In news designed to make a small, specific segment of the population feel very smug, researchers have discovered that 23-year-olds are more popular than any other age group. At 23, humans will have an average of 80 friends – 30% more than the average across other ages, being 64. Your popularity has peaked because you’re still in touch with your old school friends, but you’ve been in the workplace long enough to have forged strong bonds with your colleagues, or at least have gone drinking outside of the office and passed out on their sofas a few times.
I turned 23 this month, and although anything could happen in the next 23 years, I wholeheartedly agree with the researchers. I’ve never counted my friends – I don’t trust the number I have on Facebook because some of them will be fake, but I can confirm that as I approach 24, my friendships are of the highest quality.
This isn’t because I’ve become wiser, hotter or otherwise more attractive to new acquaintances, but because I’ve recognised my limitations. At 20, my friendships were forged over spilled sticky drinks and speakers playing sub-par house music. At 23, you’re just about self-aware enough to realise that if a friendship is best nurtured in an environment where you’re both blind drunk and unable to hear each other, the Elizabeth Duke fragmented heart BFF necklace you just bought was a total waste of £14.99.
Your late teens are a terrible time to make friends. They’re a terrible time to do anything. You’re still working out who you are and what you’re into, and usually the only way to discover anything interesting is to make a series of temporarily disastrous mistakes. You lack any kind of perspective, you’re useless to workplaces everywhere, because your blind enthusiasm is terrifying and no one will show you how to send a fax or explain to you why fax machine use has persisted over a decade into this millennium.
As a result, you’re broke and anxious, and your living arrangements probably leave much to be desired. I can’t be the only one who has unthinkingly invited friends to come over for dinner, only to remember as they arrive that the flat has no communal eating space, and they would have to consume their meals while sitting on my bed, like the grandpas and grandmas of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. That’s a joke by the way.
I believed my teens were supposed to be my best years, and wasted a lot of energy panicking and running around to ensure that even though I was having a miserable time, it looked fun in the photos. I wish I’d known that ageing would bring me nothing but joy and perspective, it seemed unthinkable that I would ever land a job I really loved, or a relationship that made me truly happy. Let alone live in a flat that didn’t frighten me, or get to a point financially where I could use my debit card without holding my breath and making the sign of the cross. It does get better. Unfortunately, there’s no way you can speed up the worst parts of your teens, but working through it is what makes you strong, secure and happy at the end of the decade.
Although I’m not sure that I’m more popular than ever before, at 23 I’m confident that I’m a good friend. I might not be more interesting than before, but I’m more interested. I know listening to other people and learning about the world around me has more value than trying to be the loudest, most outrageous girl in the room. I value kindness over coolness, and I’d rather go out on a limb to help someone than hold back and hope I don’t seem too keen. Most importantly, I’ve been an adult for long enough to know that friends are flawed, and they come and go. It’s better to have five emotionally sound pals than 50 idiots in your phone book. Ironically, this sense of peace and security sends new friends flocking. Everyone wants to be your mate when you stop pursuing fair-weather pals. It isn’t until you’re 23 that you realise your mum was right all along. You’ll never be popular until you genuinely stop caring about being popular.