How Many Friends Do We Need?

Someone sent me a “Friend” request on Facebook the other day. 

babies-on-couch

Should I accept it?

According to my Facebook page, I already have 296 friends.  Do I need more?

Somebabies-on-couch are people that I’m close to and see daily or weekly.  Some are people I’ve worked with, either in the past or the present.  Others are people from my distant past that I haven’t seen in years.  I have a close relationship with some, while I’ve connected with some out of curiosity. 

 

Connecting with friends from high school or college usually starts with that curiosity.  We know what they were like in school, and wonder how they’ve changed.  If we’re honest, we want to know three things:

  1. Where are they living?
  2. What are they doing?
  3. How much do they weigh?

They’re doing the same thing with us.

I’ve found that there’s a subtle comparison that takes place, too.  When I look at their page, I want to see how many friends they have.  If they have less than me, my self-esteem goes up.  If they have more, my self-esteem goes down.

How messed up is that?!! 

If I had 296 live friends in my real life, I’d never get anything done.  It’s hard enough keeping track of the people I do have in my life, giving them the time and attention they deserve.  Technology has made it a lot easier to stay in touch than ever before, which means we feel guilty when we don’t. 

So, what are we to do?  I’ve found an obvious solution, though it sounds callous:

Maybe I need to develop a friend budget.

That doesn’t mean one person is more valuable than another.  It means that since time is such a limited resource, I need to budget it carefully. 

It’s like doing charitable giving.  There are a lot of charities and causes that I believe in.  But since I only have so much money, I can’t support them all.  I have to be realistic about my investments, and choosy about my choices.

It’s called opportunity cost.  Whatever we say “yes” to, we’re automatically saying “no” to everything else at that time.  Any time and energy I invest in any one person means that time isn’t available for anyone else.

That’s why it seems important to budget my involvement with people.  It doesn’t mean they’re less valuable; but there’s only so much of my time to go around.

So, how should we budget friends?  I’m sure it’s very fluid, but maybe we could prioritize people in six categories:

  1. Immediate – Our spouse, kids, grandkids – those that represent a lifelong commitment.  These would be the ones we’re planning on keeping them until the end.  They get major investment of my time and energy.
  2. Closest – Our deepest friends, some extended family – people I that we care deeply about and they care deeply about us.  We intentionally seek each other out.  This could include old friends that we rarely see, but we pick right up where we left off each time.  We call to schedule times together.
  3. Close – People we know fairly well, and have good conversations with when we connect.  We’re interested in their lives, and enjoy occasional connections to catch up.
  4. Casual – People we’ve met or connected with in the past, and we can have good conversations.  It’s genuine, but not intentional.
  5. Transactional – Business contacts, casual acquaintances, most Facebook connections that don’t fit in the other categories.  Good people.
  6. Everybody else

It feels dangerous to post this, because everyone reading will be wondering which category they’re in with me.  That’s OK – it’s not a hard-and-fast set of rules, just a way of thinking to protect the people who matter most in our lives.  People can move up, but space is limited at the top.

It keeps us from being people-pleasers, and from letting people at the top get cheated by those at the bottom.

I’m OK with 296 Facebook friends.  I’ll check in occasionally – but then I’ll take a walk with my wife, have coffee with my kids, wrestle with my grandkids – and generally make appropriate investments in the people that matter most.

So, that’s my idea.  It’s not set in stone — it’s just an idea.  What do you think?  What would you change? We’d all love to hear your comments (below):

  • Phil Dickey

    Wow Mike, you nailed it again! I have 253 FB friends and a character flaw that causes me to be easily distracted. I will have to work on my “friend budget” as you so effectively described it. I have the same problem with going through my email, which is where I saw your blog post. Right now, I need to get back to my email, but this was important enough that I needed to reply. Thanks for being my friend.

    • I don’t think it’s a character flaw; I just think most of us have a severe case of modern life. We think we need more discipline and willpower, but we really need to figure out how to handle the distractions. Technology makes our lives easier, but also provides a huge number of “shiny objects” to take our focus away from what really matters. Great thoughts, Phil – thanks for connecting!

  • Jim Hale

    Great article, Mike!  You have found an eloquent way to express what I have only thought about but never shared.  I do have one dilemma, however, and that is something my wife and I have been exploring for a little while now.  That is in the area of what we have seen penned as “interruptibility”; the willingness to have our “agenda”, our time, our focus interrupted for another’s sake – perhaps a stranger, an acquaintance in need, or a situation that needs our love and practical help.  How do we identify those situations and allow ourselves to be “interruptible” while still staying focused and applying stewardship to our time (staying within our “friend budget”)?
     I have seen those on both sides of the pendulum.  Those who are so “interruptible” that they are flighty, undependable, and abandon time for their closest relationships because they were caught up in something else.  I have also witnessed those whom were so set on protecting their schedules and time that they resembled the chief priest passing the injured man along the road who only the Good Samaritan would help.
    I was recently reading in Matthew 8, after His sermon on the mount, that Jesus was walking into Capernaum and a centurion came to Him.  Jesus was immediately willing to travel to the centurion’s home to heal his servant (though he did not because of the man’s faith).  Here we see this idea of “interruptibility” at its best from one who had the most important mission in history and perhaps the greatest need to have a “friend budget”.  How do we marry these two?
     

    • Hmmm . . . great question. I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Here are a couple of thoughts:
      1) Most people don’t budget their relationships at all, which makes us susceptible to any interruption that comes along. We assume that “urgent” always equals “important.” Someone said that the only way we can say “no” to an opportunity is if we’re crystal clear on what our “yes” is. I think it’s like putting the address in your GPS system. Once the address is in, it influences every driving decision I make from that point on. If the address I put in is in Newport Beach, that lady in my dashboard will give me rather stern correction everytime I’m tempted to drive to Fontana (which is often). If I don’t put the address in, my GPS simply becomes a really expensive map.
      2) We need margin in our lives. If we pack every minute of our day with things from our to-do list, we have no room to flex when interrupted by people we care about who have genuine, pressing needs. I think that might be the biggest thing we can do — work to include unplanned, open space in our schedule. It’s critical to have room to breathe in our lives – every day. When it comes, we have to resist the temptation to fill it with something on our list. That means we have time to meet legitimate needs of others when it happens without robbing our closest relationships. I think it’s more important to have a “to-don’t list” than to have a “to-do list.”
      3) Jesus didn’t have Facebook. And he made “margin” a way of life. I wonder what we could learn from that . . .
      Thoughtful question . . . thanks!

  • Rich Lawrence

    Mike,
    If it makes you feel any better I only have 53 Facebook friends and find that it is more than enough. Wanted you to be in that circle because I remember you with great respect from your days of teaching and caring for students. Sure hope we get to connect face-to-face again sometime.