Loneliness: Coping with the gap where friends used to be

We’re lucky. There are people we can and will see. But a lack of friends is a growing problem, in Britain and America alike. A recent study, conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, suggests that the proportion of people who can name six close friends has dropped from 55% to 27% since the 1990s, while people who have no close friends at all had risen from 3% to 12%. One in five single men say they do not have any close friends, while only 59% of Americans have what they would describe as a best friend.

Some of this is undoubtedly the effects of the pandemic, which caused a global increase in loneliness because people were confined to their homes, no longer able to gather in offices, pubs, sportsgrounds or nightclubs. But long before lockdown, it seems that people were struggling with friendship, especially the young. A YouGov study carried out in 2019 suggested that 9 in 10 people between the age of 18-24 suffered from loneliness to some degree, and nearly half had difficulty making friends.

The old solutions – join a group, volunteer – have not been viable in the past year, which makes it unsurprising that so many people have turned to dating apps to track down new pals. That’s all very well, but simply meeting new people doesn’t quite solve the problem of loneliness.