The Fake Friends

2000 friends on Facebook?

You got to be kidding me!

Time is one crucial element in friendship. Jeffrey Hall, an expert in the psychology of friendship, studied 112 University of Kansas first years and found that it took about 45 hours of presence in another person’s company to move from acquaintance to friend. To move from casual friend to meaningful friend took another 50 hours over a three-month period, and to move into the inner close friend circle took another 100 hours. People generally devote a lot more time to their inner circles than to their outer circles.

Separately, anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s research says that the maximum number of meaningful relationships most people can have is around 150. How many people are invited to the average American wedding? About 150. How many people are on an average British Christmas card list? About 150. How many people were there in early human hunter-gatherer communities? About 150.

Dunbar argues that it’s a matter of cognitive capacity. The average human mind can maintain about 150 stable relationships at any given moment. These 150 friends are the people you invite to your big events – the people you feel comfortably altruistic toward. He also argues that most people have a circle of roughly 15 closer friends. These are your everyday social companions – the people you go to dinner and the movies with. Within that group there’s your most intimate circle, with roughly five friends. These are the people who are willing to give you unstinting emotional, physical and financial help in your time of need.

Dunbar found that over the course of a month, people devote about eight and a half hours to each of their five closest friends, and they devote a bit more than two hours a month (basically a dinner or a lunch) to the next 10 who complete their 15-person circle. They devote, on average, less than 20 minutes a month to the other 135 people in their larger friend circle. These are averages. We each have our own friendship style. Extroverts spend their social energy across more people and have more but weaker close friendships. Introverts invest in fewer people but have stronger ties to them. The other crucial factor in friendship is social skill – this is something that, as a society, we are quite incompetent at. Social life is fast, complex and incredibly demanding cognitively, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that online life erodes those skills.

Then came the pandemic and each encounter with another person posed a potential risk of death! We were told to stay home and avoid public places. We sought refuge in the distance that technology allowed us, watching movies, attending exercise classes and having meetings all without entering a cinema, gym or office. In the US, there is even a switch to tell your Uber driver to shut up!

Our happiness in life, as well as our health and fulfillment, is hugely dependent on our ability to be skillfully understanding of and considerate toward others. A lot of the bitterness and alienation we feel flows from the fact that our social skills are inadequate to the complex society we now live in.

Self-centered, narcissistic, ungrateful, disrespectful, zero EQ and insensitive to the feelings of others would be how I summarize my interactions with a couple of foreign young ladies aged 25, 26 in this past year.

They are also misguided, utterly confused about future plans, are poor decision makers, obsessed with making money, overly focused on finding a potential spouse, and not mindful of the fact that most bridges, once burned could never be re-built.

Time to take a friendship inventory!

Look at your contacts list and start pruning!

Be selectively social!

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