There was a piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago titled, “How Many Friends Do You Really Need?”
I wasn’t sure how many I needed, so I read the article.
The author says that “humans are only cognitively able to maintain about 150 connections at once…That includes an inner circle of about five close friends, followed by larger concentric circles of more casual types of friends.” And that “middle-aged women who had three or more friends tended to have higher levels of overall life satisfaction.”
After I digested this, I sat back, took a drink of my cold coffee and “hmmed” aloud to my empty office. I wondered:
1) Did I cognitively maintain connections with upwards of 150 people?
2) Since I was a middle-aged woman with three or more friends, were those close pals of mine, in fact, contributing to my overall satisfaction in life?
3) Who the hell were my actual friends?
Okay, so I got lost in thinking about this topic for far too long and it made me lose an entire day of writing because, for reasons I can’t explain, I decided I needed to dive deeper into this friendosphere.
My formal research consisted of scrolling through:
a) my social media friends: by this I mean the people I follow on Instagram (1931), as well my friends on Facebook (597);
b) my email address book;
c) my iPhone contacts;
d) my memories.
After sifting through the many thousands of humans I have some connection to, I was able to winnow them down to the “friends” I actually interact with (further delineated below).
The total number was 112
BUT: WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
Just as I started to sort my friends into CONCENTRIC CIRCLE (CASUAL) FRIENDS versus INNER CIRCLE (REAL) FRIENDS I veered off into another (ADHD-fueled) direction. I suddenly wanted to know how I became friends with those 112 people in the first place.
This is what I discovered about my friends’ origins:
Friends I made during childhood through high school: 5
Friends from college: 14
Friends I made in graduate school: 4
Friends I made while working at Microsoft: 5
Friends I still have because I gave birth to Loy: 18
Friends I made from my time living in Bali: 5
Friends who happen to be relatives, or relatives who happen to be friends: 7
Friend who is a sibling of a friend: 1
Friend who is a friend of a relative: 1
Friends I met by a chance encounter: 9
Friends who were my neighbors before they were friends: 12
Friends I made while attending artist retreats: 6
Friends I met through other friends: 2
Friends I met while traveling: 3
Friends I made because I had cancer: 2
Friends I made while taking care of my dying mother: 2
Former lovers who are still my friends: 4*
Friends I made while engaging in illicit activities (just leave it): 2
Friends I made because they read and/or reviewed RASH: 14
*those dudes appeared in more than one listing.
“Ah,” I said, trying to dissect some meaning from the breakdown. Ultimately, I concluded that:
1) having a child is the surest way to grow your friend group;
2) it’s important to make close contacts during your university years;
3) you should not hesitate to borrow some sugar from the people in the green house down the street;
4) if you write a funny book about your life overseas, you will meet very cool people from all over the world.
ACTUAL VERSUS CASUAL
Surely I cared about the lives of every one of those 112 people. I loved seeing pictures of their trips to Mexico; hearing about their kids’ accomplishments or news of their new jobs. I mourned their losses with them; celebrated their milestones; read their books; listened to their music; took their advice.
So, even though I considered those 112 people friends (in the loose sense), and interacted with them easily and often, how many of them were my genuine friends? Who among them did I wish to really truly celebrate my good fortunes with? Who did I want to share my secrets with? Which of the 112 people cared enough to reach out with news of their own lives beyond yearly holiday cards? Who were MY people?
To answer this, I had to set some parameters. I would cull from the list anyone I interacted with solely on the basis of “liking” or commenting on one of their social media posts. I would not include anyone I’d recently lost touch with completely. My list would consist of only those people with whom:
A) I hung out in person over the last year because I wanted to;
B) I exchanged thoughtful, honest, intimate phone conversations, texts, IM’s, letters or emails over the last year;
C) I thought about often and missed desperately, wishing we could see one another, even if we didn’t always reach out the way we used to.
56 people made the list
After I counted the number I fell back in my chair and girl-whistled my surprise. I couldn’t believe it: exactly HALF the people I thought of as my friends truly were my friends! Actual friends. People I had connections with. Connections to. Connections beyond the casual.
How had I never before realized what a lucky person I was? Why was I wasting hours of my life wallowing in an isolated existence?
Oh yeah: Covid.
True, I’d gotten together with maybe 1/4 of those friends since 2020, but it wasn’t as if they weren’t trying to see me. It wasn’t as if they weren’t there for me. Even if we didn’t share a meal, a walk, or an adventure, I knew they had my back. Would always have my back. As I would always have theirs. And just because a few of them lived halfway across the planet, it didn’t mean they weren’t out there listening, holding me close, wishing me well, as I was them.
Now that I know who ALL my friends are, I want to say that I am grateful for my casual friends. I like whirling around inside this huge circle together, even if only for a moment.
To my actual friends, I say, thank you for sticking around.
I hope you know how much I appreciate your presence in my tiny life.
I hope you know how much you count.