“You have five friends, and the rest is landscape.” – Portuguese Saying
I’ve been interested for a while in the concept of online and offline friendships. I believe at this point, online and offline are generally indistinguishable and it simply depends on the mutual emotions felt by each person not the location of the friendship’s physical aspect.
I had heard in passing recently that people are really only capable of possessing five close friendships. So, I did a bit of research on the topic.
According to Robin Dunbar: “On average, we have five intimate friends, 15 good friends (including the five intimate ones), 50 friends and 150 acquaintances.”
Humans are only capable of mentally maintaining a close or intimate relationship with up to five people. This inner clique is devised of the people who we see (using this term loosely) at least once a week, or would go to at moments of emergency and crisis. This five-person list can include parents, siblings, children, and lovers.
Additionally, there are two distinct caveats to this five friend theory. One is that if a new lover enters the picture, two relationships from this circle will suffer or disappear altogether. The second is that, as Dunbar says: “Those individuals don’t have to be human. They can be your dog — or your favourite chrysanthemum plant. They can be people in an entirely fictional world — they can be soap opera characters. They can be God or they can be saints.”
The next circle, following our most intimate collection, is referred to as the “sympathy circle,” or people who we would miss if they passed away — I found this a bleak, but accurate analogy.
Dunbar maintains that an excess of 150 acquaintances is impossible to maintain. Unless you’re me and can’t imagine having 150 friends at all.
With our friendships broken down, I had the opportunity to examine social networks in connection with this theory. Our social network preferences allow us to interact differently with our varied friend groups. I think Google+ is best for the simpler utilization of separating our “circles.” Facebook, on the other hand, is an ongoing broadcast. We can have anywhere from 20-5,000 friends or fans on our pages, openly staring into our window, so to speak.
However, the people in our online social worlds that we interact with most frequently are typically the same people who are active in our offline social worlds. Which validates my earlier point that IRL has become a defunct moniker in most cases.
With my personal combined online and offline friendship worlds — and in the spirit of minimalism — I’ve begun to minimize my friends (defined as: people who are closest to me). This has become a process of necessity for the ongoing maintenance of my sanity. And I have begun maintaining social networks which only allow interaction with people who affect me in a primarily positive way.
If a friend affects me negatively, I am going to untether from that friendship. If a relationship is not worth investing my empathy, emotions, and affection into — I’m just not going to anymore.
Is this going to be simple? Of course not. Will I perhaps hurt some people’s feelings in the process? Maybe. But I want a community. I want a circle of close friends who value the emphasis I place on relationships rather than selfishly criticize or demand for me to change.
I can only maintain 15 “good” friendships? That sounds like a “good” number. What’s your number?