Relationships: Did you find a new best friend? Delve deeper into a relationship? Break up? Get back together? Tell us about who you added – or subtracted – from your life. Why?
I saw this on someone’s Facebook profile the other day and was at first uncomfortable by it. Promote, demote, or terminate are not words we often use when we talk about the relationships we keep. But as soon as I read this question, I immediately thought back to this and how maybe we shouldn’t be so uncomfortable curating our relationships.
According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, there is a cognitive limit to the number of stable social relationships we can maintain. That number, called the Dunbar number, is 150. Regardless of what your Facebook or Twitter statistics tell you, the research suggests that our brain is only capable of maintaining effective, mutual social interaction with a limited number of people we know. And this probably shouldn’t be surprising, just think about how hard it can be to balance social obligations during the holidays or creating mailing lists for Christmas cards or invitations to large events. It is easy to lose touch with people, because there are always new potential friendships and relationships vying for very limited social connectedness space in our brains.
Which to me says, I should be curating the heck out of my relationships. All the time.
That doesn’t mean one missed phone call and BAM! demoted (or terminated! yikes!) but I do think it means being thoughtful about my relationships and asking myself how can I maintain my best relationships, how can I improve my good ones (or the ones that are floundering and I would be sad to lose altogether), and which don’t need as much attention anymore. Can you ever actually have too many friends?
Super hard to think about these things, right? I think so. It makes me feel like I will someday sit down to my list of relationships and say, “Oh you? Looks like your at spot 151. Sorry. Terminated.” Ugh, that sounds miserable.
I would like to focus on the positives– how I can build and maintain the good relationships. Then maybe the less positive ones can fall away by attrition because I won’t be putting any energy- positive or negative- into them. If I commit to a more thoughtful curating of relationships, it will not be easy for me. It will likely require that I call my friends who do not live near me more often, and I am just not a huge fan of talking on the phone. But I’m also not a huge fan of losing friends, so there’s that.