Words of Worth

How Many Friends Can A Person Have?

August 5, 2011

Is less more or is more, more or less better? Recently I read several articles on friendship—what makes a good friend, how beneficial friends are, the kinds of friends everyone should have, the optimum number of friends—and I was surprised by my findings.

One study suggested that the more friends you have, the more money you earn. While most would not argue that friendships are invaluable, do we really think they can add value to our bank accounts? Apparently, the people with the most friends make the most money. A study of 10,000 U.S. students over 35 years revealed that the ones who had the most school friends, earned the most money because those friendships provided better social skills development which translated into better navigation of the workplace which is a social network of management and teamwork. And a bonus–each extra school friend added another 2% to their salaries. There may be some correlation between salaries and the number of friends. After all, Proverbs 14:20 says “….the rich has many friends.” However, buffed up bank accounts or not, do any of us really have time to nurture and maintain meaningful relationships with the masses?

Most sitcoms that involve friendships would suggest that 3-4 friends are ideal. Most people I casually interviewed about the ideal number of friends said the same. Yet brain research suggests that 150 friends are manageable and even Facebook doesn’t start wagging its digital finger until you reach 5000 friends. So how many friends can a person have?

Perhaps it all boils down to how you define “friend” and how you categorize friendships. Some friends may be on our Christmas card list and who we “visit” once a year, or some may be waiting on deck to become our friend when our “friend dance card” has an opening. I have heard of people who have “one in, one out” kind of friendships. They can only pay attention to so many at a time and when one friend drops out for whatever reason, they have a vacancy for another friend to fill. Some friends are like those to whom Aristotle must have been referring when he said, “Friends must have eaten salt together” meaning that friends must have spent a significant part of their lives together, often around a table of food, sharing the ups and downs of life.

Advice abounds on the number of friends a person can have. But I’m going to take stock in King Solomon’s wisdom which didn’t suggest a maximum number of friends but did suggest a minimum,“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) He even went on to say in Ecclesiastes 4:10-12 that we might be in trouble if we don’t have friends, “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (4:10b). Friends support and uplift one another and friends offer strength, “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (4:12).

So how many friends can a person have? I don’t know, but I do know there is at least One with whom I want to be friends. Jesus said, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). Having Jesus as my friend is not a case of when less is more, but rather a case of having it all!

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