I pulled into the carpark of a country café and, getting out, noticed a man who looked like an old friend. I hadn’t seen him for ages, but features, mannerisms – they were all there. Approaching him cautiously, I said, “Excuse me, are you … [Jim]?” No, was his reply. I apologised, explaining that he looked just like an old friend. To my surprise, the guy threw his arms around me and said, “No, but you look like a pretty good friend to have!” We laughed, and that was it, but I came away thinking, what a neat experience. I was touched by his response, and his words.
They set me to wondering how many friends an average person has, and Professor Google gave me some interesting morsels:
The average American claims to have about sixteen friends (in a 2019 survey – see https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/new-study-claims-that-the-average-american-has-this-many-friends).
If that is a surprisingly high number, the report also said ideas of friendship seemed to vary through different degrees of companionship, and some respondents “seem to adopt a generous definition of the term”. But, by and large, the 16 friends reported were made up of three friends for life, five friends that the respondents “really liked and would hang out with”, and the remaining eight were people that the respondents liked but would not bother hanging out with.
In contrast, a similar (2019) poll in the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2019/jun/25/why-do-britons-have-fewer-close-friends-than-people-in-any-other-country) found Brits average 2.6 “close” friends.
According to an MIT Review, humans can only cope with a maximum of five friends in their closest circle. Having too many friends can result in stress because the demands on a person to fulfil the friendship role can be greater than their ability to enact the role.
It’s not weird to have no friends: some less gregarious people prefer smaller groups, and have simply not found that friend they would enjoy having.
Friends often drift apart because their lives change (new job, marriage, baby …) or when they no longer share the same things in common.
Friend-making ability tends to peak at around 23, and declines as the years go on.
The average number of Facebook ‘friends’ is said to be 338 for adults! (And you can ‘unfriend’ them if they annoy.)
How many friends do you have? Do you care? Some kiwis, social bunnies, have plenty. Others prefer their own company and have few. Do we even need close friends? People have a whole range of contacts, acquaintances, workmates, drinking buddies, partners, old school mates …
I warmed to that guy in the carpark. I wonder if we could have become friends?