.

“With age, adults actively seek relationships that are most rewarding and disband ties that are less so,” according to research from the National Institutes of Health. “Older adults change the configuration of their social networks to include only those relationships that are most rewarding.”

That’s why surveys have shown that we’re more satisfied with our social circles than are younger adults. Ours are more selective and less stressful.

Look at the friends you’ve made over time: the ones from your new-mom group; the ones you baked cupcakes with for the elementary school bake sale; the ones with whom you commiserated during the awkward tween years; and the ones you screamed and cried with about how hard raising teenagers turned out to be. They got you through all those maddening mothering seasons. But then your social circle grew smaller as nests began to empty, careers shifted, perhaps geography changed, and children grew into adults.

Unfortunately as we age, our tight-knit group dwindles in some way or another. We may go from five or six lifelong friends to two or three, and that’s perfectly OK. That number of precious, shiny quarters is all the value we could ever need or want.

“Research shows that older adults’ smaller networks didn’t undermine social satisfaction and well-being. In fact, older adults tend to report better well-being than younger adults,” says Wändi Bruine de Bruin, who studied age and social networks. “Loneliness has less to do with the number of friends you have and more to do with how you feel about [them].”  Your chosen few are the ones still holding the metaphorical roadmap of life with you, ready and willing to take the off-road exit should you say the word. Like a car, you can fit only so many passengers for a comfortable ride. True, loyal and lifelong BFFs are much the same. You need only a few faithful companions to help get you to your destination.

Perhaps Capone was right. The four precious, shiny quarters have all the value we could ever need or want. Those 100 pennies? Well, tarnished copper can’t hold a candle to my small, sparkling group of silver-haired friends.