Do Your Friends Really Like You?

It seems like the plot twist in a dystopian teen novel: You wake up one morning only to find out half your friends actually … aren’t. And though it may be stranger than fiction, this one is true, at least according to a new report from scientific journal, PLOS ONE. For the study, researchers delve into the common assumption that when you call someone a “friend,” he or she calls you that same thing right back.

So, before you go captioning photos of your crew with #squadgoals, here’s what the super smart scientists say about perceived friendships: “While analyzing self-reported relationship surveys from several experiments, we find that the vast majority of friendships are expected to be reciprocal, while in reality, only about half of them are indeed reciprocal.”

Uh, wait. Fifty percent of our friends don’t think we’re their friends, too?

girlsRefinery29 calls the revelation “depressing,” and on the surface, it is, except the researchers propose a plausible explanation: “These findings suggest a profound inability of people to perceive friendship reciprocity, perhaps because the possibility of non-reciprocal friendship challenges one’s self-image.”

I’d go one step more to suggest that non-reciprocity when it comes to friendships doesn’t just challenge our self-image, it’s also perpetuated by those activities we do to shape (OK, maybe manipulate) our self-image. As social media proves, who others think we are is mostly a function of what we’re willing to share. I liken the concept to an art gallery: In the show that is our lives, we are the master curators deciding which portraits get to hang on the walls for all to see. It’s no wonder half our friendships aren’t reciprocated or genuine in a world where inauthenticity rules.

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Does this mean we’re truly as friendless as science would suggest? Nah. It just means that we need to work a little bit harder to make sure our friendships are really … well, real. Now enjoy this picture of three adorable puppies and maybe phone a friend or two today.

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[MELISSA MARNI is a Southern California-based writer and the founder of little word studio. You can follow her musings on Instagram here.]