I was sitting in my local Costa last week, and overheard a conversation between 3 young women seated at the next table. They were discussing their social media accounts and comparing ‘likes’ they had received. I couldn’t help think that this modern phenomenon is such a bizarre concept.
How many friends do you have? Real and virtual? Do you judge yourself by the number of friends you have? How many friends is it normal to have, or to be judged “successful”?
I am fascinated by these questions as I am, quite unusually it would appear, a modern, successful woman who doesn’t have many girlfriends. I certainly fly in the face of Dr Robert Dunbar’s research, which concluded that we have capacity for 150 friends, or at least this is the most our brains can cope with. “Dunbar’s Layers” did however maintain it is 3-5 friends to which we remain closest.
At school, I always had a group of friends, later at college and university the group was smaller, as I became more discerning, but it was still a reasonable number. By the time I was 30 and a new mum, I had probably the highest number of friends I have ever had. I was forever popping to friends houses, they were popping in to see me and if I was at home, I would be on the phone to one or other of them. I remember clearly my husband at the time being irritated that I spent all day with one woman at my place of work, only to come home and spend a couple of hours with her on the phone in the evening!
Deciding to become a counsellor in my mid 30’s changed everything. I found that some friends (not all), were delighted that they now had a free therapist on tap, and on seeing me, would launch into their latest round of woes, asking me what they meant and how they should move forward.
I also began to take exception to those friends who had to know everything about my life, and were always particularly interested if things were going wrong. Others were just plain needy. One friend insisted on visiting me every weekend for the whole weekend (she only lived up the road) because her husband had left her and ‘weekends were hard’. They certainly became hard for me when she moved in! I had no issue with supporting her of course, but this was a step too far. Others texted or rang or showed up too damn much. I don’t have anything new to say to you! I only saw you/texted/emailed 4 hours ago!
Eventually I had a clear out, and I ‘defriended’ people in real life. Shock! Horror! But how liberating! Not that it was easy. A couple of girlfriends were less than keen about my decision and sought to a) hang on to our friendship, b) make me feel bad about ‘leaving’ them c) inform me I was selfish and was going to end up alone and unhappy. As it turned out, none of those things happened.
Since then, I have had only the smallest number of people that I would call friends and even those, I don’t see from month to month. My highly demanding job, my blog, my life with my husband, and our children, my cats, and my need to spend at least part of each day alone, doesn’t allow for making time for friends daily, weekly or even monthly.
Does that make me a social pariah? Am I abnormal? I think that if I was younger I would worry about this, but at almost 53, I do not. Not for a minute. I actually revel in it. Someone told me, knowingly, a few months ago, that we must judge ourselves by the amount of friends we have. What tosh! I said as much, they then looked at me with something akin to pity, and said “Hmmmm… but you are an only child.” Oh no, not that again! (See my blog post Being An Only Child).
So on reading this, I’m quite prepared for people to say that I’m sad, or that I’m lonely and frustrated and everyone needs friends. No, they don’t. Everyone needs great relationships and I already have those.
The adage that you need to be popular to be happy, and if you are a bit of a loner, you are bound to be a bit weird, is rubbish. And neither do you need to be anti-womenkind or miserable, anti-social or unlikeable. I’m certainly none of those things!
I do worry about young people who seem to judge their own worth by the numbers on their Insta, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and I’m glad that a few young people I know, have been brave enough to turn their back on their social media accounts for good.
What is modern friendship? The world has become smaller, and good friends may be dotted around the globe, rather than living in the same town, which I suppose they would have been a couple of generations ago. Wherever they are located, friends are about sharing the good times, and supporting each other when things were bad. But taking and giving on both sides is essential, and too many friendships become one sided over time.
Of course there is nothing wrong with having lots of friends if that works for you, just be aware that too many close ties can leave you feeling stretched and at an increased risk of becoming a people pleaser.
Whatever the nature of your friendships and their number, just scrutinise them for their worth every so often, and remember to draw an imaginary circle in your mind. Invite into this circle friends that add to your life. These friends should fulfill you, not cause you stress and unnecessary drama. Consider having a clear out! You won’t look back and though your circle will decrease in size, it will increase in significance and substance. ❤️