What makes a brilliant friend? Inside the science of best mates

Animal friendship
Anna Brech
by Anna Brech
13 April 2023

As we get older, our friendship circles narrow – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A 2020 study found that quality over quantity is the way forward with friends, with a smaller network of close pals likely to spark greater happiness than larger groups. 

So, what makes a friend for life? We delve into the science and as well as picking out ways to stoke your closest friendships with experiences. You can even refer friends to Virgin Red and earn a Virgin Points bonus when they make their first earn. Result.

Sharing new experiences 

A surefire way to cement the magic ingredient of friendship is to share experiences together. One 2019 study found “a sense of learning about oneself through shared experiences” was key to harnessing friendships in travel environments

Trying something new – whether that’s a skydive, a cooking session or a driving a supercar – also becomes more intense when we share the experience with someone else. We immediately feel closer and more connected, with a friendship that’s rooted in the same stories.

Virgin Red has a whole host of experiences to help you do exactly that, whether you fancy go karting for two, a tandem bungee jump (both 17,500 points via Virgin Experience Days’ Scarlet Collection) or an exotic getaway to the Caribbean from 20,000+ Virgin Points per person with Virgin Atlantic. 


The “beautiful mess effect”

One really important element of a friendship not to overlook is the ability to be yourself with zero filter. We like people who share stories with us but in order to be successful this openness has to come from both sides. 

The Atlantic points to the so-called “beautiful mess effect” that shows that when we uncover our vulnerabilities, it can be attractive and alluring to others. Not only do we see ourselves in others’ “weaknesses”, this type of rawness paves the way to a deeper sense of intimacy. 

Time spent together

Perhaps the most vital part of making and sustaining a friendship is to put in the time. It takes on average 167 hours to make close friends with someone and this effect can’t be reached over a few FaceTimes or Instagram likes – you have to see each other in person. 

Despite the well-known benefits of friendships, however, we don’t always put aside the time needed to nourish them: most people spend more time per day watching TV than socialising.

So the mark of a brilliant friend is someone who will budget his or her time to include you; and again, the quality of the time you spend together counts. An unplugged walk surrounded by nature can be far more bonding than a quick coffee, or why not book a Virgin Red traditional afternoon tea for two for 6,250 Virgin Points).


4 ways to share friend dates with Virgin Red

As reported by The New York Times, probably the best way to nail down the quality time that is so important to close friendships is by scheduling in “friend dates”.

Here are just a few friend date ideas you can do with Virgin Red: 

An alpine coaster for two

Fly through the UK's only alpine coaster and experience tight-banked turns, steep climbs and sharp descents as you rocket through the tree-top wonderland. Unleash your inner free spirit(s) with an Amber Collection voucher for 8,750 points.

A comedy night out

Get set for a barrel of laughs with a comedy performance for two at a venue near you for just 4,000 points. After all, you can’t beat live stand-up for a bonding night out. 

Paintballing day for four

Collect your closest pals for a day out paintballing and run round blasting one another in paint – fun, surprisingly therapeutic, and only 7,750 points.

Quad biking for two

Experience a riotous off-road ride with a day of quad biking. Grab your mate to speed through mud for just 21,500 points via a Virgin Experience Days’ Azure Collection voucher.

Find out more about Virgin Red and unlock brilliant rewards for you, your friends, and family.