Should the one-in, one-out rule apply to friends?

Lifehacker recently linked to an interesting article that ran on the BBC about friendship. “What’s the ideal number of friends” reported that most people have five very close friends, 10 more in a pretty close network, 35 more in a looser network, and then 100 on the outside that fall into the wee-bit-more-than-acquaintance category. This would mean each of us has about 150 friends in our social scene.

I found this interesting and plausible. My numbers are a little higher in the outer circles (I’m a social butterfly), but almost spot-on for the very close and pretty close network numbers.

However, mid-way through the article is a shocking but brief story about someone who regulates his friendships like inventory:

A newspaper columnist once told of her shock when, having struck up a rapport with a man over dinner, she was told at the end of the meal he had no vacancies for friends. He was operating a “one-in, one-out” policy. Six months later she received a card stating he was now available for friendship.

That’s an extreme example but many people view their friendships scientifically and regulate them accordingly.

When I first read these paragraphs, I was flabbergasted. What gall this man had! Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was just saying what many people do subconsciously. When one friendship fizzles out, we fill it with a new friendship with someone else. We might not send cards announcing “you can now be my friend,” but we shift our priorities and move people around between the circles.

I think we all agree that a bad friend can cause clutter in our lives, but what about too many good friends? Can you have so many close friends that maintaining the friendships can interfere with other areas of your life?

What do you think of the one-in, one-out rule applied to friendship? Can your life be cluttered with too many close friends? I’m still mulling this around in my brain and I would love to read what you have to say.

52 Comments for “Should the one-in, one-out rule apply to friends?”

  1. posted by Bonnie on

    I do find that the longer I live away from my hometown that it becomes harder to stay in touch with friends who still live there. Some I talk to just often enough (every few months or so for most, or weekly but very short conversations in the case of one) but there are some who have become very demanding of my time and I have to say I don’t like it. I want to say, as others have mentioned here, I have a full life and friends here! And I totally agree that one high-drama friend is more than enough. Luckily most of my high-drama friends were also toxic friends and I’ve managed to quietly drop them over the years. I am struggling with one friend right now who (although she hasn’t done anything overtly horrible to me) I have come to believe is very selfish. So she’s kind of gradually gone from friend to acquaintance.

  2. posted by Eliz on

    I have to disagree with some of the people who say that the man who said ‘one-in, one-out’ wasn’t capable of being a good friend. In a way, he’s putting a very high value on friendship: he’s saying he’s not even willing to commit to being your friend unless he has the amount of time he feels is appropriate to spend on building a friendship, either because his involvement with someone else has waned, or because of some other change in his life. After recently watching a good friend make herself sick because she was spending more time keeping dates with friends than taking care of her own life, I have to say he might be a bit doctrinaire and socially inept, but he’s not actually bad. IF he’d just said something like “Well, I’ve a lot of commitments right now, but I hope we’ll be able to stay in touch.” and then had contacted her a few months later to schedule a get-together, would it have been so bad?

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