The 'friendship horseshoe rule' and how it will change the way you socialise.

I hadn't been living in Byron Bay long when my young daughter got an invite to a daycare friend's fifth birthday party

“Great!” I thought optimistically. “An opportunity to make some new friends! I’ll be right in with all the Byron mums by next week! Our kids will play together all the time!”

But when I got to the party, all the mums – who looked very much acquainted with each other – were sitting in a large circle on the grass, their backs turned to me as I walked in. 

I stood a few metres away awkwardly for a few minutes, weighing up whether I could casually join in without causing a scene or attracting weird looks, then decided that it absolutely was not going to happen. So I joined in a smaller, less intimidating group with a nice little gap just waiting for me to slot in. 

A circle is closed off, and leaves no room for other people to join. A horseshoe has a small gap, but is so much more welcoming to others.

Watch: Let's talk about friendships. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

This is the crux of the ‘friendship horseshoe rule’, an alternative to the ‘friendship circle’, long held up as the pinnacle of friendship. 


And the horseshoe theory will change the way you socialise and look at mingling from now on. 

Many women consider a close circle of friends an invaluable thing, while having different circles of friends means more chances to spend quality time, more advice and more fun outings. But if we’re being honest, how many times have we limited ourselves to meeting new people or forging new friendships by not looking outside of these circles? 

The idea of the friendship horseshoe is to combat another thing that’s prevalent today: loneliness. Being open-minded about extending an invitation to someone we usually wouldn’t could mean the world to someone struggling with loneliness or isolation, or merely wanting to feel included. 

Untamed author, life guru, and all-round wise one Glennon Doyle was onto this theory years ago. She wrote, “Horseshoes are better than circles. Leave space. Always leave space. Horseshoes of friends > Circles of friends. Life can be lonely. Stand in horseshoes."

Stand in horseshoes not circles. Image: Getty

She added, “If you are standing with other women in a circle and there is a woman standing alone in your circle's vicinity, the thing to do is: Notice her, smile at her, move over a bit, and say, 'Hi, come join us!'

“Even if she decides not to join your circle – even if she looks at you like you're crazy – inviting her is still the thing to do.”

This rule needn't just apply to strangers, though. If you’ve been thinking about reaching out to an old friend or one-time acquaintance but hesitated, bear this in mind – a study found that people are generally much happier to hear from us than we think they’ll be.


And initiating a catch up with someone who’s not in your friendship circle could be beneficial to your own well-being, too. Canadian professor of social psychology Lara Aknin says, “I think it’s intuitive to us that our strong relationships matter. But we overlook all these possibilities for contact with people who are all around us all the time.”

But inviting everyone at all times and mixing friendship groups isn’t for everyone. The thought of strangers not getting along or having nothing to talk about puts the fear in some, and generates overall anxiety in others. Isn’t it better to just stick to who we know will get along fine and dandy?

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud. in this episode, co-hosts Jessie, Holly and Mia talk about the different kinds of people when it comes to hosting a party, and also share their ghost stories. Post continues below.


On a recent episode of Mamamia Out Loud, the hosts discussed the notion of inviting everyone to everything. Holly Wainwright recently invited “city friends” and “new country friends” to her partner’s birthday party, and she's not all that into mixing friendship circles. 

Even though she says everyone had a good time, Holly was constantly worrying if people liked each other, or were getting along okay. “I was very uncomfortable and on edge all evening,” she said about being the “social glue” that held the different groups together. “It makes me really tense.”

It’s a fair point – I went from not wanting a hens’ party to having two, solely because I was worried that too many groups of friends might not get along. 

But according to research, those of us who are reluctant to connect people are, in fact, underestimating those people’s interest to connect with others. And the more we do it, the more we'll get over any doubts, and in time see what an enriching experience it can be.

“Honestly, I also think we have overly pessimistic views of other people,” Aknin says. “We’re trying to avoid the worst-case scenario which could be a big flop, an awful conversation. But many times we are really positively surprised by other people, by their kindness, by their warmth, by their appreciation, and by our own abilities.”

Feature Image: Getty.