• Keeping Friends

Breaking News: Embracing a new love interest kills two of your existing friendships

Published: September 17, 2010 | Last Updated: April 27, 2016 By | Reply Continue Reading

It’s not often that there’s "breaking news" on this blog or on the friendship front, in general. In fact, when I use the term "breaking," it’s generally paired with "up" and written in response to a reader who either has lost a friend or is considering ditching one.

But people love to quantify the number of friends they have (or think they should have); figure out how many of them are real vs. virtual, and how many are close vs. distant; and enjoy comparing their own numbers with those of their friends.


So when preliminary findings of a new study were reported at the British Science Festival earlier this week, it was news! Bloggers and print reporters were scrambling to find out the details. I received a call from the London Times yesterday morning asking for my comments and got right on the case, reading what I could and posting what I learned on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today later that day.

In brief, British anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar conducted online research and found that among both men and women, getting involved with a new romantic partner takes a toll on existing friendships. Dunbar suggests that people have a finite ability to maintain close emotional ties. On average, women have five or six close or intimate friendships; men have four or five. When someone adds a new romantic partner to their inner sanctum, two old friends get lopped off. Yes, dumped.

Within 24 hours, the little "story" that began in England—even before the journal with the actual research findings was published—-appeared in outlets all over the world. Here are links to a couple of those articles:

The Price of Love

Falling in Love Costs Your Friends

Professor Dunbar’s prior research suggests that humans are functionally hard-wired to handle a social network of no more than 150 (close and distant) friends at a time, an oft-cited statistic when people question all the faux-friends people make on Facebook. It’s been dubbed "Dunbar’s Number."


Does this new research fit with your own experiences? Have you been dumped by a friend who is the throes of a new romance?

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