Lockdown has been hard on our social lives. Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, I personally resorted to speaking to my basketball to keep myself sane, but it became increasingly frustrating when all the onus fell on me to hold the conversation.
But as we emerge from social isolation and start to see people again IRL (I’m reliably told by a youth told that means ‘in real life’) one expert has claimed that in order for us to maintain healthy social lives we have to see five friends a week.
Yes, you read that correctly. Five. Friends. A. Week.
According to Professor Robin Dunbar and other research, having strong friendships is actually more important for your health than eating fruit or vegetables, which is why it’s perfectly healthy to devour a pizza after a big night on the town socialising with your mates.
The problem is, Professor Dunbar has created a completely unrealistic goal by writing in The Daily Mail that in order to achieve the optimal health benefits of friendships: “You need to contact [your] five closest friends at least once a week to keep the friendship functioning. Drop below that level, and the friendship will slowly but surely fade away.”
Which is a pretty big challenge because – unless you’re a toddler – who has five friends? If I really think about it, I’ve probably got two friends because I’m an adult. Well, I guess technically I’ve got three friends if you count Jayden who is the local Domino’s Pizza delivery boy, who I saw five times a week during lockdown.
Professor Dunbar goes on to say that if you don’t see someone for two to three years “they will rank among your acquaintances rather than your friends.” Which I think is perfectly fine. Acquaintances are great. You don’t have to check in on them. You just see them at the gym and say ‘looking swole, Ben!’ And then he says: ‘you too… mate!’ because he doesn’t know your name. Those are the most precious relationships of all.
Look, Dunbar is making a nice point that if you want to maintain your friendships you do need to put effort into them and tend to them. But, do you really need to see people every week? If I asked a friend to hang out a week after I saw them they’d probably say: “Absolutely not, I need to gather more life experiences before our next social interaction in order to bring new things to the conversation” or “new number, who dis?”
Which is perfectly reasonable. No one wants to have the same conversation again and again, that’s why I had to give up having chats with my basketball.