There's Nothing Wrong With Only Having a Few Friends

There's Nothing Wrong With Only Having a Few Friends
Cristina Roda Rivera

Written and verified by the psychologist Cristina Roda Rivera.

Last update: 08 January, 2023

Choosing to only have a few friends is a completely personal decision. However, many of us were raised to believe that having a lot of friends is a sign of success. But, if we examine this idea closely, there are a few misconceptions.

Firstly, a friend isn’t the same as an acquaintance (of which you probably have many). Real friendships require time, intimacy, sensitive conversations, sincerity, and the ability to forgive. Secondly, you don’t need to surround yourself with people in order to feel successful. Indeed, if you feel complete, you shouldn’t feel the need to show it. There may be times when you want to share it with others, but you shouldn’t feel like you permanently have to demonstrate or validate it.

Another concept to discard is the idea that a huge quantity of friends equals success. After all, it’s practically impossible to establish relevant and intense relationships with everyone you interact with on a daily basis. If you did, you’d be emotionally saturated and would feel an excessive amount of responsibility in respect of what others expected of you.

female friends talking
In friendship, quality is more important than quantity, although the latter seems to give more social status.

Having friends is inherently good, for countless reasons, many of which are pretty obvious. Maybe you think that showing the world that you have a lot of friends on social media is a winning strategy, particularly if your goal is to expand your social network.

You might feel that once people see how popular you are, they’ll inevitably want to be your friend, perhaps hoping that some of your popularity will rub off on them. However, a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that having too many friends can work against us when it comes to establishing deep friendships.

In a series of experiments, the authors demonstrated that people always prefer to be friends with those who have fewer friends (compared to them) than more. It’s known as the friend number paradox. It concerns the idea that we think we’ll attract more friends if we’re more popular but, at the same time, we’re more interested in making friends with others if we know they only have a small group of friends.

The friend number paradox

Social ties are obviously important. The study authors claim that they’re the building blocks of the social world. Consequently, having more of these connections implies greater social value. Moreover, in many cases, it means being able to count on more resources.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that people would focus their efforts on making friends with people who already have many friends. The problem is that these social ties are only valuable if there’s reciprocity. This may be one of the reasons for wanting to associate with fewer people.

Friendship goes hand in hand with certain implicit obligations and expectations. People may not be able to meet those obligations if they have a lot of friends, especially if they have too many. However, the quality of the relationship matters just as much, if not more, than the number of friends.

In addition, having a lot of friends means that your social resources are diluted, making you less capable of being a good friend. Other people also take this fact into account, either consciously or unconsciously, when they decide whether or not to become your friend. After all, they don’t want to spend their valuable social capital on someone who’s unlikely to pay it back.

No need to show your social worth

Perhaps you were raised to believe that having many friends was an indicator of the type of person you were. Indeed, the prevailing idea used to be that a good group of friends was a sign that people had grown up well-adjusted and ‘normal’ while those who struggled to build connections were weird or inept in some way.

Hopefully, you’ve given up that way of thinking, if only for the pure and simple fact that having fewer friends is better for you. Also, having more or fewer friends and acquaintances is circumstantial.

For instance, it may be that you had quite a few friends at school and a few in high school, then a smaller group, but a more united one at university, then, in later life, you started to feel lonely. Making more or fewer friends depends on your preferences, how happy you already are with your close circle, whether your job allows you new interactions, whether you’re going through a psychologically difficult time, etc.

At the end of the day, you’re a person, not an influencer. You shouldn’t have to prove your social worth. If you feel that kind of pressure, do you know where it came from? It’s an interesting question that’s often addressed in therapy.

Quality is more important than quantity

In 2015, a study published in the journal, Psychology and Aging, indicated that, as we age, our social circles tend to shrink. This can be explained by changing lifestyles and demographics. It’s also due to the fact that quality is more important than quantity.

Midlife happiness can be predicted by two things: the number of friends you had in your 20s and the quality of friendships you had in your 30s. Therefore, in a way, your 50-year-old self will benefit as much from your endless rounds of partying with college friends as the long conversations with them a decade later.

Today, with anxiety and depression currently on the rise among young adults, which is seen as something of an epidemic, a small circle of close friends will be far more helpful than a large circle of acquaintances.

Seniors playing board games
As the years go by, social circles tend to shrink.

Socializing with a few people shows independence

A small social circle can also be an indicator that you’ve taken steps to eliminate people from your life who didn’t treat you well. Moreover, it shows that you possessed enough strength and capability to sever ties with them.

After all, you must remember that friends who don’t like you enough can damage your mental health, change the way you see yourself, and prevent you from realizing your potential.

You might miss those who once used to be a central part of your friendship group. However, the mental health issue is too real to hold on to people who’ve become bad friends.

If you’re introverted, you may have another way of relating to others

Only wanting to associate with a few people doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an introvert. In fact, some introverts hang out in fairly large social circles.

On the other hand, if you have a small group of friends, feel uncomfortable at large social gatherings, and tend to stay close to home to regroup, then you may well be an introvert, which is perfectly okay.

Is it normal to want to relate to only a few people?

In short, yes. It’s completely normal to have a small circle of friends. There’s no inherent benefit to having 100 acquaintances and no close friends.

You have some relationships in which you grow and others with people who show that they’re not worth your time and effort. As a matter of fact, having a small group of friends is probably more usual than having loads.

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Some Curious Facts About Friendship
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Some Curious Facts About Friendship

Today's article will discuss some facts about friendship; it's hard to talk about it. Are your "friends" on social networks actually friends?



  • Carmichael, Cheryl. With a Little Help From My Friends: Long-term Self-perceived Health, Neuroendocrine, and Well-being Correlates of Early Adult Social Activity. Psychology and Aging
  • Kao Si, Xianchi Dai y Robert Wyer. “La paradoja del número amigo”. 30 de abril de 2020. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.