If you’ve ever wondered if you have the “right” number of friends, you’re not alone. Several different research studies reported in the New York Times have aimed to figure out if an ideal number of social connections exists.
At first blush, it may seem odd to analyze your social circle in this way, but it’s actually relevant to your overall health. Friendship in the United States has been on the decline for decades, and the pandemic put that trend into overdrive. The result of shrinking social circles is an increase in loneliness and isolation—emotional struggles that can have notable physical effects, such as higher risk of depression, substance abuse, stress disorders, heart disease, and stroke.
On the other hand, there is also an upper limit to how many friendships you can realistically maintain. If you spread yourself too thin, trying to make yourself available to too many people, you may encounter serious anxiety, forgetfulness, lack of productivity, and emotional turbulence.
With all of that in mind, it’s important to reflect on your social life and see if it could use some adjusting. A simple way to do this is by breaking down your connections into three main groups: casual friends, consistent friends, and close friends.
The three types of friends and how to make them
It goes without saying that all friendships are unique, but for the purpose of organizing them in your head and judging your own social satisfaction, they can be broadly categorized into three tiers.
A casual friend is someone whose contact info you have, but you don’t regularly stay in touch. They may just be a friendly acquaintance, or even a coworker you get along with. They could be someone you don’t know all that well, but who you met for a particular reason, like a shared hobby.
Although casual friendships are the least intimate of the three categories, they are also the easiest to make! Ideally, you should have a few casual friends for all the activities you enjoy and settings you spend a lot of time in.
If you’re a bookworm, try seeking out a community like The Book Buffet in San Diego where you can casually connect over a love of literature while relaxing in the park. If getting active is your thing, find a community like the Chicago Hiking, Outdoors, & Social Group that does everything from birdwatching and biking to canoeing and camping. No matter where you are, your best bet for making new casual connections is by attending a Meetup event.
They may not be your best friend, but a consistent friend is someone you’re in regular contact with. You can frequently rely on them for a good chat or a fun outing, and you know each other on a more personal level.
A handful of these types of friends—five or so—is a good estimate for the amount of consistent connection you can sustain. The best way to make consistent friends is by deepening some of the relationships you already have with casual friends, a select few who you really vibe with.
Put in the time to grow your casual friendship into something more. You could try making plans to get coffee, or having a few people over for dinner. You could even host a party! It’s easy to strengthen your connections when the conversation’s flowing, every guest feels included, and there’s an almost magical buzz in the air. All you have to do is follow these tips on how to throw a great party.
A close friend is someone you can always rely on, and someone who knows they can always rely on you. Really, this kind of connection goes beyond friendship—they’re a confidant you can trust, someone who helps you go through the highs and lows of life.
You should have at least one close friend, but it doesn’t hurt to have a couple more. Just keep in mind that it’s unsustainable to try being this close with all of your friends.
Once again, you can develop close friendships by drawing on already established relationships, but this time try deepening a connection with a consistent friend. Pick someone who you sense is honest and willing to be vulnerable, and whose company makes you feel full rather than depleted. A close friendship can even be rekindled with an old friend you’ve fallen out of touch with, or a family member you want to establish a deeper relationship with.
Putting yourself out there
The hardest part is often the most rewarding. It’s tempting to stay in your comfort zone, but that’s not where real personal growth happens, and it’s certainly not where you’re going to discover lots of new connections. The key to putting yourself out there is making sure “out there” is full of people who share your interests. The best way to do that is by attending Meetup events! You can even create your own Meetup group and invite potential friends near you to join an activity you love.
James Quigley is a writer, editor, and educator whose work has received Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets nominations. James was born and raised in New York, where he lives and works as a freelance writer. See more of his writing here.
Last modified on August 30, 2023