That's 17 More Friends Than I've Got

By Ariel Leve.

All of us need, according to new academic study, a network of 18 close friends in order to cope with the emotional and practical trials life throws up. How it happened that 18 became the dividing line between a well-adjusted, balanced person and an unpopular loser wasn't entirely clear, but it occurred to me that's 17 more people than I thought I needed.

What kind of person has 18 friends? Scientologists and socialites. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson once wrote of hosting her 25th birthday dinner at San Lorenzo for "55 of my closest friends". That's 55 people to worry about not getting back to you. No wonder she's exhausted all the time.

I guess the question is, what constitutes a friend. According to the study a friend provides "emotional and practical support". I get that from coffee. Does coffee count as my friend? Maybe friends have to be human.

So what about doormen? I live in a building with several doormen who collect my dry cleaning when I'm not home, buzz me to alert me to Chinese food deliveries and potential dangers such as unannounced "drop-by" visits from people I don't want to see. That's a network of 12 people right there. Plus Mohamed who works at the newsstand. He probably knows more about me than my own father.

The study did allow the sparsely friended one get-out, in that said relatives could be included as friends. But as an only child with no cousins, there's not much for me to work with there.

So there are six billion people in the world and I can't come up with 18 friends. How depressing is that? I can come up with 18 reasons why I don't have friends. And I can come up with 18 people that I used to be friends with. How about academic research into how that happened?

The good news, though, is that knowing I lack the requisite friends means I finally have a reason for why it's been so difficult to get by. Then again, who came up with this study anyhow? A bunch of academics? How would they know anything about having friends?