Having lots of friends is generally considered to be a good thing, and obviously anyone would rather have lots of friends than not enough. Having lots of friends means you have a large support network if ever you need someone to lend a hand, it means that you’ll have lots of people available to enjoy activities with and talk through your problems with, and it will mean you enjoy more varied and different experiences.
However, sometimes friends can also cause us stress, and maintaining friendships takes effort. According to ‘Dunbar’s number’ we are only cognitive capable of maintaining 100 close relationships, and this number gets much lower if you’re talking about people you see on a regular basis to spend time with. Sometimes you just won’t have time to phone all your friends, and sometimes you’ll find you don’t have enough days in the week to attend all your invites without losing your spare time. Then there’s the struggle of remembering all those birthdays and anniversaries… at some point it can feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions (literally if you listen to Dunbar).
So what’s the solution? I don’t believe it’s to ‘lose’ friends from your life, and it’s important to recognize just how valuable all these relationships are. Instead you need to get strategic and find a way to make those relationships more manageable. Here we will look at what some of those are…
The first thing to do is to stop worrying about maintaining those relationships. Many of us get stressed partly because we feel like we’re obligated to attend every event we get invited to and to make regular calls. Spending time with your friends should be something you enjoy doing and if you don’t want to go to a party because you don’t have enough energy then you don’t have to – it’s that simple. Most people won’t cut you out of their lives – if they’re good friends then they’ll value your friendship too much for it to matter and you’ll dutifully get an invite next time and the time after that. If you find they really get that upset because you can’t meet up with them on one or two occasions then it just means they value all the more as a friend. And if they do give up on you? Then they obviously weren’t such good friends anyway. So stop saying yes all the time, take a step back and stop worrying.
Something that can help you to manage large numbers of friends is to think about how close each of them are and to try and categorise them a bit more in your mind. Some friends are friends that you can keep in contact with by phone or over Facebook, others you’ll see every now and then, and others you’ll want to see every week or two. You do this already in your mind, and if you ever got married and had to choose your groomsmen/maids of honour then you’ll have already been forced to admit who your ‘favourites’ are. Once you have a ‘hierarchy’ though you can prioritise the relationships that mean the most to you.
For those you can’t afford to meet with regularly though, you should take advantage of technological means. Facebook is fantastic for staying in touch with people, as is chatting on WhatsApp or Google Chat. Either way you can have a good catch up this way, or share a joke and it will keep your friendship ‘alive’. Sometimes just forwarding a funny message or a joke every now and then is all it takes to keep someone as a friend.
Having lots of friendship groups living locally can be very stressful as it becomes hard to allot time for each of them. A solution is simply to ‘mix’ your friends by inviting a bunch of them to the same event and introducing them to each other. This can be a little stressful at first, but in future it makes it much easier for you to see all the people you’re fond of in a single sitting and there will be a lot less ‘managing’ to do.
Multitasking is something that can help you to keep up with your correspondence. If you struggle to find time to chat to your friends then buy a Bluetooth headset and consider chatting while you do the following things:
• Walk or drive anywhere over ten minutes away
• Wash up the plates/clean the house
• Play on the Xbox
• Have a lunch break
• Exercise at the gym
• Program/do manual labour/design
There are a ton of other examples, but this way you can make sure you have time to chat with friends without getting behind on your other commitments and hobbies.
Another solution is to find ways to see friends regularly that become routine and tie into your day. This can mean meeting for a cup of coffee in the morning before work if you work in the same area (a great way to ‘check in’ with someone regularly) or it could mean suggesting joining the gym together or starting a class. When you see someone once a week at the gym it’s a great way to catch up regularly without it taking up your whole evening.