In an interview after India’s loss to Australia in the World Test Championship, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who’d been benched for the final, bitterly said there was no support to be found within the team anymore. “Once upon a time, all your teammates were friends. Now, they’re just colleagues who’re busy trying to further their careers,” he said.
In response, former cricketer Ravi Shastri said that’s how it’s always been and, sometimes, you have buddies who are also colleagues. Though personally, he added, he was quite happy with five close friends in life and didn’t want any more.
That gels with the Dunbar theory (propagated by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar) that humans have an average of 150 people in their social sphere, but are emotionally connected only to five individuals. He believes relationships are like layers. The innermost layer consists of the five people you share your innermost thoughts and fears with. The next layer holds 15 good friends whom you trust and look forward to seeing. The third layer has the 50 people you meet socially or at work, while the final layer are the contacts you’d invite for a family wedding. Of course, there are many more people you know and recognise, particularly on social media, but they don’t count as friends.
It’s important to remember that the walls between the layers are porous. As we age and our relationships evolve, some intimates slip away into the far contact list while new friends take their place. But that’s ok.
What’s more interesting is that Dunbar’s layers are compatible with Aristotle’s belief that there are three kinds of friendships in the world: utility-based, pleasure-based and character-based. In other words, you become friends with people because they are useful to you or fun to be with or you like their character.
The last category is the most precious, but these friendships take time to cultivate. Since time is limited in today’s world, most people, therefore, make friends based on utility or fun. That may sound selfish and shallow, but Aristotle reportedly didn’t think so. He said use- and fun-based ties could also be fulfilling, provided both parties recognised them for what they were. For instance, you may call up a friend only when you want to try out a new restaurant or need someone to attend an event with.
They’re not your soulmate, but you consider them good company. They probably think the same of you, and are equally happy to spend time with you—occasionally. The good thing is both of you know exactly what you want from each other and expect no more. Another advantage of fun-based friends is that they are easy to make, and keep.
Utility friendships work when both parties realise that being in the relationship is of mutual benefit and no one feels exploited. Consider a bowler and a batter in a cricket team. They are uniquely placed to help each other out even if they have their own agenda. The bowler just needs to explain that they are looking for bowling practice and in return can offer the batter the chance to get more hours in the nets.
And who knows? If they spend enough time helping each other out, they may even glide from the colleagues’ list to the friends circle.
Delhi-based writer, editor and communication coach