Almost five million Britons don't have a close friend, a new large-scale study has found.
Despite social media making it easier than ever to connect with people, a survey of more than 5,000 Britons by Relate has discovered that one in 10 people - the equivalent of 4.7 million Brits - don't have anyone in their lives that they would consider to be a "close friend".
The report, entitled The Way We Are Now, also found that people with multiple close friendships were also more likely to rate the quality of those relationships as "good" or "very good", while only a quarter of those with one close friend described their friendship with them as "very good."
However, the study also found that 7% of people with 10 or more friends admitted that they "never or rarely" feel close to others.
The study findings challenged the notion that women are more likely to have more close friends than men, with one in 20 male participants reporting having 15 or more close friends, compared to just one in 50 women.
A summary of the relationship charity's wide-ranging study findings:
Women's relationships with their friends appear to get better with age, according to the findings. While one in four 16-24-year-olds described their relationships with their friends as "very good", this figure rose to three in five for women aged 65 and over. Men’s views about the quality of their friendships remained much the same across their age groups.
The study found that people who lived with their partners were more likely to have less contact with their friends and warned of the importance of maintaining friendships.
"Friendships shouldn’t be seen as second best to couple relationships – they form part of a wider network of relationships that all contribute to how we feel about ourselves," Relate counsellor Christine Northam explained. "Friendships often take a back seat when people enter into couple relationships, but this can be a mistake, as friendships can actually help to strengthen couple relationships."
How many close friends do you have? Have you experienced loneliness through a lack of close friendships? Share your experiences, anonymously if you prefer, at firstname.lastname@example.org