It’s often thought that having a large group of friends is a good thing – after all, more friends means more social support, right? While it’s true that having a strong social network can provide numerous benefits, such as increased happiness and a sense of belonging, having too many friends can actually have the opposite effect and cause stress.
First, it’s important to understand that the number of friends a person can effectively maintain is limited by the amount of time and energy they have available. Studies have shown that most people can only maintain stable relationships with around 150 people, known as the “Dunbar number” after the anthropologist who first proposed it. Beyond this point, it becomes difficult for an individual to devote enough time and attention to each of their friendships, leading to shallower, less satisfying relationships.
What is the Dunbar number?
The concept of the Dunbar number was first proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who observed that the size of a primate’s neocortex (the part of the brain responsible for higher-level thinking and social interactions) was directly correlated with the size of their social group. Based on this observation, Dunbar hypothesized that there is a limit to the number of stable social relationships that an individual can maintain at any given time, and that this limit is determined by the size of their neocortex.
To test his hypothesis, Dunbar conducted a number of studies in which he looked at the size of different primate species’ neocortices and compared them to the size of their social groups. He found that there was a consistent relationship between the two, with larger neocortices corresponding to larger social groups. He then applied this relationship to humans, and estimated that the average human could maintain stable relationships with around 150 people.
However, it’s important to note that the Dunbar number is not a fixed, hard-and-fast rule – it’s more of a general guideline. The exact number can vary depending on the individual and their circumstances. For example, some people may have the cognitive ability to maintain more relationships, while others may have fewer due to time or energy constraints. Additionally, the type of relationship can also affect the number – we may be able to maintain more casual acquaintances than close friends or family members.
Despite these limitations, the concept of the Dunbar number remains a useful tool for understanding the limits of human social interaction. It helps to explain why we tend to have smaller social circles as we get older, and why it can be difficult to maintain relationships with a large number of people. It also highlights the importance of building deep, meaningful connections with the people in our social networks, rather than trying to maintain a large but shallow group of friends.
So whats the problem?
Well, one of the problems with having a large group of friends can lead to social comparison and competition. When we’re surrounded by a lots of buddies, it’s easy to feel like we need to constantly keep up with their activities and accomplishments. This can lead to a sense of inadequacy and the feeling that we’re not measuring up to our friends’ successes. This can be especially stressful for those who already struggle with self-esteem issues.
Additionally, it can also make it difficult to manage our time and energy effectively. When we have a large social circle, it’s easy to feel pulled in multiple directions, trying to meet the needs and expectations of each of our friends. This can lead to overcommitment, leaving us feeling drained and overwhelmed. It can also lead to feelings of resentment and burnout, as we may feel like we’re always giving to others without receiving anything in return.
Of course, having a large group of friends can also create logistical challenges. It can be difficult to coordinate plans and find a time that works for everyone to get together. This can lead to feelings of frustration and annoyance, especially if we’re constantly being left out of group activities or feeling like we’re the ones always making the effort to organize get-togethers.
It’s important to note that too many friends isn’t just a problem for extroverts – introverts can also struggle with the challenges of maintaining a large social circle. While introverts may not have as many friends as extroverts, they still need time alone to recharge their batteries and may find themselves feeling drained and overwhelmed if they have too many social obligations.
So what can we do if we find ourselves in the ‘lucky’ position of being too ‘popular’ and feeling stressed? It’s important to recognize that it’s okay to say no to social invitations and to prioritize our own well-being. We can also focus on building deeper, more meaningful relationships with a smaller group of friends rather than trying to maintain a large, superficial social circle.
While having a large group of friends can seem like a good thing, it’s important to recognize that having too many can actually lead to stress. By focusing on building deeper, more meaningful relationships with a smaller group of friends and prioritizing our own well-being, we can avoid the downsides of having too many friends and enjoy the benefits of a strong social network.