Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.   .John 15:13.

Over 60 years ago, my mother told me that you can count your real friends on one hand.

I didn’t appreciate her wisdom for a long time, but it’s pretty accurate based on my own experience.  And now studies show exactly that: five is the magic number..

Of all the things in life that are underrated, I think forming a deep friendship with another person is high on the list. I’ve written posts on how to choose friends, the value of friends and even what real friends do for one another.

C.S. Lewis even commented on the need for friends:

The safest road to hell is the gradual one . . . the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. This is why it’s so dangerous to do life alone.” 

Smartphones burst on the scene with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. After 12 years, we are now getting a look at what havoc it has caused to our relationships. Not surprising (to me, anyway), there has been a decline in true friendships in the past decade.

A recent study showed that social media has made most people’s friendships superficial and shallow. Another study of 3,000 adults concurred.  High social media use affected both the quantity and quality of friendships.

It turns out that our brain limits us as to the number of friends we can digest. The number is 150, including family, according to R.I.M. Dunbar, a Psychologist at the University of Oxford.

To have true connection with your closest five, you need to spend time connecting at least once a week. That takes time, which is another limit on relationships. If you love someone or are married, the number drops to 4.

For the next 15, you need to connect at least once every month, and once a year for the rest of the 150. Interesting stuff. The takeaway is that the more your spend time on a relationship, the stronger it becomes.

Social media doesn’t increase our capacity for friends, and the number stays at 150.  While getting “likes” is gratifying, it doesn’t replace face-to-face conversation.

In other words, if you have more than 150 “friends” on social media, the number above 150 is meaningless.  They are just acquaintances. They are not your friends.

Connecting means some kind of back and forth conversation which takes time. Fast forward to today where WhatsApp, Snapchat, texting, Instagram and Facebook have become platforms for interpersonal communication.

Jean Twenge,  who has researched this area,  has noted that FOMO  and increased use of social media has resulted in less time hanging out with friends. The result: increased loneliness and isolation.

The next generation (18-34) spends upwards of 43% of their digital use on apps, and adults in general spend over half their day interacting with media.  For the next generation, that’s 8 hours a day.

But what is it getting them? Shallower relationships, superficial friends and often loneliness and depression. Certainly not a friend willing to lay down his life for them.

A friend of mine went through a tough patch in his life. He did some pretty bad things which caught up to him.  I spent time with him in the aftermath.  I told him that the good news was that he would really find out who his real friends were.

Those who were shallow would distance themselves and abandon him.  He later came to me and said: “You were right; I now know which friends I can count on.”

This morning, I chatted with a friend, Steve Noble, who has started meeting with some from the next generation. He asked them a couple of questions. The answers didn’t surprise me.

None of them had a close friend that they felt they could call on in need, and none of them ever connected in any meaningful way with someone older.

In a challenging article in Christianity Today, Jen Thorn describes the 6 costs of real friendship:

Time, personal convenience, intimacy, comfort, love and prayer. This is a biblical view of what real friends do for each other. Lest I forget, every study I’ve seen reports that those who have close friendships tend to be happier in life. Nuff said.

I’ve had the good fortune to have close friends, but it has taken effort and intentionality. I’ve met with 2 other men for over 25 years weekly, and we share life together.

Proverbs tells us to seek wise counsel, and we have provided each other with invaluable support, direction and feedback through the years. I count my group as a peer mentor group, although we never gave it that label.

The challenge here is that the next generation is missing out by not having real friends. They need someone to come alongside and help them understand the importance of friends in their life. Real friends are the people who stick by you in the good times and the bad.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  In your interaction with your mentee, find out who his friends are (or aren’t), and encourage him to develop close relationships. It may be the best advice you can give him.


Statistics on Cell Phone Usage/Addiction (2018)

More than a third of people can’t Live without smartphones:

How Social Media is Ruining Relationships

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?  Jean Twenge (Atlantic)

6 Costs of Real FriendshipChristianity Today

Social Media Addicts Struggle To Make New Friends, Keep Old Ones In Real Life StudyFinds

 WORSHIP:  Listen to What a Friend by Matt Maher

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