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How many friends do we really need

When you move to a new place it's easy to overlook the time it takes to establish new friendships and meaningful connections. 

My last blog highlighted that we make deeper connections during major work or life transitions. 

So how many friends do we really need and how long does it take to become one? 

How many friends can we manage? 

A recent acquaintance suggested people have a quota of friends. If you’ve lived in the same place for a long time with strong social networks, you may have no room for new friends.  He could be right.   

Robin Dunbar, a British evolutionary anthropologist, found humans can only maintain meaningful relationships with about 150 people. This is made up of a core group of 15 close friends – some of whom are family members. Then we have another circle of 35 friends and a wider circle of 100 casual friends.    

Social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn help us stay in touch with a lifetime of personal and work connections.

If you’ve lived in lots of different places, as I have, your friends will be scattered around the world so it's more likely less of them will know one another. This makes it harder to form shared friendship groups with interwoven social connections.

This contrasts with local interconnected social circles with a strong sense of community.

The reality is we need to get together for friendships to thrive.  

How long does it take to become friends? 

When you move to a new place it takes a few years to develop real friendships involving trust and obligation.   

Researchers at the University of Kansas support this view. They found it takes on average about 150 hours of time spent together to become good friends. Students take half as long as adults to move from casual acquaintances to friends. 

Finding the right friends means getting active and being prepared to try a diverse range of things. In my case, this has involved organising outdoor adventures (walking, cycling and paddling), volunteering, attending courses and developing local business networks.  

The more time two people spend together the closer they become. My experience of weekly meetups for the Big Brothers Big Sisters programme (BBBS) reinforces this view and the value of intergenerational connections.

Proximity is important. It’s easier to develop friendships when you have frequent contact with neighbours, work colleagues or through a shared interest. We are blessed with neighbours who have welcomed us into their local community.

Reflecting on the answers to these questions reminds me to cherish the richness and diversity of friends that count (old and new, near and far).

Having the right friends at different life stages is far more important than how many we have.


Mary Somervell

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