The case for fewer friends

After two years of pandemic life, you may find yourself at a fork in the friendship road, having to choose between a whittled-down social circle and being overextended in an attempt to make up for missed time with everyone on the outside of your network. Due to the anxiety-inducing revelation that their buddy group has decreased to an all-time low, people may feel re-energized in their efforts to resurrect their networks amid an ongoing loneliness pandemic. However, realizing the power of cultivating a few close relationships may be liberating.

According to study, having a big number of friends in your twenties might influence the quality of friendships you have in your thirties. “Individuals in their 20s want to extend their sense of identity, and you can do that via different sorts of people,” says Marisa Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert who is the author of the upcoming book Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends. According to a 2012 study, those who engaged with ten or more friends on a regular basis in midlife had greater levels of psychological well-being than those with fewer than ten. We also know that keeping friendships increases life happiness, reduces stress, and even improves physical health.

However, to experience the benefits of friendship, you don’t need a long list of acquaintances. Even having one buddy, according to Franco, is a net gain. “In terms of its influence on our mental health and well-being, the largest return we get in friendship is moving from zero to one friend,” Franco explains. “That’s going to be strong and meaningful if you can go that deep with just one person, and you don’t need a lot of buddies to do it.”

Instead of attempting to remain in touch with everyone you’ve ever met or feeling obligated to make new acquaintances, think about the importance of a few close confidants.

The case for fewer friends

Three people are all you need (or four, or five)

The number of strong friendships that humans can maintain is limited. Dunbar’s Number was coined in the 1990s by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who claimed that humans can handle up to 150 meaningful social ties (including family and friends) at any given time. However, not every one of the 150 interactions is equal. People have five deep friendships out of dozens of relationships, according to Dunbar. In a 2020 research, having three to five close pals was determined to be sufficient for feeling content.

According to researcher Jeffrey Hall, achieving this degree of intimacy with someone takes a large amount of time – over 200 hours. It would be a time-consuming and stressful job to acquire this degree of intimacy with every individual you meet.

The inner circle of close friends is likely to be made up of those with whom you’ve spent the most time — instance, a childhood buddy or a coworker turned tier-one chum. “You’ve put a lot of effort into those connections, and they’re quite reciprocal,” Dunbar adds. “They’re the people you’ve known since kindergarten and have always remained in contact with, and even if they move to Australia and you only see them once in a blue moon, you can continue up where you left off last time as if nothing has changed.” Because their friendship is so well-established, Dunbar describes getting together with these buddies as “automatic gear.”

These are the types of partnerships in which you can be completely honest with yourself. For the most personal friends, there’s no need to self-censor or perform, since they accept you for who you actually are, at your best and worst, according to psychotherapist Andrea Bonior, author of Detox Your Thoughts: How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts. Stop Negative Self-Talk and Start Living the Life You’ve Always Desired. Friends who make you feel energised, at ease, restored, real, cherished, and vulnerable — the ones you’d contact right away if you had some good news — are likely to have unique status. “Our deeper relationships make us feel valued for who we are rather than who we pretend to be,” Bonior adds.

Friendships are easily measurable because to social media, according to Bonior, and it’s natural to compare. When college friends post about their seemingly full social calendars on social media, feelings of inadequacy might occur, or you may feel pushed to keep up with everyone you follow. Our truest friendships, on the other hand, exist outside of the grid. The controlled version of your connection is superseded by the individuals you spend time with offline — and the caring and support you offer and get genuinely. “Having 200 people wish you a happy birthday on the internet may generate a sense of belonging,” Bonior explains. “It doesn’t really fit the notion of ‘Things have gone extremely terrible right now, and I need somebody to listen, and I know they actually care about me,'” she says. That is a pretty significant statement.”

According to Franco, these interactions also include a reciprocity component. You like helping your best friends just as much as they enjoy building you up; you organize hangouts just as frequently as they do. You continue to show up for them even though they are distant because they are going through a difficult period, knowing they would do the same for you.

What are the best ways to nurture these bonds?

It’s one thing to claim you have friends; it’s quite another to spend time with them. You’ll need to share time and space if you want to cultivate some connections and raise them to the level of close friends. According to Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, “most likely, your closest few are people you see often and with whom you conduct pleasurable things.” Who gets into the inner circle is heavily influenced by their availability and willingness to hang out. A long-distance buddy or someone going through a big life transition may not have the same amount of time and space as you do to continue a close friendship.

According to Hall, having a consistent schedule, such as going to a weekly yoga class or getting coffee before work, guarantees that you see each other on a regular basis. Dunbar claims that even something as simple as a spontaneous movie night together may help maintain consistency. Knowing what’s going on in someone’s life from week to week or month to month allows you to connect more effectively in the moment and allows you to follow up with a fast text message in between hangouts. “Knowing the schedule of another person is an act of intimacy,” says Hall.

According to Bonior, everyone of your closest friends may play a unique function in your life. You may confide in one buddy for work-related issues and another for romance guidance. “No single buddy is going to be able to cover all of those things,” she explains.

The most crucial thing to keep in mind regarding strong connections, according to Dunbar, is that they need work. He claims that these are “very time-consuming.” You can’t expect closeness with someone until you spend time with them, learn about their life, laugh with them, and share their sorrows.

When a small group of pals is insufficient

While there are no hard-and-fast laws on how many close friends one should have, Franco thinks that feeling lonely is a definite indicator that you need more. “Because that’s an indication you’re not receiving enough social connection,” she explains.

Loneliness may be alleviated by concentrating on your community. “Even if you have a close friend who lives far away from the neighborhood,” Bonior adds, joining a parent-teacher association at your child’s school or participating in events in your apartment building develops a sense of connection and togetherness. Use these transitional life phases or identities to evaluate what sorts of individuals you can form relationships with if you’ve recently relocated to a new city or are a first-time parent.

Casual chat with acquaintances and familiar faces — fellow parents at your child’s soccer practice, the barista at your local coffee shop, a hairdresser — has been proved to boost happiness and is a simple and low-stakes strategy to improve your social life. These low-stakes friendships have the potential to grow into deep friendships, but you don’t have to know someone well to benefit from connecting with them: According to studies, conversing with a friend makes individuals happy and gives them a stronger sense of belonging. The healthiest “social diet,” on the other hand, is one in which you connect with people you know well as well as strangers.

Hall thinks that putting a lot of trust in a few individuals has minimal drawbacks as long as you rely on more than one person, because your only confidant may have other duties or conflicts that prohibit them from always being there for you.

If you’re lonely, Hall recommends helping people and speaking warmly. So, if you’re thinking of sending an encouraging text to a friend you’ve lost touch with but knows is going through a difficult time, go ahead and do it. “By engaging in that relationship, you gain and develop,” Hall explains. “I believe we have a basic desire to belong and be linked to one another, and that if we feed that need by serving one another, we will be healthier individuals.”