New research determines how long it takes to make a friend: Implications for mentors and programs

Posted by Rick Hellman,

It takes more than 200 hours before someone can be considered a close friend, according to a new study that explores how long it typically takes to move through the deepening stages of friendship.

That means time spent hanging out, joking around, playing video games, and the like, says Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. Hours spent working together just don’t count as much.

“We have to put that time in. You can’t snap your fingers and make a friend. Maintaining close relationships is the most important work we do in our lives—most people on their deathbeds agree,” Hall says.

As reported in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers developed an online tool where, based on answers to a few questions, they can guess your friendship closeness.

Hall extrapolated his latest work from previous studies that established that our brain can only handle about 150 friendships, and that, “the amount of time and the type of activity shared with a partner can be thought of as strategic investments toward satiating long-term belongingness needs.”

In the first part of his study, Hall analyzed 355 responses to an online survey from adults who said they had moved in the last six months and were looking for new friends in their new homes.

Hall asked them to think of someone they had met since moving, and how their relationship had proceeded, drawing associations between friendship closeness, hours spent together, and types of activities.

He then asked participants to rate their resulting relationships in one of four deepening stages: acquaintance, casual friend, friend, and close friend. Using that information, Hall estimated the number of hours it took people to begin to transition from one level of friendship to another.

Hall’s second study reinforced the conclusions of his first. For the second study, he surveyed 112 University of Kansas freshmen who had recently moved to Lawrence. He asked them about two people they had met since starting school two weeks before. Then he followed up with the respondents four and seven weeks later to see how that relationship had progressed.

Combining the results of both studies, he estimated it takes between 40 and 60 hours to form a casual friendship, 80-100 hours to transition to being a friend, and more than 200 hours together to become good friends.

When young people fall for each other, they fall hard, Hall says.

“When people transition between stages, they’ll double or triple the amount of time they spend with that other person in three weeks’ time,” he explains. “I found freshmen who spent one-third of all waking hours in a month with one good friend.”

Of course, it’s not simply a matter of wanting to be friends with someone. The other person has want it, too. And younger people would be wise to make that investment of time. Previous studies have associated early friendships with happiness later in life.

“You can’t make people spend time with you, but you can invite them,” Hall says. “Make it a priority to spend time with potential friends.

Bottom Line for Mentors and Mentoring Programs

There are three different areas to which the conclusions of this study could be applied within a mentoring context: for the mentee, the mentor, and for the program. Before covering these areas, however, it should be acknowledged that the mentoring relationship is different than a friendship, and so has different expectations and dynamics. This is not a like-for-like comparison, but there are translatable lessons here for mentees, mentors, and programs.

For mentees, this information can be helpful in preparing them for potentially challenging transitions, such as transitioning into high school or college, where their usual friendship network may not be as readily available. Developing friendships is not something that always happens quickly or even easily. Mentors can help mentees practice their friendship-building skills, whether that is helping mentees find ways to assert themselves in group settings or being mindful of including others in activities.

For mentors, this is yet another piece of information that underscores that relationships of any variety take time to build. Mentors and mentees may be able to hit it off immediately, but not all of them do or are able to. That does not mean that the mentoring relationships that aren’t immediate connections are less valuable than those that are. Mentees (and mentors) may each be facing a range of challenges that complicate the process, but a quality relationship is still possible to establish.

For programs where establishing a mentoring relationship is the goal, this research is a reminder that mentor and mentee relationships develop over time and that there are concrete ways that programs can help to facilitate that if it is needed. As the article says, collaborative tasks and shared experiences are a key aspect of time spent together. Offering group outings, recommended activity lists for new mentors, or organizing mentor and mentee volunteering opportunities are just a few possible examples.


To access the original research, click here.