Most of us these days have thousands of friends on Facebook and Google+ and live in more densely populated communities than ever before. People are everywhere, and yet despite the sheer number of social contacts we have, studies suggest that our number of ‘true friends’ has generally decreased and that most of us don’t actually know many of these contacts terribly well.
According to Dunbar’s Law we can only possibly maintain around 150 ‘real’ friends at any one time before we reach saturation point, so have we sacrificed quality for quantity?
Alone in a Crowd
This situation creates numerous problems, both psychological and sociological. It can create feelings of isolation for one, it can leave us overburdened for another, and it can make it harder to know when you have a real friendship worth pursuing and to then make sure you develop those relationships.
We can’t just blame Facebook though. Even before social networking was the phenomenon that it is today, it could already be hard to tell when someone was a true friend. You never truly know someone, and even when you’ve grown up with someone they can turn around and surprise you.
Here then we will look at how to spot a friend who is worth keeping. This is someone with whom you have a connection, who considers you a friend as well and who will be there for you when you need them. This is how to sort through that sea of contacts and to identify the people who are really worth investing time in.
The Different Kinds of Friends
Now you might be expecting me to start this article by simply listing all the things that make a good friend. Things like ‘trust’ and ‘reliability’ for instance will often feature highly.
Unfortunately though the reality is not quite that simple – nobody is perfect and everyone is different. It may be for instance that someone you know well once let you down when you needed them, or wasn’t there at a time when you needed a friend the most. We’ve all gone through tough times and found that some people we thought were friends just weren’t available or sympathetic.
Does that mean that that person isn’t a friend at all though? Not necessarily. For one thing, that person might be unreliable or unsupportive, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have other good traits. They might be highly generous, very interesting or supportive in other ways. It might also be that they were going through things of their own at the time – you can never really appreciate what’s going on in other people’s lives. It might simply be that they didn’t realise how badly you needed help – if you think back to your own track record then there were probably times that you overlooked a friend in need too.
Friendships are complicated because people are complicated. This is why it’s important to have a wide range of close friends who provide different roles: a friend for going out partying, a friend for moaning about work, a friend for discussing politics and a friend to provide a shoulder to cry on when you need it.
Separating the Wheat From the Chaff
That’s not to say that every relationship is going to be worth all your time and effort though. Instead of a list of points by which to examine your friends, it would instead be more useful to list a series of questions that you can ask yourself about them, about yourself and about your relationship. Ask yourselves these questions, and it should help to show you which of your friends are most important.
Do you enjoy spending time with them?
This is perhaps the single most important question. If you enjoy spending time with someone then that person is worth spending time with – easy. If however you ‘kind of dread’ your encounters, or don’t feel like you can be bothered, then you might ask yourself why you’re investing that much time in the first place.
What do you get out of the relationship?
If your answer to the above question is ‘yes’ then you clearly are getting something out of the relationship – in this case good memories and things to look forward to. That’s not all you can get from a friendship though – it might be that they are very intelligent and they offer you a lot of good advice, or it might be that they provide you with the comfort of knowing someone will be there when you need them. Of course you shouldn’t think about friendships in terms of ‘what you can get’, but if you feel like you gain nothing from your encounters then again you could be using your time better.
Do they make effort?
As I mentioned, not every friend is always going to be completely perfect and there will be times when you feel as though your closest buddies have dropped the ball. There is a distinct difference though between someone who has never made any effort with you, and someone who slipped up or didn’t notice you were in need.
Different friends will have different ways of showing it. Some will pick up the phone occasionally, some will send you those jokey texts, and others will travel across the country to come and see you. If it’s only ever you who gets in touch, then it suggests that either they don’t value your friendship, or that they don’t know how to be a friend at all. There are other people out there who deserve your time more.
Are you honest with each other?
Friends are many things, but one of the basic requirements is that they’re people you feel you can talk to and be yourself around. If you have to act like someone you’re not around those friends, or if they never open up to you, then your relationship is likely still very superficial even though you might have spent a lot of time with one another. It’s not so much that friends never lie to each other, but you at least have to be honest about your feelings or you don’t really know each other.
How would you react if you fell out?
If you have a hard time gauging how you feel about someone, then one way to find out is to use your imagination. Imagine that they’ve moved away from the country, or that you’d fallen out. How would you feel? If you’d feel heartbroken then that’s a true friend. If you’d feel indifferent, then they probably weren’t really that important to you.