Have you heard of Dunbar’s number?
An anthropologist by the name of Robin Dunbar has a theory that the human brain only allows for so many meaningful and personal connections. He suggests that humans can manage about 150 stable relationships. Some people can do more. Some people can’t manage a number that high.
(And “meaningful” is more of a scale than an absolute goal.)
Maria Konnikova has an excellent article about the nuances of Dunbar’s number. You should read it for many reasons, but especially if you use social and text to supplement important relationships in your life.
For me, the Dunbar number is real. And it’s low. I spent the past year thinking about where I exert my relational energy. I asked myself questions like, “If I’ve only seen this person three times in five years, is she a friend?”
The answers weren’t always great.
Then I had to do the hard work of figuring out how to like someone — and appreciate his/her awesomeness — while de-linking my admiration from any false notion that we are truly friends.
That wasn’t easy.
I am guilty of being a lackluster friend, too. I’ve directed people to my blog or my Twitter account instead of initiating a call or visit. I wondered why some of my friends stopped asking how I’m doing. But how would you know about my life unless I explicitly told you?
So all of this is just to say that, as the end of the year approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on our Dunbar numbers. Is yours 150? Is it 15?
Whatever your number, make it count.