We are all hardwired for connection. Psychiatrist Carl Rogers suggested a need for meaningful interpersonal relationships was essential to our mental and emotional health. We cannot thrive unless we have a sense of relatedness wiht others. That taps into our need for friendship.
Along with direct contact and physical proximity to our friends and family, having an optimal level of intimate friendships brings feelings of purpose and fulfillment in life. There is a balance to finding contentment from these friendships: too few can feel isolating, while too many can be overwhelming. So where is the sweet spot for reaping the most rewards from the relationships we cultivate?
Well according to Robert Putnam's discussion on forming close-knit communities in his book Bowling Alone, five is the optimal number of friends to cultivate intimately. By forming five close relationships as early on in life as possible, our needs are met in ways that elicit meaningful fulfillment and invitation.
This optimal number holds firmly in spite of ever-repeated analysis and research to explain why five is the magical number. One idea is that it removes us from our primary network without leaving us too exposed. Another asserts it gives us security without becoming totally codependent. A third suggests this number reflects its universality, as it echoes the average number of partners in a romantic relationship.
The concept rests on an interconnectedness between individuals in whatever setting or series of events. It provides a framework for people to support each other's growth in healthy ways, which leads to deeper social ties and modes of exchange among those involved. It's a way of being together with trust, compassion, and acceptance - a means of reminding us that we are never alone.
This circles back to our desire for lasting connection – something so deeply embedded in our psyches that even when we love someone who is far away or has left us, we don't disconnect from that bond – it forms an integral part of our beings. In the wake of connecting emotionally and psychologically with another person, it is easier to experience joy and happiness.
Seldom does quantity equate to quality; disregarding the vanity of claiming how many people make up your circle of friends, these five relationships are tailored to meet your individual needs and feed into meaningful closer relationships with trust, understanding, and deeper communication over time. This healthy balanced structure builds reliance upon oneself but also considers others — not out of obligation, but out of mutual respect for both parties involved in the understanding that sometimes it's right to stay in and recuperate, and other times it's right to involve others.
So if you want to build closer friendships that bring meaning and joy to your sense of connectedness, try setting the intention to find the optimal number (five!) and dedicate your attention to those relationshps. Working through shared growth with these special individuals will give you strength as well as peace of mind and joy – which can be found not just near your loved ones but within yourself as well.