Dunbar’s #& some other stuff

I was poking around in the vastness of the internet to see what has been written about friendship. One of the things I stumbled across (read) connected me to a page about this person who came up with a theory about the number of friendships we, as humans, can really maintain. He had been studying monkey’s behavior and he sort of stumbled across some parallels in the human world and then pursued study there. If you are a person who likes research…read up on this guy because he seems interesting. If you just want to know what the number of friendships that are manageable in the human world…

it’s 150. Someone took a picture of what 150 people looks like…I borrowed it…

150 from the air

I like the way the author, Maria Konnikova, helps us to wrap our heads around this idea. She speaks in terms of how many folks you might invite to a big party that you were throwing. In Minnesota, maybe consider your guest list for a grad party. In New Orleans, you might think of who would land on your mardi gras open house list. For me, it would have be our annual christmas card list. Those are folks that we don’t see all the time and don’t necessarily have to dinner regularly but we catch up consistently and easily find conversation if we run into one another.

I am an extrovert, a southerner, a confident gal, a joiner and an instigator of social events. This sets me up to have a broad friend-base. My husband says that if it weren’t for me, he would be alone in a room somewhere. That’s an exaggeration, of course. He does have a point. He is an introvert, a midwesterner, a little unsure of himself in some social situations, not-a-joiner and not-an-inviter. He is a really great person to have as a friend though. In some ways, he is better than I am. I know that there is research on how many poor leaders get big jobs just because they are extroverted and confidant…I wonder if some similar research has been done on friendship…hmm…

Today, I went to visit a woman who is hospice. In the hall, while I was waiting to go into her room, a lady wheeled toward me and was turning into the next room. I said hello. She said, quite matter-of-factly, that she knew people in the hall were all for the other room because she never had any guests. She said that she had been there for ten weeks and had not had a single visitor.


I asked her if we could visit with her, and she said she would like that. She talked about the injury that had brought her there and the daughter that she was estranged from and the grandchildren who were not allowed to see her. It was a stark picture of a life. She said that  she was pretty used to being alone and it did not bother her as much when she was home in her apartment. Here, in the bustle of coming and going visitors for other residents, she felt the isolation. She felt more alone than ever. I can see that.

So sad.

The woman I was visiting has so many folks who want to share time with her that a sign-up form has been created so that there isn’t too much traffic at once. Even with that, we were joined by another couple during our time slot. There was barely room for all of us in her room. Her walls were filled with cards and photographs of people who love her. She needed to have people reminded that she needed some time to be able to rest….

So many friends!

I don’t have a thing-I-am-trying-to-say or concrete idea that I am hoping to convey today. This woman’s face just keeps popping into my head. I guess talking about her here helps me to feel like her world is expanded a bit. She needs friends as much as any of us do. We are meant for community. There could very well be a long story to explain away the starkness of her isolation by placing some sort of blame on her….but that does not make it any less tragic. She needs people.

We all need people.

Child #3 is a gatherer of people. She went with me to visit our friend yesterday. She is organizing a group to go to sing carols to her this evening. Not a lot of teenagers spend their texting-time coordinating outreach…she does. When she was very little, we went to carol at an eldercare home and she saw all the folks who were placed around the perimeter in wheelchairs…unable to move themselves. We stuck to the hallway and sang in that we-are-here-but-we-are-not-getting0-out-of-our-comfort-zone style that Minnesotans are great at. She slipped away from he group and started going up to each motionless person and gave them hugs. Her little body topped with crazy curls reached into those people’s hearts and showed them that she saw them and assumed that they needed a good hug. I will never forget the tears that streamed down one very elderly woman’s face as she used all of her strength to pat my child’s back during her long hug.

She had been noticed.

Tonight, the people who are coming to sing with us are activated by connections that they have to our friend in hospice or to child# 3. They are responding to friendship. We will ask them to sing to this stranger as well so that she can have a little piece of that. The truth is, there is more than enough to go around. Maybe you could share some of the friend in you with someone who does not have quite 150 in their sphere….

This is child #3…she is pretty fabulous…


Photo cred to W.Daberkow Photography


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