If you were given the option between:
- Talking to one friend for an hour; or
- Talking to six friends individually for ten minutes each
Which option would you pick? On one hand, talking to just a single friend for an hour gives more room to grow that friendship and to get beyond the surface formalities of “How are you going?” On the other hand, talking to more friends for a shorter period of time gives more opportunities to catch up with multiple people and allows you to manage more friendships simultaneously. Some of you may have opted for an in-between option; perhaps chatting to three friends for 20 minutes each instead. And perhaps how we decide to use an hour for our friends depends on what we aim to achieve in our relationships.
Let me offer this thought. Today we are surrounded by “friends” everywhere. With the advent of technology, we boast hundreds upon hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. And yet despite the number of friends the social network platform would suggest we have, some of us wouldn’t consider ourselves to have many friends. It isn’t that we want more “friends” on Facebook (to go beyond the one thousand mark), but rather what some of us may earnestly desire is to have closer and deeper relationships. There is this concept called “Dunbar’s Number”, which suggests that the maximum number of friends we can have is about 150. Without going into the research behind how British anthropologist Robin Dunbar obtained that number, if we assume this number to be fair then perhaps we are all stepping beyond our league – a lot of us have three or more times that number of friends on Facebook.
Building relationships take time; you can’t really expect to get close to anyone without spending time with them. But we need to realise that we have a limited amount of time in a day and as such it is impossible to fit all of our friends in the limited time that we have. Choosing to spend time with one person will naturally create the opportunity cost of not spending time with someone else. To build deep and meaningful relationships, we need to spend a fair amount of time with that person (and consequently not spend that time on other people). The number of hours we need to spend to grow a strong relationship with someone else will vary from person to person, but more often than not (and there are exceptions) the reason we are not close to certain people is because we didn’t spend enough time with them. Conversely, all the people you are close to are the ones you did spend the time with. We have a pattern here.
I can’t put a number down as to how many hours we should spend with the people we want to get closer to, but I do reckon that we tend to take on more friends than we are capable of spending enough time with. Narrowing down the number of relationships we are actively trying to grow may seem counter intuitive to having more friends; but if we are looking to have more “close” friends, then we need to have more time for “close” friends, which then comes from “having fewer friends”. I’m not suggesting that we get rid of some of our friends and no longer be friends with them. I am suggesting that in order to grow closer to some people, we’ll need to consequently need to grow away from other people. The focus is on growing closer relationships, not getting rid of relationships.
This idea of having a tighter smaller circle of friends and rejecting other people may seem unfair to those people we choose not to be intentional towards, but it is in fact a fair realization that we are limited by the amount of time we have. Making more time for the people we want to get to know better is loving for them. The real question behind the scenario in the introduction is this: “Would we rather build a few number of strong and effective relationships, or build a large number of shallow relationships?” Would we not rather do one thing really well than to do many things with poor effort? We need to spend our limited time and energy wisely, and perhaps it is more worth it to spend that hour on person, that to divide it up and give someone less to more people. If we spend that one hour on one person, we will hopefully have grown closer to them; but if we had spent ten minutes on six different people, where would we have gotten with the six of them? Again I know there are exceptions, and how we manage our relationships is circumstantial and dependent on many factors. But let me close and repeat that the most important factor that needs to be considered is TIME.
In the next article I will go over some practical tips on building strong relationships (ie how to use time wisely) as well as clarify points that I may not have fleshed out (in order to keep this article short). Stay tuned.