Our incredibly shrinking circles of close friends


Our incredibly shrinking circles of close friends

How many true chums is it healthy to have?

Tymon Smith

Friends – can’t live without them, but sometimes, in this age of Facebook and WhatsApp, you might want to kill ’em more than you used to. While friendship has been a defining feature of human life since there was more than one of us around, there’s plenty of research to suggest there are limits to how many friendships we can cope with and how many of our friends are close confidants as opposed to fair-weather acquaintances.The scientific estimate of the average size of people’s social networks, according to a recent article in The Atlantic, at the wide-ranging figure of “about 250 to 5,500 people”. When you break it down into those who you really trust, the number becomes much smaller: “the average American trusts only 10 to 20 people”. That number shrunk even more from 1985 to 2004, so many people report having only two close confidants within their friend group. This doesn’t bode well in the light of research that shows “people who have strong social relationships tend to live longer than those who don’t”.However, science also provides ways in which you can turn some of your friends and colleagues into close friends and even confidants. According to a study by the University of Kansas, all you need to do is put in the time: 50 hours of socialising turns an acquaintance into a casual friend; 40 more hours makes them a real friend; and over 200 hours of listening to Bob’s tales of cycling Sundays, hardware purchasing woes and Facebook fights, turns him into a close mate. So all is not lost. Simply put down the phone, walk up to the nearest person, start up a chat about the weather and who knows – after 10 days of chatty exchange, you may be telling each other things you can both take to the grave.

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