How Many Friends Do You Have? And How Many Friends Are Enough?

Everyone's idea about the number of friends you should have is "unrealistic" and realizing this is a "normal part of growing up" that unfortunately doesn't get a ton of airtime.
Publish date:
November 9, 2012
growing up, friendship, loneliness

Everything's skewed nowadays. The lens we use to look at things is permanently on zoom because when you're constantly checking life's rearview, objects may appear closer than they are.

And nowhere is that funhouse mirror effect more obvious than other people's Friends Lists. According to Facebook inflation, I've got hundreds upon hundreds of friends. People who allegedly "know" me and like me. According to me, and the actual calls (not wall posts) I got on my birthday, I have maybe 20 friends -- give or take. When you subtract the ones I haven't seen for years, that number gets sliced in half like a magician's assistant. Is that sad?

There's this thread (is that what they call 'em?) on Reddit -- Let's talk friends: How many do you have, and how often do you see them? -- in which a twenty-something analyzes the loneliness she's been feeling upon realizing that her crew isn't as big as she thought it should be.

"Maybe I just have unrealistic ideas of how many friends everyone else has, in my mind everyone has dozens of best girlfriends or something that all meet up weekly for lunch and shopping. I guess I'd just love to see what other people's lives are like in hopes that maybe this is a normal part of growing up."

Girl, yes. Everyone's idea about the number of friends you should have is "unrealistic" and realizing this is a "normal part of growing up" that unfortunately doesn't get a ton of airtime. I blame chick lit (a genre into which I am attempting to delve with a story about losing friends) and "Sex and the City" and the preschool buddy system and those Kid Sister commercials.

Who among us hasn't gotten the wakeup call that nobody's really calling you like that anymore? And it's not just a quarter life thing, it's a guaranteed slap of reality for anyone who dares get older. A passage that sometime gets quoted from my book by the privileged few that read it speaks to this same secret epidemic.

"Gone are the [college] days when friends are an elevator ride away, dinner plans are made on the way to somebody's hall, and Thursday is Friday or Friday is Thursday (who cares, you'll figure it out in Philosophy C203).

Soon enough, the little old lady living in a shoe is you -- and the rent is effin' unbelievable, and nobody comes to visit because you're too far from the Metro. Adulthood comes in little jigsaw pieces. Once the painstaking work of fitting them all together is done, the picture doesn't look nearly as cool as it did on the box."

What's most interesting to me about the reverse shame of "your number" when it comes to compadres, is that much like that other number, women seem to be the only people really worried about it. How many guys do you know wringing their hands over whether or not they've got enough boys to kick it with? Granted men don't do friendships like women do.

There's like a pause button they can push that keeps decades-long friendships fresh in the emotional DVRs. When my boyfriend gets calls from homies from back home, people he hasn't talked to since high tops and fades, it's like no time has passed. And when I prod him every other lazy Sunday to "go hang out" with the handful of names I know there's a 50/50 chance he'll just shrug, "Nah, I'm good."

And that's the thing you realize about your friendships as you age -- you're good. It isn't that you've got fewer friends, a bunch of fake friends or none at all. It's that you no longer need the constant white noise of friends, Romans and countrymen to feel confident, to feel like yourself. Because in the end, during the quiet time when the computer's off and the phone is somewhere charging, it's just you and you're good.