Smaller circles mean stronger support networks, or so Natasha writes.
Generally, as I’ve gotten older, the size of my friendship groups have become smaller, although the number of them have increased. Coming to university meant that the singular, large friendship group that I had at school shifted to having a number of friends that I met through different avenues: flat-sharing, my degree program, and the societies I was involved in.
That singular large friendship group I had at school was divided into small cliques who would purposefully leave people out of the wider group and there was a never-ending set of tiny political channels that one had to tread when identifying as a member of this group. It was like constantly tip-toeing on a line drawn in the sand that became fainter with every incoming wave from the ocean. It became less of a friendship group, more of a way to designate popularity and have one’s ego stroked. Many people in this large group didn’t have many friends outside of school. For me, the most valuable friends I met were through my hobbies, bar one, but even then, I only became very close to her when I drifted away from that large pernicious circle.
I’ve found large friendship groups a breeding ground for toxicity, but maybe that’s just the types of people I’ve dealt with in those situations. Since then I’ve tightened the number of people in a given social circle and spread my friends across my different interests, my social life has never been so great.
I don’t like to be pessimistic, but, what if you only had one large friendship group and you fell out with them? Would you feel like you have any other friends to turn to for advice? I’ve met people who only maintain one large social circle and increasingly feel trapped and that they don’t have any other options when it comes to friendship.
Having a number of small but broad social circles gives you greater independence. My social circles have typically come from joining different societies and meeting people with similar common interests. Having this commonality means that the conversations are stimulating and may change my perspective because I’m associating with a diverse range of people.
However, I do rank my friends based on how much I trust them and prioritise individual friends over others based on this personal ranking system of mine. Friendship isn’t always 50/50, but friends and social circles have to give you breathing space and this works vice versa. Effort is required in both individual friendships and social circles.
Having multiple circles isn’t necessarily about “keeping your options open” (although it can be), rather about keeping contact with different people who ensure that your worldview does not become polarised, that offer alternative views, perspectives, conversations, and advice. And more importantly, bring out the best version of yourself in one way or another.
Maybe I’m a social butterfly? I don’t like to think I am, but some of my other friends may describe me as a social floater, but maybe they’re the same thing. Floating is fine, in my opinion. But I know for sure that I simply will not go back to having a singular, large friendship group whose personal politics make the group itself unstable and would drain my positive emotional energy.