You might be popular on social media but do you have real friends to help you through life’s highs and lows? From the honest confidante, to the fearless adventurer and loyal bestie here are the five friends you should be nurturing in everyday life, discovers Christine Fieldhouse
Forget having hundreds of friends on Facebook, thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram, and the 750 people we tell ourselves we could call from our mobile in an emergency. Experts believe at any given time we usually have up to five friends who will be there for us in good times and bad.
They’re the ones who take us out to celebrate when we land a new job, spur us on to go on a sailing holiday, and turn up with flowers and chocolates when we’re ill, injured or just down in the dumps.
‘We need good friends when life gets tough,’ says Leandrie Pentz, a personal development coach based in Dubai. ‘Best friends can double the good times in life but more importantly, they halve the bad times. They carry us through our dark days.’
But, she points out, we have to invest in our friendships to see them grow. ‘A friend will become just another acquaintance if we don’t invest in the friendship,’ she says. ‘Yet research shows that only half the friends we consider to be true and dear to us feel the same way. That inevitably leaves us with only a handful of close friends.’
‘Best friends can double the good times in life but more importantly, they halve the bad times. They carry us through our dark days.’
When anthropologist Robin Dunbar carried out research on the correlation between brain size and social relationships in the 1990s, he discovered the bigger an animal’s brain, the larger their social group. Applying this theory to humans, he concluded we have 150 people in our social sphere.
Since then, Professor Dunbar, who is based at The University of Oxford in the UK, has looked into the depth of those relationships, and he has found we have around five people – usually our best friends, our spouse and a relative – in our ‘inner circle’, our closest emotional layer. The second layer contains 10 people from our friends and family, and the third – the people we might invite to a group dinner – has 35. The final layer – extended family, people we work with and other acquaintances, includes 100 people.
‘The closest five friends are the people we would go to in times of great distress for emotional or financial support,’ explains Prof Dunbar, author of How Many Friends Does One Person Need? (Faber and Faber). ‘They’re the shoulders we cry on.
‘Our closest friends are usually similar to us in their likes and dislikes. It’s possible one might be more extrovert than you, but it seems important we like the same things, we have the same sense of humour, the same interests and the same personal views.’
Fabulous Five Friends
Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist at the Lighthouse Centre for Wellbeing in Dubai, agrees most of us need just a handful of friends.
‘Nowadays it’s hard to invest in relationships because so many things are competing for our time and attention,’ she says. ‘Having five friends you can invest in emotionally and mentally, and give a reasonable amount of time and attention to, sounds right.’
It’s hard to invest in relationships because so many things are competing for our time and attention. Having five friends you can invest in emotionally and mentally, and give a reasonable amount of time and attention to, is manageable
But she points out that what attracts us to other people could also have a drawback: the friend who listens to us for hours may keep us stuck in our worries, or we may tire of the social butterfly flitting from person to person, even though that’s what attracted us to her as a friend in the first place.
‘As a rule of thumb, the thing that attracts us to the other person will have a dark side to it,’ she explains. ‘Each of the friendships is anchored in a particular trait, and that trait is what draws us to that person. If it’s overdone, or not managed, it can be the thing that also irritates us about this person.’
So if real buddies come with all sorts of personalities, can you recognise some of yours, with all their traits, amongst the different types of five friends below?
The Loyal Best Friend
Life coach Adam Zargar, who is based in Dubai, says this friend is by our side at all times and the friendship between you is special. They will have other friends, but there’s something exclusive about your bond. We trust this friend with our deepest secrets – they never let us down.
‘They will stick up for you and call you when you’re down,’ says Adam. ‘They will be your biggest fan and your best confidant. When you’re with them, you will feel good about yourself and you’ll be energised.’ However, we may feel vulnerable and exposed when someone knows so much about us.
And he warns: ‘If you are in victim mode, and constantly talking about an issue, they will let you go on and on, instead of getting you to see other viewpoints and angles, which might get you out of a negative cycle.
‘The loyal best friend may not feel comfortable saying things that might upset you for fear of losing you as their bestie.’
The Fearless Adventurer
This pal is a bundle of energy, says Dr Afridi.
‘They push the limits and live outside their comfort zone,’ she says. ‘This can help us live on the edge and push ourselves to try new things. If you’re a fearless adventurer yourself, then you have a perfect partner for your activity.’
But she warns this buddy may not take no for an answer easily.
‘They may judge you if you’re not up for their latest adventure,’ she says. ‘They may also take risks that are not thought through, resulting in damage or danger.’
The Wise Mentor
We turn to this person for advice, says Adam Zargar, and they have our back.
‘We trust these friends because they have the experience and knowledge to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. They may have known us for a long time so they know our strengths and weaknesses.’
But Adam warns that we may have advanced in the time they have known us, so their opinion of us could be a little out-of-date.
‘Because they’re older or more experienced, we see their advice as gospel, and we follow it to the letter,’ he says. ‘My suggestion is take their advice, and put your own meaning on it, based on other suggestions and your own research, as well as what you feel comfortable with.’
The Polar Opposite
According to author Gill Hasson this person is good for us because they’re the ‘Yin to our Yang’.
‘You help to provide a balance and a sense of perspective for each other,’ says Gill, who wrote The Confidence Pocket Book. ‘The quiet, calm friend will calm down the extrovert, loud pal and the outgoing gregarious one will bring their friend out of their shell.’
Dr Afridi warns that unless there is deep understanding and care in the friendship, opposites might feel they have to constantly prove their point of view.
‘You may feel insecure if you disagree with this friend, which you probably will do often. Wherever there are opposites, you can be sure there will be a right and a wrong in some conversations,’ she stresses.
The Work Mate
Adam Zargar says this is a great friend to have because we spend so much time with them – often up to eight hours, five days a week.
‘It will lead to a better working relationship if you get on socially,’ explains Adam, ‘as you’ll have even better communication and more understanding between you.’
But he warns against becoming too co-dependent on your work pal.
‘It might become difficult when you have to tell them what to do at work, or they may take issue with you bossing them about.
‘They may think they can put in less effort or not meet deadlines because you are friends. There could also be problems if they are negative about work, or if they don’t get on with other staff members. You may be associated with their views, whether you agree with them or not.’