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A concerned mother asked about friends. She was worried because her teenager only had one close friend.

Do I have friends? An interesting question, and one I doubt most people can answer easily. My wife and my family are my close friends; there is no one else I communicate with at least monthly on serious matters.

I have friends, people with whom I discuss matters of minimal consequence. Online contacts from my "real life" are generally of this sort. We communicate, but seldom about personal matters.

In 1985, the average American claimed to have three close confidants (which could have included spouses or family members, in addition to friends), but by 2004, the average American had only two close confidants. One in four people reported having no one to talk to at all.
This isn't an "autism" or "introvert" or "gifted" issue. This is a social crisis much larger than any labels could explain. Most of us don't have many close friends. I've read estimates that most people have from two to five close friends. Numerous studies have also revealed a human limit of 150 (roughly) "acquaintances" before we are overwhelmed by the data required to maintain social and emotional connections.

Online, we have hundreds of "friends" that are nothing more than occasional (or never) commentators on our "walls" and "pages" thanks to social networks. I don't really know many of my "friends" and I prune the lists from time to time. We've confused the value of collecting friends, treating them like prize tokens at an arcade, with the value of maintaining true friendships.

My wife and my immediate family are the people I interact with daily and weekly. Those four people are my friends. That's not a bad number, according to researchers.

So, to the concerned mother I say, "Don't worry. Having one close friend is good."

I appreciate my acquaintances, including coworkers past and present, but friendships are rare. Celebrate each one, knowing it is special even according to researchers.


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