Monday, February 8, 2010

How many friends is too many?

Is it possible to have too many friends? According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar (, our brains can only handle 150 connections. Wow, 150? I can't even imagine calling that many people friends. Then I got to thinking.

I am a member of several writers' groups, most of them online, but I do get a chance to meet a lot of the people face to face at conferences. I have many things in common with these people, most importantly our love of writing and the effort we put into it to become better. We have similar interests and experiences. I feel close to these people. Are these people my friends? I think so.

So, maybe we can only handle 150 friends. I don't really know, but I'm not sure that I want to limit myself and my experiences so I'll just leave this debate as "Hmm, interesting" and continue to socialize as I've been doing - without counting how many friends I have.

What do you think about Dunbar's Number? Do you think our brains can only handle 150 friends?


GPS said...

I don't think you should limit your number of friends. You don't need to see someone on a daily basis to count them as a friend. I have a good friend I've known since grade school. We talk every few months and see each other less often than that. Are we friends? You bet!
Good post, friend!

Bart said...

Saw your email on the ff&p loop. Interesting number, Riley, 150. I started delving into memory and came up with this: A Marine infantry company is about 150 guys. So, yup, 150 is just about right.

Mary Ricksen said...

For me it's as many as possible. Friends keep you going.

Riley Quinn said...

I hear you. I have a friend from high school that I see about once a year but we get together everytime I visit my parents and we talk like no time has passed.

Bart, interesting that a Marine infantry company is about 150. The last paragraph of that article mentioned that if the banks had had smaller groups, the people involved might have noticed something going wrong sooner and felt more responsibility to fix it.

But I'm with you, Mary. As far as friends go, as many as possible.

Thanks for the interesting comments.

Rachel Lynne said...

Hi Riley, I don't know about 150 as too many but I know it is a task for me to keep up with my friends, especially if they aren't online. I'm so focused on my writing right now that non writing friends are falling by the wayside so I have to make an extra effort to keep in contact.
Thought provoking post :)
Chat with ya soon ...

Denise said...

Hi, Riley! 150, huh? And interesting point and counter-point going on here too! Perhaps some might want to differentiate between friends and acquaintances. Maintaining close connections with 150 people, remembering all the fine details that make a true, deep connection would, sadly, tax my tiny allotment of little grey cells into a breakdown. But, that said, I do think that the more friends we have the better, the wealthier we can consider ourselves. Oh, but I hear someone chiming up quickly to say that it's quality more than quantity and I have to agree. If those friends, no matter the level of closeness or number, if they supplement you, then it's worth every bit of effort to remember and a blessing of tremendous value. So, short version of a long comment - 150 friends? Why not! I should be so lucky!

Riley Quinn said...

I think everyone goes through periods where they lose contact with friends for a while, Rachel. Life gets busy for everyone but it's awesome when you can reconnect.

Denise, Dunbar does talk about different rings of people within the 150, with those in the closest ring being those you share a closer connection to like out to acquaintances.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Riley,
I suppose it depends on what kind of friends they are. I adhere to the saying - You can't have too many friends.


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Riley,

I'm a fellow TWRP author; nice to meet you. I'm here to say 150 friends is too many for me. I've also been a member of Washington Romance Writers for going on 14 years; Nora Roberts is also a member. She flat out tells people her friend list is full. And you know what? She has a point. You can only care and minister and keep up with so many people. After that your efforts are too diluted and you disappoint people.

I have circles of friends. Best friends - less than 5. Closest writing friends - about 20. Church friends - about another 50, and wait, about 20 I keep up with from a former church in another state. I have work friends - about 10 of those (small business). I have mailing lists and a fanbase from being a writer, but I don't call those folks friends - they are acquaintances. But I also have a very large extended family living near me, so I can't manage any more personal friendships.

That puts me at about 100. I think having 150 friends would push me over the edge!

Great topic.


Riley Quinn said...

I understand that it can be hard to keep up with people, but I would also hate to shut myself off to some potentially great people. I believe that people come into your life for a reason. They may not stay long but you learn something for knowing them. Your life is enriched in some way.

So, while some of the people may only be acquaintances, they're still considered ripples in your pool. Enjoy them and learn from them while they're there.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Margaret and Maggie. I appreciate the support.

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