Connection count

March 5, 2021

I just realized that I have more than 450 phone numbers stored in my contacts list — a list of names and numbers that would've started around 2012 (when I got my first Android phone). I also kept a record of everyone I ever hung out with or closely interacted with over a year (late 2019 - late 2020), and that number totalled nearly 200 people.

I read through my list of 450 contacts and 200 interactions and was baffled by the fact that even the most incredible friendships can fade to near silence on a long enough timeline. Hundreds of people that I rarely ever talk to any more were once the very people I talked with regularly, once a day or a week. They were terrific friendships at that time. They were particular to a momentary chapter in my life.

I would consider them all still my friends, and if any of them suddenly popped into my life with the same old regular occurrence and frequency of involvement in my life, then I would warmly welcome them and their rekindling of our relationship.

However, today, I made a list of all the people I really want to talk to regularly and keep in touch with right now, and that list only reached a grand total of 64 friends. And the truth is that if my track record remains on track, then I will probably fail to make this commitment to stay connected with all 64 friends. I'd estimate that I will sadly not have a conversation with about a quarter of those people (¼ = 16) for the next month or more. And it's possible that if neither of us seek out conversation in the coming year, those friendships will naturally fade. And during that time, I may continue to meet more people who I befriend, and thus the cycle continues.

Fortunately, not all of my friendships just come and go. Some have remained deeply connected for several years, usually since their beginnings. By my estimates again, this may only account for another quarter of the list (roughly 16 people). The remaining people on the list, which is half, are good friends that I have gone in and out of regular communication and involvement with.

Friendship stats

If this is all a decent sample of accurate representation to my life, then here is what friendship looks like for my life from a statistical lense:

In roughly ten years I may make about 300-400 friends. For the sake of simplicity, I'll say that I may befriend about 320 people in a decade. That might average to about 32 new friends each year. However, at any given part of any given year, I may only consider about 64 people to be my "close" friends. Then, as life flows onward through the river of time, I usually only manage to stay in close contact with about 48 people, despite my desire to be closely connected with about 64 friends. And given this trend of unfortunate losses in consistent communication and connection, only about 16 people remained my close friends across several years' time.

Thus, this roughly breaks down to this estimate of what my friendships might look like at any particular chapter of life in the midst of a decade like so:

I wish to be connected to 64 people (X). I stay connected with 48 people (Y = ¾ X or 75%). My connection with 16 people (Z = ¼ X or 25%) fades.

On a longer timeline of around a year or so, I only stay connected with 16 people (⅓ Y or 33% || ¼ X or 25%) of the original friendships from the year prior, while connections fade between me and the other 32 people (⅔ Y or 66% || ½ X or 50%). As friendships naturally fade, 32 new friendships (⅔ Y or 66% || ½ X or 50%) develop out of new connections.

Reality check

To be much more realistic, most friendships began in school settings, at major events through school, through new jobs, and then from friends of friends. So the ebb and flow of connections isn't evenly distributed across the decade. Each year is unlike the other. The rate at which old friendships fade or new friendships develop varies significantly from year to year. Currently, I'd estimate that in recent years I consistently stay connected with about 32 friends, while the other 32 vary, changing slowly over the years.

If I were to never go back to school, never change jobs again, and never go to a major event again, I may not meet new people at a similar rate, and I might see a major decline in new connections. Yet, I do ponder if I would still lose connection with about 32 of the 64 friends I wish to be connected with, leaving only 32 remaining close friends and no new additional friends introduced to the normal lifecycle of connections across the lifespan.

I do sense that my personal capacity for connection is probably somewhere around 48 people, and more realistically, there are notable differences between the friendships within that set of connections. For one third, there are my closest friends who remain consistently close friends over the years; for the next third, there are my close friends that I hang out with or talk with on a much less frequent basis (maybe once a month or two); and for the final third, there are my friends that I connect with even less often (perhaps once every three or four months).

(Important note about this entire thought process: None of this discussion includes family. Family is a whole nother type of relationship.)

A few lessons learned

One of the most fascinating things I've learned while reflecting on these ideas is that I don't have high expectations of my friends, and even if some friends have never reached out to me in over a year (although it always goes both ways), I would still warmly welcome them back into my life with whatever level of involvement they're now interested in. As in, if you and I are close friends already, we could go a year or more without talking, and you could still hit me up and ask me if you could come crash at my place for a weekend, and I would be stoked to welcome you. I don't expect my friends to stay super involved in my life. Their level of involvement doesn't affect my evaluation of our connection. I feel just as connected with my roommates from five years ago that I only talk to a few times a year as I do with my roommates right now that I talk to every day. Once the depth of the connection is established in the friendship, it never goes away (unless there's some unresolved tension or something).

But another curious lesson learned from this is that I, in turn, am not always staying as involved in all of my friend's lives as much as they might personally prefer and expect. I've had two friends in the past confront me about my level of involvement, questioning my sincerity in the friendship and connection and doubting my care. Obviously that's terrible for me to do to anyone, so I'm sorry if you're a good friend of mine and I've similarly neglected your preference of involvement and expectations of friendship.

Hopefully now I have a better understanding of just how dynamic life is in my relationships and connections. (And hopefully I can use some of this understanding to better explain where I'm coming from.)

A few final questions

Did any of these numbers surprise you? Or is this estimate pretty accurate to your understanding of me?

Have you ever "ran the numbers" on these things in your own life (and in your "phonebook" contacts)? Are these numbers similar to what you estimate for yourself?