“Friendships don’t just happen. They don’t drop from the sky.” Like any relationship, friendships take effort and work. But they’re often the last to receive that effort after people expend their energy on work, family, and romance. As time goes on, friendships often face more hurdles to intimacy than other close relationships. As people hurtle toward the peak busyness of middle age, friends—who are usually a lower priority than partners, parents, and children—tend to fall by the wayside. It’s hard to organise a busy life so that it has enough room for deep friendships, but there are a few strategies that may help.
VIDEO: How the Internet is changing friendship
Limits to friendship -- the Dunbar number
The average number of friends that any individual has is remarkably constant. Your first reaction is that it can’t be. If nothing Facebook and Co. have vastly increased our capability to reach out and touch someone. Turns out that we are wrong.
Several decades ago, a prescient anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, researched social behavior in terms of brain volume of primates and stated that the number of people the average person could have in a social group was around 150: the Dunbar number. The figure has remained remarkably resilient over time.
He also showed that this number breaks down in a fairly consistent rule of thirds. The first third — 50 — is the number of close friends most of us have — people you might invite for a large dinner or party. A third of that — 15 — the ones you can count on for sympathy and whom you can confide in for most things. Finally, the last third — 5 — the ones you need when it gets really down and dirty. Expanding outwards: 500 is the limit for acquaintances and 1500, absolute tops for those whom you can put a name to a face. While the constituents of each fraction may vary — people falling in and out with each other — the number remains constant. Studies show that the Dunbar number holds up in a wide range of situations that occur in society, over a remarkable span of history.
Guess what? There is strong evidence that supports this distribution on Facebook too.