From the archive:

Just a few friends
Friends in Antarctica*

All anyone needs is a few friends–between and two and five. This surprising (to me) information comes via Kate Murphy’s New York Times piece, Do Your Friends Actually Like You? That title caught my attention because it hadn’t occurred to me that people I consider to be friends don’t like me all that much, but according to recent research, only approximately 50% of so-called “friendships” are mutual.

This is a dilemma. How can one know who’s a true friend and who isn’t. It’s too humiliating to go around asking friends, “Do you like me as much as I like you?” And what makes someone a friend? In my twenties, I considered my friends were almost everyone I knew. These days, Facebook Friends may be that equivalent.  However,  I suggest you not compare others’ Facebook Friend numbers to your own. I tried this and learned that my son Ben has ten times the number of friends I have.

So what makes someone “one of my best friends?” Vassar English Professor Ronald Sharp, who co-edited “The Norton Book of Friendship,” defines friends as people you take the time to understand and allow to understand you. That means revealing things about yourself that you don’t let most people know. Under that definition, it’s easier to understand why we don’t have many “true friends.”

British evolutionary psychologist Robin I. M. Dunbar takes a brisker approach. He says, “There is a limited amount of time and emotional capital we can distribute, so we only have five slots for the most intense type of relationship.” He doesn’t sound like much of a people person—emotional capital? relationships as “slots?” And he uses bad grammar besides (“we only have” instead of the correct “we have only”).

Every week, Facebook reminds me to add a “Call to Action” at the end of this blog—something I seldom do because it seems silly and embarrassing. This particular blog is no exception.  If you don’t consider me one of your on-line or off-line friends, keep it to yourself.  I’d rather assume you are.


*Photo of sea lions by moi.



About Alexis

Alexis Rankin Popik, author of Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, is an award-winning short story writer whose work has appeared in The Berkshire Review and Potpourri Magazine. She has penned numerous articles about local history that have been published in Connecticut Explored and the University of Connecticut School of Law and The Hartford Seminary publications. A former union organizer, Popik traveled the country educating shipyard workers about health and safety and founded a labor-management health plan before turning to writing fiction full-time. She lives with her husband in New England.
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