The Independent, 9 November 2011

The thing is that if you’re reading this in the company of a close friend, you’re luckier than some. Research from the University of Cornell in the US has revealed that while we used to have an average of three close friends each 25 years ago, we now have only two. Maybe the third one was talking about us behind our backs and had a crush on our boyfriends. I never liked her anyway.

Actually, almost half of those surveyed only claimed to have one close friend. When asked to name the people with whom they’d discussed ‘important matters’ in the previous six months, 48% of people gave one name, 18% gave two names, and 29% listed more than two. A solitary 4% listed no names at all, which suggests that they were having a very bad day when the survey was taken. Either that, or Nick Clegg filled in his form more than once.

But is this a sign that we are all becoming isolated and friendless, in an age where social networking chit-chat is more prevalent than deep and meaningful conversations? It probably depends what you count as a close friend. I think if you can call someone in the middle of the night, they’re a friend. If they aren’t cross with you, even though it’s three am, they’re a close friend.

But close friends’ circumstances change, and that can make friendship more difficult to sustain. My three closest friends (take that, Cornell. I am way popular) have all moved or planned to move out of London in the past year. Before you write in, I do see that there is a recurrent theme here, which is that they could all be avoiding me, and I have been too rhino-skinned to notice.

But one lost her job here, so moved to Scotland for work. Another now teaches in two cities and moved to a town that was roughly half-way between them so he could occasionally get some sleep and see his wife. And a third is moving two hundred miles north, because she wants her own home, and London prices make that impossible.

So while it’s tempting to be sniffy about how the internet is costing us our real friends because we’ve swapped them for Facebook shadows, I probably now have my most intense friend-conversations in email. It isn’t the recent rise of social networking that has cost me the regular company of my friends, but the age-old issues of time and money.

Our social lives are actually enhanced by easy electronic communication. Texts and email mean that when we do see our absent friends, we haven’t lost touch with what’s happening in each other’s lives. Rick Blaine and Monsieur Renault had to shoot a Nazi for the beginning of their beautiful friendship. I just need to open my laptop.