How To Lose (Two) Friends and Alienate People

I’ve initiated break-up procedure 101 and after wallowing in a Sauvignon Blanc pool of self-pity for several days, I decide it’s time to do something brave and leave my house. Through mascara-smudged eyes I scroll through my list of friends. I can’t hang out with Jonny, he’s on some work retreat. Lauren’s getting her nails done today, or at least, that’s what her instagram tells me and Farris is in Dubai. Jess! I can call Jess! Or can I? We haven’t spoken in, what, how long now? I check our last series of Facebook messages. It was seven months ago, and they were only cold pleasantries. Mostly initiated by her. What the hell is wrong with me? When was the last time we hung out? It slowly dawns on me that I have no idea what she’s up to. What anyone is up to. I repeat the process and remember a number of my friends, shadows really, that I haven’t spoken to in months… Where did they go?

Robin Dunbar, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oxford, claims that the number of intimate friends we can have at any given time is five. This number is manipulated however, when romantic relationships are formed. “If you go into a romantic relationship, it costs you two friends. Those who have romantic relationships, instead of having the typical five ‘core set’ of relationships only have four. And of those, one is the new person who’s come into their life”, claims Dunbar. But I don’t remember deciding who to axe from the gang! So why did certain ties sever? Was it survival of the fittest? Maybe it was the easier relationships to keep; the people who lived closest or who weren’t emotionally draining, expecting too much time from my loved-up new self.

Although friendships can be vulnerable to the same sort of instant break-up romantic relationships can, aren’t we more likely to experience the latter? We can get closer to partners in a way we can’t with friends, and so don’t expect to have the same cut-off goodbyes. Yet still when we’re caught up in the whirl of new relationships we seem to abandon some of the most important people in our lives to sojourn in an emotionally charged sexual hovel, only emerging for water and condoms. Eventually this grows weary. When your partner doesn’t call as much, or they bore you. When you start to fight. And when it all ends?

We tend to take for granted those friends; assuming they’re waiting in the wings of our lives for us to call on, when we see fit. Friendships don’t work that way, you have to give as much as you want to get. Somehow society dictates that we need to put romantic relationships on a pedestal and everything else becomes overshadowed because of it. For some reason, we aren’t encouraged to build a future with friends. Yet it seems in many ways that life would be simpler if we decided to take out mortgages with life-long friends, rather than boyfriends that have only been on the scene a few years. Doesn’t that feel like a more emotionally and financially stable option? Think about it, would you feel awkward telling work colleagues you’re putting a down payment for a cosy flat with your best friend? But you’d feel proud saying it was your fiancée, right? How is that fair, when we have the dire divorce stats we do, yet can spend decades and counting eating twiglets and plaiting each other’s hair?!

As a culture, we seem to be choosing to settle down with marriage partners as late as our early thirties, and because of this, we’re denied all the satisfying steps that accompany growing up. Why not open a bank account with your friend? Or move in with them? Haven’t they proved themselves for longer periods of times than a lover? And don’t you think you could make these life decisions in a clearer mind when freed from the throws of animal passions?! It would probably increase the prosperity of your friendship, building deeper trusting foundations as you both move towards life goals together. It’s no wonder we end up forfeiting friends when we feel we need to lock down a romantic partner in order to move forward with our lives. In many ways Dunbar’s theory is cautionary; although it is probable, it doesn’t have to be the case that we lose two or more close friends in pursuit of society dictates. Ultimately, we need to remember the people in our lives before the His and Hers towels robes, and what’s more, a partner in life doesn’t have to be sexual. Two of any kind is better than one.

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