Friends on friends on friends

I recently stumbled upon a troubling discovery: Dunbar’s number. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 relationships. His book The Tipping Point reveals how new social problems arise if more than 150 employees were working together in one building. (Or so Wikipedia tells me. I don’t actually plan on reading it. Sorry, Robin.) Now, I clearly don’t know much about it, and perhaps it refers more to working relationships than more personal, intimate ones, but somehow, it’s struck a nerve.

New people are always coming into my life, and I just about always want to be their friend. There’s the woman my roommate met at a funeral who’s looking for someone to set her brother up with. (We’re getting coffee next weekend. Matchmaking, here I come.) There are my two older friends from RCIA who have met young women interested in the faith, one at a car dealership and one at a restaurant (who also happens to be a woman I rode a train with in February and I just cannot get over that), who I happily gave my information to. There’s the motorcycle-riding, cigarette-smoking waiter who works at the Greek restaurant down the street who may have misinterpreted my friendly smiles as I pass by. (Oops. Help.) All in all, I am usually delighted at the chance to expand my circle of friends.

But I wonder if it’s just too much sometimes. After all, I surely can’t be close friends with everyone who crosses my path. But what happens when I do come across a kindred spirit? When there’s someone new I want to get to know, and invest in, and love? Does my closeness with her push out another? For all my “suitcase heart” talk, I do know I’m limited, at least in my time, not to mention my capacity to love widely freely and generously.

I think of the pendulums I’m constantly perpetuating. While I may currently be in the mode of “meet all the people and be friends with everyone at every chance you get,” it can’t possibly last forever. What of the close, old friends, the friends who are time zones away and years removed from my daily life, but who still have such a treasured place in my heart? What of my sibling-like cousins back home, with whom I can just about enter a timeless parallel universe where all that matters is the present, and reminiscing about our favorite childhood memories? What of those I’ve known for a while, and have always been meaning to reach out to and get to know better, but just haven’t made them a priority? These aren’t questions I often ask myself, but this supposed 150 maximum has been pestering me.

It has everything to do with seasons, I suppose. I’m currently in a season of life with a weekly Bible study of wonderful young women who I’ve grown so close to over the months, with two lovely roommates with whom I love to share the simplicities of my days, a few coworkers who make office life enjoyable with long lunches and spontaneous happy hours...and the list goes on. When I can, I make time for phone calls to old, faraway friends, coffee dates with new ones, dinner parties with groups on the periphery of my closest friend circles. If I were to make a list of all the people I see and talk to on a regular basis in my current season of life, I’m fairly certain it would far surpass 150. But those whom I deeply love, and who know me well, and who I am dedicated to fostering deep intimacy with? Much fewer, to be sure. Try as I might, I am sorely limited.

While this limitation may frustrate me, it does give me reason to hope. I take heart in that longing I have for a depth and width of love and friendship with my brothers and sisters near and far. For it’s written on my heart by my Creator, who is love Himself, and who has made me with an eternal soul, destined for infinity. When we reach those heavenly gates, there will be no more limits to our love. And we’ll throw that 150 to the wind.




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