For Better Friendships, Have Fewer Friends

We’ve all got friends. Chances are, you’ve got lots of them. Much of our lives revolves around spending time and effort in friendships. But if we want good friendships, we’re going to have to be exclusive.

Friendships are simultaneously one of the most essential and most inconsequential of social human relationships. That’s why it’s a core theme in my new book, The Variable Life. Technically speaking, a person always has a biological mother and father. We are born into families, but we choose friendships.  Sometimes, people choose to go through life with no friends at all, but most of us invest ourselves in building friendships during every stage of our lives.

If we’re going to spend parts of our lives involved with other people in friendship, we should make the relationships the best they can be; authentic, meaningful, and substantial — not shallow, impersonal, and uncommitted.

5 Reasons Why Friendships Should Be Exclusive

C.S. Lewis wrote a fantastic book called, “The Four Loves,” about different types of relationships. Some of his best thoughts are the ones on friendship, so I’ve included some of the excerpts here.

Here are 5 reasons you should keep your friendships exclusive if you want them to be deep, enriching relationships.

1. Friendships are powerful influences. To become the people we want to be, we should surround ourselves with the people we want to be like. Remember: your identity is tied to other people. And we learn to become like who we spend time with.

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life, and the school of virtue…In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.”

2. Deep & Narrow vs. Wide & Shallow. You can’t be best friends with everybody. Your time and social energy have a limit, and some personal details of your life don’t belong to public knowledge. You have to choose which friends have highest priority in your life, and how you’ll allow those individuals to know you more intimately in friendship.

“Eros [romantic love] will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.”

3. Interests vs. Values. Not everyone shares the same values. Sure, everybody has shared interests like pizza and movies and hanging out every weekend. But what do you value? What really gets you going? What do you spend your nights dreaming about and your free time working toward?

“[Friendship] is essentially between individuals; the moment two men are friends they have in some degree drawn apart together from the herd.”

4. Deep friendship requires focus on something else. This kind of relationship isn’t about being inwardly-focused on maintaining cohesion between many people for the sake of getting long. Friendships don’t thrive on talking about how much they like being friends. Friendships are healthiest when the individuals involved are each passionate about something and act on that interest together.

“..Those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a friend,’ no friendship can arise — though affection of course may. There would be nothing for the friendship to be about; and friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice.”

5. You can’t go everywhere with everyone. Authentic friendships stay committed, regardless of of time or distance. Some relationships are simply friendships of the road, while you happen to be on the same path for a period of time. But others are friendships of the soul, which isn’t separated by life circumstances or location. Friendships of the soul are the kind of journeys that transform us, sustain us, and encourage us in the stories we’re living.

“Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.”


How do you think the best friendships keep going? Can you maintain deep relationships with many people?


Find more in John’s new book, The Variable Life: Finding Clarity and Confidence in a World of Choices. Start reading for free at

3 responses to “For Better Friendships, Have Fewer Friends

  1. Exclusive? You don’t define the term so I’m not sure what you mean here…that the people we’re friends with can’t be friends with anyone else?

    • Good point, Ryan.

      By exclusive, I mean that not everyone can be involved. Friends can be shared, of course, but deep friendships won’t be able to sustain between many more than five or ten people, I think.

      A person will have to make decisions about how much he will put himself into a friendship, because time and energy is limited. Does that make more sense?

      • Yeah, it makes sense that time and energy is limited, and that an individual will only be able to sustain so many relationships that can truly be called deep relationships, but it is difficult to relate it to “sustaining these friendships between 5-10 people.” I guess I haven’t thought of deep friendships in groups like that.

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