Getting by with a little help from our few friends

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Although he has millions of fans around the world, David Beckham has revealed he only has three close friends.

Features editor Joni Ager asks, how many friends do we really need?

Our friendships can be as important to us as our family, but how many friends should a person have?

David Beckham surprised many people last week when he admitted he only had three close friends.

He told a US magazine: “I’ve got my wife. I’ve got my four kids. I’ve got parents, grandparents still, and three really good friends. It’s all you need. I’d rather have three really good friends than 20 good friends.”

With the phenomenal growth of social networking websites, it is now possible to put a precise figure on the number of friends you have – providing they are on Facebook or Twitter,

A recent study revealed the average person has 130 Facebook friends, but it’s not unknown for someone to have hundreds of ‘friends’ online.

However, the same study found people on average have just two people who they consider to be close friends, one fewer than a similar study conducted 25 years ago.

Robin Dunbar, a professor at Oxford University and author of the book ‘How Many Friends Does One Person Need?, says you can only really have 150 friends at one time.

His theory, called Dunbar’s Number, states that 150 is the maximum number of people with which it is possible to maintain reciprocal relationships.

The number would include biological relatives and excludes people you class as casual friends or mates.

He said: “The number 150 really refers to those people with whom you have a personalised relationship, one that is reciprocal and based around general obligations of trust and reciprocity.

“If you asked them to do a favour, they would be more likely to say yes than those outside the 150.”

The circle of 150 is made up of four layers, the Circles of Acquaintanceship. There is an inner core of five intimate friends or family members, such as you partner and your best friends. The layers then increase by a factor of three – 15, 50 and 150 – and the level of intimacy decreases with each circle.

His theory is based on the notion that relationships can only survive if you reinforce them by face-to-face contact and mutual love and respect.

He even goes as far as to say that anyone who claims to have more is ‘suspect’, as the quality of relationships deteriorates as the social group widens.

So how many friends is the optimum number?

Dawn Smyth, of Mawsley, said: “I have one really true friend and we met at the bottom of her garden gate in 1977.

“We have both had varied lives – I had moved to the USA for 10 years and she to Australia for three but throughout all this time we are still best friends.

“She is godmother to my daughter and am sure we will still be having a laugh in the nursing home 30 years from now.

“I feel so blessed to have this one person who, no matter what has happened in my life, has always stood by me and never judged me, nor me her.”

Sarah Hillyer, of Kettering, said: “I have about six or seven good friends. All have different personalities but all of them I know would be there for me and vice versa. I love them all.”

But Samantha De-Lara, of Rothwell, said: “Life isn’t about counting friendships but about friendships that count.”

A study in 2009 suggested that the more friends you have, the more you earn.

The study of 10,000 US students over a 35-year period found the wealthiest people were those that had the most friends at school. Each extra school friend added two per cent to the salary.

The researchers said this was because the work place is a social setting and those with the best social skills prosper in management and teamwork.