20 December 2022
Writer: Rafael Reyes
Researcher: Rafael Reyes
Graphics: Sarah Mondoy, Jia Moral
The wide reach of the internet created an era where meeting people and making friends are more accessible than ever before. Online communities and social networking sites have become virtual bridges, instrumental in fostering connections—even more so during the pandemic. As the world slowly returns to form, we’re also returning to our busy lives, possibly away from the communities we joined. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The myth of Dunbar’s number
“Dunbar’s number” is a popular claim that asserts people can only maintain 150 friends . In an era where making friends is as easy as sending a friend request, the claim is often cited as an argument to work towards keeping quality relationships over quantity.
A 2021 study disputes the magical number and concludes that even with testing other numbers besides 150 people, the idea of limiting becomes pointless . Because of the complexity of human relationships, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to indicate a hard limit on how many friends and loved ones a person can maintain in their lifetime .
Our connections are essential in working through life’s hardships, no matter how shallow or deep. It’s how our civilization has stood tall across two millennia , and it will undoubtedly be what will keep us going toward the future.
Fostering Connections in a Post-COVID World
COVID-19 and its subsequent effects have left their mark on our people’s history. How we conduct ourselves every day changed substantially, including how we make friends and meet distant relatives.
As a health and safety measure, governments worldwide implemented lockdown policies to contain the spread of the virus . Consequently, being isolated from others incited feelings of loneliness, especially the longer one has to stay separated . Being left alone for longer than average can increase the risk of heart disease and worsen cognition .
It’s possible to feel lonely even when one isn’t physically isolated from others. In particular, lower feelings of belongingness can lead to facing harder mental health challenges in the future .
In a post-COVID world, here are some ways to build and maintain connections with others:
Schedule quality time with friends and family
Shifting towards a work-from-home or an online class setup has granted family members more freedom with their time . While the world is slowly shifting towards the new normal, there’s still some freedom as we use the online setup like last year.
It’s best to seize the opportunity and plan out things to do—online or offline—with friends and family. Structuring our day helps us maintain physical and mental well-being . Start a marathon for a TV series, play party and board games, or even catch up with others about life. With Christmas vacation around the corner, the holidays have never been brighter.
Whatever the plans you have during that quality time often matters little. The key factor that will improve your connections with your loved ones is the enjoyment everyone gets from spending time together. When we’re having a good time, we can put down the weights that burden us for a brief moment of respite.
Be the first to reach out
Another critical factor in fostering relationships is how often it is maintained. Human relationships require the effort of both people to agree to interact and spend time with each other . That explains why oftentimes, not everyone in your classroom or your workplace is a friend unless you’re able to spend time with each one of the people in it.
One of the challenges when making friends is negatively worrying about what the other person would think of us . It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as how we think about ourselves affects how we feel and act toward others, and that’s what others’ impressions of us will become.
Self-fulfilling beliefs aside, more often than not, people are generally favorable towards strangers and will like you . No matter the setting, even five minutes of chatting was often enough for people to label their experiences pleasant .
Reciprocate support from others
Aside from taking the initiative, it’s important to support the other person genuinely. Simply saying “hello” over and over doesn’t foster relationships. It’s the unspoken feelings of love and care that make others feel that they have friends.
A 2017 study found that people who support others because they had the freedom to choose to do so led to improved positive affect and self-esteem . Giving support activates the regions of our brain related to pleasure and reward. It becomes a win-win situation for both parties. The situation can happen again when they reciprocate with their support.
Our friends and family help us take needed breaks and support us in achieving what we want. When the opportunity to spend quality time manifests, in the short term, it might mean we’re halting our progress toward our goals. In the long term, we’ll remember the relationships that got us to succeed.
Every book, thesis paper, song, and career advancement has an Acknowledgment section made to highlight the people who gave their unwavering support. It’s a reminder that we can achieve whatever we want when we have our friends and families at our side to keep us going.
Pre-session Q: Who do you consider to be your loved ones?
- What is a non-negotiable for you in a friendship?
- What or who is your idea of a good friend/family?
- How does our social connectedness make the world better?
Post-Session Q: Send a message to a dear friend you haven’t recently talked to.
 Dunbar, R. I. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates. Journal of human evolution, 22(6), 469-493.
 Lindenfors, P., Wartel, A., & Lind, J. (n.d.). ‘Dunbar’s number’ deconstructed. Biology Letters, 17(5), 20210158. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2021.0158
 Dutcher, J. M., & Quinn, A. (2022, November 30). How a feeling that you belong could protect your mental health | Psyche Ideas. Psyche. https://psyche.co/ideas/how-a-feeling-that-you-belong-could-protect-your-mental-health
 Hwang, T.-J., Rabheru, K., Peisah, C., Reichman, W., & Ikeda, M. (2020). Loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Psychogeriatrics, 32(10), 1217–1220. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1041610220000988
 Franco, M. G. (2022, September 16). How to make friends as an adult | Psyche Guides. Psyche. https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-make-new-friends-when-youre-busy-with-adulthood
 Inagaki, T. K., & Orehek, E. (2017). On the Benefits of Giving Social Support: When, Why, and How Support Providers Gain by Caring for Others. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(2), 109–113. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721416686212