Is There An Ideal Number Of Friends You Should Have?

No man is an island. You don't have to be a social butterfly, but you need at least one solid friendship or two in life to be truly happy. The difference between friends and family is that you don't get to choose your family, but you can pick your friends. You are bound with your friends not by blood — but rather by shared interests, perspectives, and enjoyable experiences. You have to learn to live with your family, but rarely do you have to put up with your friends when they don't treat you right.

Emotional enrichment aside, meaningful friendships are also the key to longevity. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that older people with stronger social networks had a higher life expectancy than those with fewer friends. 

Obviously, having lots of friends comes with many benefits. Your social media followers don't count because some Facebook users have 5,000 friends on their friend list but have only interacted with 1% of them. Because of this, it's common to hear the phrase "quality is better than quantity" in reference to friendships. So, what's the ideal number of friends we need in order to have a fulfilling life? Here are some insights.

150 is the maximum number of friendships you can maintain

Turns out, you can actually put a cap on the number of friends you should have. Ramona Singer, of the former Real Housewives of New York, claimed in a 2020 RHONY reunion that she had 50 close girlfriends. Is 50 too much? Maybe, but it's not the optimum. Per a hypothesis by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar published in the journal Annals of Human Biology, humans can handle up to 150 social relationships. Among them, only five are intimate friends and 15 round out our closest support network, while the rest are those you're chummy with on a superficial level, such as your colleagues, your hobby club crowds, and your church buddies.

Different friendships serve different purposes. Close friends are those you hang out with regularly, keep in the loop about the stuff that's going on in your life, and who you can rely on when things get tough. Most people have an average of three to five close friends, which is sufficient to offer you the highest levels of life fulfillment. As long as you feel a profound sense of belonging within your inner social network, it really doesn't matter if you have only one or two close friends. Meanwhile, casual friends are those you're comfortable reaching out to for a fun get-together or some career advice from time to time. Not everyone has a best friend, which is fine. But a bestie usually starts out as a close friend.

Building friendships takes time

Like romantic relationships, friendships also require investments. The reason why most people can only handle up to three or five close friendships is that it takes considerable time and energy investment to reach a certain level of intimacy with a person. Hours of time spent together one-on-one in the form of leisure activities and sharing are associated with friendship closeness. According to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, it takes 75 hours to strike a casual friendship, 223 hours to become close friends with a person, and 737 hours to make best friends. 

The amount of time it takes to cultivate closeness is why it's harder for us to establish new friendships as we get older. Because we're always juggling a lot, we don't always have sufficient time and energy for that getting-to-know-you phase where we vet new acquaintances to see if we have chemistry and compatibility with them. There's no shortcut to building a friendship. Moving from mere acquaintances to friendships entails keeping meaningful contact to keep the momentum going. You might have started out as coworkers or fellow churchgoers, but as time goes on and you spend more time together, you realize you're compatible and develop a desire to be a consistent presence in each other's lives. It's hard to meet someone just once or twice and immediately become friends with them.

Quality matters more than quantity

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Friendships to convince us that quality matters more than quantity in relationships. Quantity might not always be the opposite of quality, but in friendships — it is. There are only 24 hours per day, and our wakeful hours certainly don't revolve around friendships. We have our work, studies, and other family obligations to attend to. As working adults, we can only afford to spend time with our friends two or three times per week at maximum. There's no way we can fit every friend we know into our limited schedule. We want to reserve those few free hours we have for a couple of close friends with whom we can have deep conversations and enjoy a great time together.

Having fewer friends means you have more time for each of them, be fully present in each relationship, and enjoy more depth in every bond you cultivate. Spending some time and effort on one person also allows you to get to know them thoroughly and quickly determine whether you two have the potential to be close friends. Having fewer friends means you have fewer birthdays to attend and fewer friend-related responsibilities to fulfill. This helps you enjoy a quality friendship life without spreading yourself too thin. Having lots of friends makes you less able to be a good friend. Over time, your friends whom you barely spend quality time with will end up being your mere acquaintances.

Having too many friends can drain you

Unless you're purposefully expanding your social network to advance your business commitments, putting your eggs in various baskets might work against you. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, having too many friends increases your social liabilities, making it difficult for you to fulfill your obligations to one another. Friendships come with inherent expectations. In order to be counted as a friend to a person, you must at least be available for them. For instance, you're obliged to hang out with them at least once every two weeks, answer their phone calls, reply to their texts, support them in their personal endeavors, comfort them when they fight with their lovers, and even lend them money. What are friends for, right? 

If you fail to fulfill these basic expectations, the person will gradually lose interest in preserving their connection with you. Not to mention, when things get overwhelming, misunderstandings may arise and conflicts are likely to happen. Unless you have excellent time management and communication skills, taking on a multitude of friendships can take away from your productivity and weigh you down emotionally and physically. When there's not enough time for two people to get to know each other on a deeper level, both will end up feeling lonely and unfulfilled in each other's company. If you're down to only three or five close friends, your yoke will be much easier.