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“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brene Brown
These days it’s easy to think we have many friends all over the world. Especially with Facebook and other social mediums keeping us connected.
But how many real friends do you really have? Not online friends, but those people you see face-to-face regularly, or at least Skype with regularly if you’re an incessant traveler like me. Who are those people whose birthdays you remember, those people who you really care about and who really care about you? I mean, really, how many people can you call at 1am to get you out of a jam?
Times Have Changed
In ancient times, before Facebook and mobile phones (yes, I was around then), you used to have to be at home by the phone to talk to your friends when you weren’t with them. At that time we had an average of three friends each.
These days things have changed quite dramatically. We now operate very differently – we can meet whomever we like, whenever we like. And that sometimes means we leave things until the last minute to see what our best option is. We seem to have millions of friends – all our Facebook friends, our professional connections on LinkedIn, the friends we communicate with by text. However, does this mean that we really have more friends?
Conveniently, some very smart people have done studies to see how many friends we have now. Professor Robin Dunbar, in the early 1990’s, proposed Dunbar’s number. This number is the suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom we can maintain stable social relationships.
These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. Through a number of experiments he proposed that humans could only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships.
Wow, really, we’ve gone from 3 to 150? Initially that seems like a lot of people. But he then breaks the 150 people down into groups. Remember, that 150 is the number of people you can maintain relationships with – they are not necessarily friends.
In his study he states that we are only able to maintain an inner circle of about five close friends – these are your best friends, the ones you can call anytime to get you out of a ‘fix’. Next on the hierarchy are ten friends – those you’d invite to a your housewarming party or a very large dinner party. Then there are the next 35, whom we will call your extended circle of friends, those from sports groups, work, etc. And the final 100 are really just acquaintances.
And there are your 150.
So, in reality we’ve gone from three to five best friends, or 15 good friends. It’s not that big a leap. And it has to make you question – who are all those people I’m connecting with on Facebook.
I like this old Portuguese saying:
“You have five friends, and the rest is landscape.”
This excerpt is taken from my ebook – A Passionate Life. Yet to be released.
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