I want to talk a bit about social investment in terms of relationships. There’s an old adage that says a marriage is like a bank account, you have to put something in to get something out. All healthy relationships are like that. There is a term called Dunbar’s Number (or perhaps more commonly as monkeysphere) that posits that any person can only maintain a stable social relationship with a set number of people – around 150. Outside of this number, you ability to empathize/socialize is practically null. This post will be about how both of those intersect.
My hypothesis on social structure is that an individual is only capable of a certain amount of social investment at any given time. Their choices determine where that investment is made. Below is a representation of social classification, in terms of relationship and their proximity to the individual.
If you were to assign a 100% value to the entire set of groups, the heaviest weighting should be from left to right. You should put more investment in yourself than in your Closest Ally and a whole lot more than in any acquaintances you might have. In this I mean that all things being equal, given the choice between yourself and someone else, you should pick yourself (altruism aside). This part really isn’t up for debate, as it’s a social construct that humanity has employed for a very long time.
What is up for debate is the quantity of people in each group, the investment in a given group and the ratio across the spectrum. If you have 20 people in the Closest Ally group, you are unlikely to have any energy left for the remainder. Ideally your immediate family is part of your Closest Ally group (spouse/gf/bf included). You likely have a few friends in there as well. Your extended family comes next, then a social group of friends you see on a regular basis. Finally the Acquaintances bucket. This is where people you know but don’t have any vested interest in are located. There are people outside of this bucket but as the monkeysphere theory indicates, it’s unlikely that you have the need or want to acknowledge their state.
If you find yourself hopping from group to group and never really finding the time for quality social interactions, odds are you have too many people in your Friends group. If you only have 3 people you consider friends, then likely you have invested too deeply in the Closest Ally group. If your cell phone has hundred of contacts, odds are you have too many people in your Acquaintance group.
The flip side to this is that if you identify yourself as being heavily invested into a certain group, then you have a social profile. Heavy on the left side and you’re likely introverted, focused and invested – maybe even smothering. Heavy to the right and you’re likely an extrovert, unfocused and shallow. It’s hard to have quality relationships if you’re at either extreme as you’re likely to have a distorted social framework to rely upon. Either your sample size is too small and therefore unable to cope with change or it’s too big and you don’t have enough time to invest.
When most people leave school, they are on the right side of the structure. A few will be on the left but next to no one leaves in a balanced state. It takes years (sometimes it never happens) of conscious effort to find the proper balance and keep it balanced. Sometimes your Closest Ally in school moves to be an Acquaintance, sometimes the other way around. Likely, you will find yourself with less people you call friends and more people you call acquaintances. No matter what happens, embrace the fact that you’re going to change and that change is a good thing.