If your first thought is, “Wow, this girl only hates squads because she isn’t in one,” you are correct! I have never been in a squad, at least not one that didn’t fizzle out or disperse as half my friends got older and moved across the country. I have a handful of really close friendships that I wouldn’t trade for the glitziest group pic, but every time I stumble upon someone else’s Insta gallery of their six-person tropical vacation complete with colorful drinks, cocktail umbrellas, and sunset selfies, I get jealous. In those moments I immediately want a Taylor Swift-sized girl gang, even though I’ve always gravitated to one-on-one friend time so much more. But is my FOMO legit, or are squads a little bit bullshit?
I asked Dr. Cynthia Pickett, Associate Professor of Psychology at UC Davis if it’s normal to feel this pressure to be in a squad, along with the question I feared most: is everyone in a squad but me? Here’s what I learned.
1. The internet makes squads look more common than they are. And that’s bad.
We all know that social media doesn’t always depict reality. “People want to appear to others as being popular and well-liked, so it is not surprising that there is a tendency to selectively post photos with large groups of friends or at social events,” says Dr. Pickett. “This can lead social media users to believe that they are in the minority in terms of having just a small circle of friends, when in fact they are pretty much like everyone else.”
Naturally, you’re prone to thinking that what you see on Instagram or Facebook represents real life, even when you know people are only posting their personal highlight reels. That leads to the inevitable crappy feeling of stacking yourself up against people who seem like they have way more friends than you.
“We know from the research on social comparison that people spontaneously and automatically compare themselves to others and that this does affect self-evaluation,” says Pickett. “So, yes, people with only a few close friends could start to feel bad about themselves if exposed to these images.”
2. It’s pretty hard to truly have six or seven equally-best friends.
So the popularity of squads is exaggerated on social media – but how easy are they to have IRL? “Any kind of social relationship requires some investment of time,” says Dr. Pickett. “The problem is that when one has lots of friends, one may not be able to invest as much time as the friend would like. For example, always being too busy to call or go to dinner. It is possible, but likely very difficult to have six or seven best friends.”
Everyone knows that having a fun group to drink with and having a best friend you can talk about anything to are very different things. A squad can be great to party with, but referring to every single person as a #BFFforlife is probably a little inaccurate (unless you really do have time to individually hang with every person, in which case, TELL ME YOUR SECRETS).
3. Focusing on having lots of friends can actually make you lose some.
On top of it being tough to truly be ride-or-die best friends with every single person in your squad, prioritizing quantity over quality in friendships can, well, make you lose some great people.
“According to the Equity Theory of Relationships, when one person feels that they are investing more in a relationship than the other person, this will lead to dissatisfaction,” says Pickett. “So, by spreading oneself thin, one risks losing friends.”
Makes sense! No one wants to feel like the friend you only hang out with when your crew isn’t available, or that they’re your least favorite person in the squad.
4. Balancing too many friendships might not be great for your health.
Based on a 2009 study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, having too many friends can result in stress “because the demands on the adolescent to fulfill the role of friendship are greater than his or her ability to enact the role.” This feeling of obligation to so many people can be overwhelming and even lead to depressive symptoms.
In short, after a certain point: having too many people who demand your time as friends actually outweighs all the positives of having a friend.
5. No squad is truly equal – there is a hierarchy that will probably cause drama.
Because it’s unlikely that everyone in a squad is equally your close friend, if there’s ever conflict between a more-liked BFF and another friend, you’ll probably have your own biases and stick up for your closer bud, and BOOM! Drama.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, female friendships in particular are more prone to infighting because they’re more likely to form a few closer friendships with select girls in the group. This subjects the other girls to feelings of rejection, leading to more status-aggression as a result (think Gretchen Weiner’s “Let’s Kill Caesar!” monologue in Mean Girls).
6. As you get older, you’ll probably prefer close friendships over squads.
Think about it: how many 40-year-olds do you see posting bathroom group selfie pics instead of having one friend for the past twenty years that they still call every day?
“[Dr.] Laura Carstensen has a theory called Socioemotional Selectivity Theory which argues that as people age, they invest more time in rewarding and meaningful activities,” says Pickett. “Thus, as they get older, people start to prune their social networks and focus on those individuals and relationships that are more emotionally satisfying.”
The theory explains that, when you’re younger, future-oriented goals (like, say, becoming increasingly more popular and successful) are what mostly drive you. The older you get, the more focused you are on the time you have left and more presently-fulfilling interactions, like being able to talk for hours with a friend who you can truly be yourself around. And when you know that having one or two great friends is what’ll make you happy down the line, why waste any time worrying about being in squad?