Many of us have been brought up to believe that we should have a finite number of best friends. Think about it: Those "best friends" necklaces only have two parts, and Taylor Swift's growing squad is seen as disingenuous (to say the least). But can you really have too many people in your life with the "best friend" title?
Experts have actually studied how the human brain interprets social circles, and according to a British researcher named Robin Dunbar, most people can only handle having 150 meaningful relationships at one time.
In truth, you might have hundreds, or even thousands, of friends on Facebook, so it is possible to have more than 150 relationships. And researchers also acknowledge that social media and technology make it increasingly harder to deduce how many friends someone really has. But this number just represents how many connections your brain can theoretically handle, based on its size. And in this research, the connections aren't specifically "friends," so your family members could also be included in that group.
Those 150 contacts are also broken down into layers or tiers, based on the "strength of emotional ties," according to Dunbar. The closest layer, and perhaps the most elite one, can actually hold five people, not just one, Dunbar discovered. Dunbar tested this original theory in the 1990s, and then again in 2016, and amazingly, the same patterns held up. So, statistically speaking, it's possible to have multiple strong relationships at once. But still, is it harmful or disingenuous to give multiple people the same label? That depends on your personality.
"I feel strongly that people have different needs in terms of the amount of close friends that they have," says says Andrea Bonior, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in friendships and relationships, and author of The Friendship Fix. "Most people have one person that edges out the others, yet they do have a handful of people close to them," she says.
If you have multiple best friends, it can actually be more fulfilling, because it ensures that you have your emotional needs met on different levels, Dr. Bonior says. The idea is that different people can provide you with different kinds of emotional support. "It's important that you really think about ways each person fills a role for you," she says. Plus, focusing on having one "end-all-be-all best friend" could ultimately be a disservice, she says, because it could lead you to cut out people who aren't perfect.
That said, multiple BFFs don't work for everyone, and that's okay, too. According to Dr. Bonior, having too many best friends can spread some people too thin. "It's awesome if you do have five best friends, but are your needs getting met in terms of being understood, confiding in somebody, counting on someone if you need them, and vice versa?" she says. Everyone is different, so some people might find that their needs are met by one person — or 20 people, and that's fine, too. As Haley Nahman wrote for Man Repeller (paraphrasing Mindy Kaling), "Best friend is a tier, not a person."
Ultimately, you just need to find a happy medium. The exact number of best friends you have depends on your personality, and whether you're introverted or extroverted, Dr. Bonior says. What makes a BFF is definitely subjective, but according to Dr. Bonior, a best friendship is about feeling that your friend knows and understands you, and they're someone you can count on. "