“How many people are in your intimate friendship circle?” is a question I was asked recently. I had to pause and ask myself what defines an intimate friendship circle. After some research and asking others some questions, here are a few of the characteristics of an intimate friendship:
Recently, I heard a talk by Greg Owens, a high-school teacher in Prairie Village, Kansas. Greg asked his audience to reflect on the relationships in their life and to assess who and how many had influence. I paused to reflect on a slide that categorized our relationships into four circles. These circles are taken from the 1960’s work of Edward Hall who identified four spaces of human interaction: public, social, personal and intimate.
The four circles can be categorized by:
Let’s look at the intimate relationship circle.
The suggested number of relationships in this space consists of two to four people. Edward Hall shares that as a human we have limited time and energy to be given to no more than four people. Intimate relationships are when we commit to be fully known and authentic.
We make an agreement there will be an expression of vulnerability and acceptance in a bi-directional relationship. In this intimate space, we make ourselves available to other people. We are willing to live sacrificially to meet the needs of others. We give these four relationships priority when setting up our calendars, social engagements, and commitments.
As an extrovert, I quickly thought of many people I would categorize as an intimate friend. However, I found myself very uncomfortable accepting the numeric guidelines provided by Hall.
After some introspection, I realized this had happened for me naturally. Hall was correct, I had unconsciously moved some of my friendships to the social category. These relationships are still important to me; however, I do not have enough time to stay engaged with the everyday details of their life or make my calendar serve their needs or requests consistently.
In these relationships, I will celebrate birthdays, schedule times to get together, however, they won’t be the first people I call if there is a crisis in my life. These are people I will call back if they leave me a message or ask for help. These are people I care about, but I cannot make a consistent commitment to be there for them.
The next two areas of social circles are social and public; I will not cover them for now as I realize the first two areas are the most defining and influential in the quality of our lives. In reviewing a survey that was prepared by the May American Perspectives Survey I learned there is a decline in the number of close friendships. The nature of American friendships is changing.
According to Dan Scott in a recent blog post , “since the opening of America came about over the last few months, people have been venturing back out to reclaim their social lives. In the past thirty years, American friendship groups have become smaller and the number of Americans without any close confidants has risen sharply.”
Statistics from the May American Perspectives Survey report show people with three or fewer close friends commonly experience loneliness and isolation—more than half say they have felt that way at least once in the past seven days. In contrast, only one in three Americans with ten or more close friends report feeling lonely in the past seven days.
Interestingly, according to this report, the most impacted group appears to be young women (under 29). Nearly sixty percent of the women surveyed reported having lost touch with at least a few friends, and 16 percent say they are no longer in regular contact with most of their friends.
A recent AP News article said according to a new poll from The Impact Genome Project and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research  18 percent of the public of U.S. adults, or about 46 million people, say they have just one person or nobody they can trust for help in their personal lives, such as emergency childcare needs, a ride to the airport or support when they fall sick. And 28% say they have just one person or nobody they can trust to help draft a resume, connect to an employer, or navigate workplace challenges.
The results of these studies have created an interpersonal and professional challenge for me. It has caused me to do some intentional reflection around my friendships. I am asking myself the question, “who do I want and need in my intimate and personal relationship circles?”
These results have professionally challenged me to provide a solution by hosting small groups virtually where people can learn and connect.
Relationship is one of the six elements in the Rare Transformation Life Satisfaction Assessment. As human beings, we were created to be our best selves while being in relationship with others. Humans need healthy, life-giving relationships to optimize resilience for when life gets difficult.
Personal transformation is most successful when we are relationally connected to others or connected to groups of people who are psychologically safe.
The coach in me is asking “Would you like to pause and intentionally review the quality and quantity of your relationships?” The ongoing challenge of the pandemic is weighing heavy on our ability to remain relational and resilient. What might you need to do differently to remain relational and engaged in quality relationships?
Here are some guiding questions for you to answer to potentially optimize the quality of your life and relationships.
As the pandemic recedes, our relational recovery may take much longer, or it may not happen at all unless we intentionally spend time developing relationships.
If you are struggling to know where to begin identifying your social circles and how to create a safe space in which to build resilience, consider joining one of our Appreciation Groups that will be offered in September. This virtual group will be hosted over four weeks beginning September 13. Participants will learn about and practice appreciation in a virtual community.
This link will give you more information and take you to the registration site. This coaching group is only $79 for the four-week session.
 Cox, D. (2021, June 8) The state of American friendship: Change, challenges, and loss. Findings from the May 2021 American Perspectives Survey Retrieved from https://www.americansurveycenter.org/research/the-state-of-american-friendship-change-challenges-and-loss/
 Olson, A. (2021, June 10). Poll: Millions in the US struggle through life with few to trust. AP News. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/science-business-health-coronavirus-pandemic-government-and-politics-459178f46ca2c62d6b6ad51517bada81