Adult friendships can be tricky. Between work, family and all the other stuff, it can be hard to keep up with all of our loved ones. Hell, we consider it a win if we can manage to check in with one or two of our closest pals on the regular. So imagine our surprise when we saw the so-called 7 Friend Theory trending on TikTok (we’re talking 13.6 million views on the hashtag #7friendtheory—and counting). The 7 Friend Theory posits that everyone should have seven friends that fit into specific categories (more on that below), which got us thinking: Do we really need to find someone to check each of those boxes? What if we prefer to keep our circle small and don’t even have seven people we’d consider close friends? We checked in with two licensed marriage and family therapists, Dennis Dearie and Jeff Yoo, for their professional opinion on the trend—plus some tips for nurturing fulfilling friendships.
TikTok Says You Only Need 7 Friends, So We Fact-Checked That with Therapists
Psst…don’t worry if you don’t have all seven
Meet the Experts
- Dennis Dearie, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California at the Healthy Life Recovery Center in San Diego, California. He received his master’s degree in counseling psychology from Trinity School of Graduate Studies.
- Jeff Yoo, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Moment of Clarity Mental Health Center in Orange County, California. He specializes in adults struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression, ADHD and stress from relationships and work."
TikTok’s 7 Friend Theory states that every person should have seven friends that each fulfill a different role in your life. According to the theory, you should have:
- A friend you’ve had since you were little.
- A friend that could make you laugh in any situation.
- A friend you can go on forever without talking to but nothing changes.
- A friend you can tell anything to.
- A friend that’s like a sister.
- A friend you can’t imagine not being friends with.
- A friend that knows about all your relationship problems, even though they don’t want to hear about it.
Though it’s not a scientific theory by any means (and there’s been no research to back it up or disprove it), both of the therapists we asked had good things to say about the 7 Friend Theory. Dearie explains, “On the positive side, the theory offers a simplified framework for comprehending the multifaceted roles that friends can play in our lives. It encourages individuals to value the unique qualities and contributions of their friends, serving as a poignant reminder in a world where superficial online connections often overshadow genuine human bonds.” He adds that it stresses the importance of diversity and depth within our social circles, showing that different friends can (and should) fulfill different social and emotional needs.
Yoo appreciates the trend for the emphasis it puts on the importance of having close friendships. “Friendships prevent isolation and loneliness, some research suggests that the percentage of those who have lasting relationships experience benefits such as less stress in their lives by having a support system, better brain activity, improved health with less pain episodes, as well as engaging in happy activities.” The 7 Friend Theory is a celebration of those friendships and what they bring to our lives. Dearie adds, “The theory conveys a positive message about the value of friendship and the unique qualities each friend brings, in alignment with the broader cultural emphasis on gratitude and positivity.”
As for why the trend has taken off on TikTok, Yoo hypothesizes that it’s gained so much traction because of how positive it feels. He tells us, “The world today is full of negativity and most of us are starving for something that gives us hope, social media has provided us with humor and joy through TikTok. Finding ways to cope with the uncertainty in today’s environment is a good thing. Building a positive and healthy support system is what the 7 Friend Theory provides, and allows others to learn what a good friend looks like.”
That’s not to say it should be taken as hard-and-fast rule for how to build and maintain your social circle. Dearie notes that even though it’s crucial to recognize how important friendships are, “It is imperative to recognize that friendship is profoundly intricate and nuanced, extending beyond the confines of any checklist or theory. While the 7 Friends Theory provides a structured lens through which to contemplate friendships, it should not be misconstrued as a rigid prescription dictating the number of friends one should have or the specific roles they must fulfill.” Friendships, he notes, are deeply personal and can differ depending on individual preferences, needs, and life circumstances. Additionally, one of your friends might successfully fulfill multiple roles from the list above (your friend from childhood might also be the friend you can tell absolutely anything).
He also adds that friendship is one of those quality over quantity things. Just because you don’t have seven separate people to fill those roles doesn’t mean your smaller friend circle isn’t fulfilling in the same way. The problem with taking something like the 7 Friend Theory as more than a fun way to celebrate camaraderie is that it can set unrealistic expectations for friendship, Dearie says. “Not everyone can seamlessly encompass all seven types of friends in their social circle, and comparisons to this idealized standard can potentially breed feelings of inadequacy.”
Remember that social media trends like these are far from scientific, and just because you might not see your friend group mirrored in the videos under the hashtag doesn’t make them any less meaningful and sustaining. Dearie tells us, “As a therapist, I firmly believe in celebrating the positive aspects of this trend, such as gratitude and appreciation for friends. However, users should exercise mindfulness regarding potential adverse effects, such as fostering unrealistic expectations or encouraging social comparison. Ultimately, the quality of friendships and the support they provide should remain the primary focus, eclipsing the conformity to a specific model of friendship.”