How many friends does it take to make your life great? It’s a Thursday night, my night to go out and pursue all the friend fun that I want while Tim stays home with Hunter. When I text a few friends to get together, they are busy. So, I extend my reach to a few more people—silence. As the plans fall through and I find myself at home on the couch, I wonder, “Do I need to find more friends than just the few I have because if those friends are busy, what do I do?” Then the thoughts begin to spiral:
-Why don’t I have more friends? I have lived in Denver for six years; shouldn’t I have sixty people to call?
-Am I actually a loser and that is why I don’t have more friends?
-My friends must have decided we aren’t friends anymore and now I have to start the friendship process all over and I can’t do it.
At about this time my husband intervenes and talks me off of my emotional ledge.
I know some of you have had these thoughts before too. Should my list of friends be longer? Am I unlovable if I only have one good friend? Is it okay if I have fifty friends? Is there a limit to the number of friends I can have? Questions we all wrestle with but the answer I have landed on is this: the number of friends we have does not validate us or make us more likeable or promise to give us a happier life. It’s about the quality of friends we have surrounded ourselves with that make life wonderful.
The quality of friends you have is immeasurable.
Do they make time for you? Offer sound advice and encouragement? Love your kids? Respect your boundaries? Listen and laugh with you over shared memories? Do they have faith conversations with you? Pray with you? All the wonderful qualities that make up a great friend. If you have just one of these in your life—that is a beautiful gift from God.
IS IT BETTER TO HAVE FEWER FRIENDS?
Managing a lot of relationships at once is nearly impossible. Trust me, my friend circle is wide but probably at this moment I am managing twelve relationships really well and that includes my husband and son. So, now we are down to ten healthy relationships.
It takes a lot to pour into a friend and a commonly referred to study by Oxford professor Robin Dunbar shows that we can only maintain five healthy intimate relationships at one time. One of the reasons is that after five relationships our ability to communicate and go deep with a friend lessens with each added friend. Personally, I think we become less of a quality friend when we are spread too thin. The description I mentioned above takes a lot of time, energy, vulnerability and sacrifice to build a trusted inner-circle. The more friendships we try to manage, the less we can give to our friends.
BUT, I WANT LOTS OF FRIENDS…
Now for those of you who think, “No, I am the community-queen and can manage fifty friendships at once”—you aren’t totally incorrect. Dunbar’s research also shows we can have a capacity of 150 friends at one time. These are the college friends you can connect with a few times a year, your family members, co-workers and even your online friends. But like an onion, we have layers of relationships and the room we have for emotionally close friends is small.
WHERE’S THE BALANCE?
I choose twelve relationships to invest in at one time because I look at Jesus and see that he managed twelve intimate relationships with his disciples. Thus, each quarter I write a list of ten to twelve names of people I am already investing in or would like to invest more time to becoming close friends. Usually the list stays the same each quarter with a few names rotating due to different life seasons. But these are the women I reach out to each time I get a chance. I choose to pour my time into them and pray for them regularly. These women get late night texts of insignificant but funny stories. These are my people.
We should never feel guilty or less than when we find our “tribe” getting smaller and smaller. We leave college and we have to challenge ourselves to make friendships a priority so, choosing to invest in two to five friendships is applauded. Those few friendships are the kind of friendships that “refresh the soul” (Prov. 27:9). It’s important to put your efforts into finding and maintaining those quality friends versus acquiring more for the sake of having more.
If you have more questions about how to make new friends or why it is important to maintain the friendships you do have jump, to these articles for more encouragement: