More than Facebook friends

According to Brandwatch, the average number of Facebook friends is 338. So does that mean you have 338 close friends? Of course not! We all know that we don’t have the same relationship with every person we are friends with on social media. Social media friends are a mixture of different aspects of your life you’ve interacted with along the way.

And this changes based on the platform right? My Facebook is more private than my Instagram and both are more private than my TikTok. Ironically, I have the most “friends” on Facebook, but I think that has more to do with the length of time I’ve had the account than the amount of time I spend on the platform. My Facebook friends has a big mix of people from my past and present. For example, I have my family and my current friends. I have some highschool friends, college friends, old boyfriends too. I also have people I’ve met through Ultimate Frisbee friends, yes I played Ultimate Frisbee – and you know what? I was fucking great at it too. My nickname was Urlacher and for those of you that aren’t into the NFL, Ulracher was a bad ass defensive player. I got the name because I was a really physical player, even though technically it’s against the rules but hey – I was going for the disc! I even have some  past and present work colleagues and clients that I deemed people I would like to know more personally and let them get to know me more. TikTok on the other hand is pretty much open to whomever wants to watch my videos which are much less skilled than most people I see on that platform!  

This collection of Facebook friends brings me to between 500-600 and if I’m honest, I probably actually pay attention to like 100 of them. And some of my closest friends aren’t even on it (which I should probably take a page from them and get off that damn platform as at times I question how much positivity it brings to my life). For the most part, I really only pay attention to people that show up in my newsfeed; I’m not entering your name in the search toolbar. So Facebook’s algorithm determines the closeness of our friendship.  

Recently I was reading this article that was discussing the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar who developed Dunbar’s Number of 150. This number is the number of reasonably active social connections humans are capable of within their social circle.

It’s not shocking to me that this number is much lower than our average social media “friend” count, pretty much proving that it’s not possible to consider all 500+ of my FB friends, real friends. That’s not shocking to anyone right? I sure hope no one is sitting there thinking they have 500+ really close friends – eek, that’s embarrassing.

But he drills it down further from there, and that’s where things got interesting. Dunbar ranked these 150 friends and put some estimated numbers behind what humans can truly handle, because at the end of the day, maintaining real friendships goes beyond clicking like – it takes cognitive effort and time!

His research shows, we have the capacity to support:

Five “intimate friends” or your support group – people that know you best.

Fifteen “sympathetic” friends whom you can confide in.

Fifty “close” friends. You may not see them all the time, but if you were having a milestone birthday party, they’d be on your guest list.

150 “friends”. If you ran into them on a street, you’d probably suggest a cup of coffee or a drink for a chance to catch up.

When you go above 150, they start falling into “acquaintances” and beyond – or essentially you can remember how you know them and most of the time their name, but don’t expect much more than that. 

If you’re like me, after reading this, I immediately started to categorize my friends. And for the most part, I would agree with Dunbar and my friends pretty neatly fell into these groupings and the number within them was very close too.

Of course, for me, this has been top of mind recently as I’ve had to replan my wedding with COVID restrictions. We originally had about 160 guests, and then had to reduce to 100, so almost half. Once you count family, there’s actually not much room for friends. So knowing what category your friends fall in is important when making these decisions. But then it got me thinking about bridesmaids.

Why is it when you see young brides (I’m talking 20s) in photos, they always have like 8+ bridesmaids? I see so many insta photos that have huge bridal parties and my first reaction is yeah right! You are not that close with all those girls. I have four. All of them I’ve considered in my “intimate friends” for at least seven years, but three out of four of them have been “intimate friends” for about almost twenty years. These four women are my ride or die bitches. They know me extremely well, the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ve had our arguments, we’ve cried, we’ve laughed and when it came down to choosing my bridal party it took me about 0.5 seconds because there never was a question in my mind.

Do I have other friends I consider close? Or as Dunbar would have put it, “sympathetic”? Yes, absolutely! But there is a big difference between these four women and the next level. Let me give you an example. My Matron of Honor was watching my last dog, Riah, while I was on vacation. Riah had a stroke and she was having a hard time getting a hold of me because Christian and I were on an island off of Cartagena at the time with almost zero service or wifi. She couldn’t get a hold of me when she was at the vet while they were telling her Riah should be put down, but she knew that I would want to be there if I could so instead she took Riah back to her house.

She did get a hold of me and sat on the phone with me all night so I could speak to Riah while Christian was desperately trying to get us off the island and flights to Tampa. When we got the airport the next morning to fly back, I received the news Riah had passed. So what did she do? She sent her kids to their grandparents house, bathed my dead dog, brushed her hair, wrapped her in a blanket and waited for me to arrive to say my goodbye in person and supported me for the months it took me to be able to say Riah’s name without bursting into tears.

That is ride or die. That is a whole other level of friendship that most people will never experience and that I feel lucky to have four women I can say know me well enough to know what to do in situations like that and I know will be there to pick me back up after. There is no way these 20 something’s have 10+ of these friends in their roster. If they do, then shit – they should go buy a lottery ticket or something because that is a whole other level of blessed the world has not seen.

So why the 10+ bridesmaids? I think the difference between when you are in your 20’s to 35+ is you get more accurate in your categorization of friendships. I think in your 20’s you are more likely to be optimistic about the friends you have. You think you’re so much closer than you really are and you believe these friends will be your friends through it all. You group in your “sympathetic” friends along with your “intimate” friends without differentiating between the two. But they are different.

And as you get older, and life throws you curve balls, you start to develop clarity on the differences in your relationships. You also become a little more realistic of your expectations of others. I remember when I moved to Chicago I was in the market for friends. I kept trying to fill the void I felt leaving my closest friends back in Florida. Every girl I met that I thought could become a friend, I would then expect them to be as close as a relationship as I had with my Florida girls. Needless to say, I was disappointed every single time. Because really close friends are hard to come by and most people will never reach that level of friendship with you. 

As I’ve gotten older, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that is ok. Not everyone needs to be in the top five. Also, I don’t have the time to support more than that to the level they deserve. Because those kinds of friendships, those deep relationships you develop through time, they also require the most effort.

I would also suggest an amendment to Dunbar’s groupings. I think you have like a Top 10. This includes your ride or You have your Top 5 ride or dies that you know you will know your whole life. I know when I’m ninety and drinking  glass of rose at the old people’s home, my ride or die bitches will be there right beside me.

But there’s like a Top 5a group that can rotate into that spot depending on your current life factors. I’ll use my Matron of Honor again for this example. Faith and I have always been close and will always be close. But Faith and my lives are very different. Faith got married before I could even decide on a flavor of the week. She’s the mother of three amazing children, one of whom is a pre-teen! Which I feel my oldest when I see pictures of her eldest child or my twenty year old niece and remember them as newborns. There is nothing that makes me feel older than that.

Needless to say, while Faith and I have always remained close, our life circumstances have been so different for so long, and we’ve lived in different states now for over twelve years, so there were times when we weren’t as intimately involved in eachother’s day to day lives, thoughts and feelings. That doesn’t take away anything from our relationship, but it was just different. In that time, I started to build deeper connections with people that had more of a similar life situation which enabled us to connect on a relevant, deeper, level.

For example, I have one friend that is literally going through the exact same life stage at the exact same time right now. We’re close to the same age. We’re both getting married for the first time. We’re both thinking about starting a family past our ovarian prime. All in 2021. You better believe we have a ton to talk about and relate to each other on right now as everyone else I know has already been through this or has no desire to go through it. So it’s only natural that our bond will become tighter as we support each other and go through it together.

So realistically, I think I have a Top 8 or 9. Maybe that Top 5 will be the ones at the old-people’s home with me, but the other 3-4 are damn near close and have the potential to at least come visit for a game of bridge or whatever it is old people play.

If you’re sitting there and thinking – how do I know what category my friends fall in? I liked an idea the author of this article provided. Imagine someone walks up to you and asks “How are you doing”?

How you answer this question will tell you which group the questioner falls into. Think about it, it makes sense right? For the 500+ acquaintances, you’ll respond “Good, you?”. You aren’t going to be honest with them and tell them how you are feeling that day. Also, you don’t care how they are doing either. You’re asking to be polite. That’s not rude – because they are asking for the same reason. You think John you met 5 years ago but don’t know his last name really cares if you’ve had a stressful morning? No. He’s asking to be nice and really doesn’t want you to answer with anything other than Fine, Good or Great.

If the person asking the question is part of your “150”, you may respond with a little more detail if it’s relevant. Like if they are work collegue/friend. If they ask you how you are doing you may say, Pretty good but nervous for that presentation later! You aren’t going to go into a story on the fight you had with your parents that weekend.

The 50 “close friends” will get more honesty and maybe more detail. The 15 friends are considered your safe zone so you can be honest with them and truly answer how you are doing. You should also expect they’ll care and want a real answer.

Your closest friends, those Top 5 (or 8-9), don’t usually even have to ask, because they probably already know. That question most likely won’t be, how are you? It’s more likely “how did it go with blank”?

If you don’t think it’s this simple – try answering any of your 50 “close friends” or higher with the same answer you would give your Top 15 and see how fast it gets real awkward.

By the way, this also goes with family. I’ve been thinking about this too lately – what grouping would you put family members in? I don’t think we can just assume they’re in the Top 5 can we? Or is that just me?

As we get older, we get more selective with those we spend our time with. Why? It’s pretty simple, we have less time left. As part of our Midlife Crisis, we are finally realizing our time is a precious commodity. We don’t want to waste it on people that don’t bring us value. For those that are important to us, they’re worth the time investment. As we get older, we no longer try to invest the same amount of time into each friendship. Determining what group your friend falls in helps you prioritize your time. This doesn’t mean you can’t get value from all 150 of your friends, but the expectations vary and the value definition changes. This is all 100% ok, and healthy. But don’t make the mistake that you have close friendships with all 500 of your Facebook Friends. Because when you wake up and your 90, you won’t be playing bridge with your friends, you’ll be playing solitaire. And no one really wants to play solitaire. 

Until next time!

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