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The Bohr Model of Friends

March 4, 2012

How many friends do you have? Recently I came across an article published at the BBC News website about ‘What’s the ideal number of friends?’ Is there a limit, and which variables factor into this number? Does the number of friends affect your social status, job performance, and overall happiness in life? The article has some theories if you want to read it.

How do you balance your friends?

How do you balance your friends, or should I say “manage your friends?” The more friends you have, the more talented you must be in managing life. Humans are provided with a finite amount of time & energy. Its the management of these two forces that’ll create a balance or imbalance in our daily lives. Since friends take up a large percentage of our time & energy, I’ve taken a closer look at my management style recently.

The reason my interest in this topic has grown is my arthritis. See, when every step you take feels like you’re walking barefoot on rocks, and somedays movement of several fingers feels like they’ve been slammed in a car door, you spend a lot of time thinking about the processes in life that are worthwhile and which you can go without. Most people will not think about having friends as a ‘process’ but it is. Look at the simple process of calling a friend:

  1. Finding your phone involves anything from pulling it out of your pocket, walking into the next room to find it, or leaning forward and grabbing it off the table
  2. Flipping or sliding the phone open or unlocking it
  3. Dialing a phone number
  4. Talking/communicating
  5. Ending call with a flip, slide or button press

This process for most people is painless, however it does take time & energy. How do you prioritize the time & energy you devote to your friends? Well, as I was reading the BBC article, this paragraph caught my attention:

[Friends] usually consist of an inner circle of five “core” people and an additional layer of 10, he says. That makes 15 people – some will probably be family members – who are your central group and then outside that, there’s another 35 in the next circle and another 100 on the outside. And that’s one person’s social world.

An image popped into my head: Bohr’s Model of the atom (seen below). There is a striking resemblance between a circle of friends, and electrons orbiting around the nucleus of an atom. Let me provide a brief laymen’s summary of Bohr’s Model of the atom:

How many friends do you have in each circle?

If you look at the periodic table, each element represents an atom (gold, hydrogen, arsenic, etc.). You’ll notice the atomic number, in a neutral atom this represents the number of electrons orbiting the nucleus of the atom, like planets around the sun. Within every orbit (circle) there is an exact number of electrons allowed. Movement of electrons between orbits involves a gain/absorption or loss/emission of energy.

Compare this model to your circle of friends. You, as the nucleus, have an inner circle of “best” friends, how many is that? The next orbit, or circle, involves who in your life? Who is in each of your circles of friends? How are your circles defined? I’ll tell you about my circles (keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your circles are probably very different from mine)

Circle 5: Most of these people are:

  1. Acquaintances: friends of friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. I might see these people regularly, but other than a ‘Hello, hows it going?’ (basic small talk), the friendship doesn’t go further.
  2. People who were at one point in an inner circle (1-4), but due to circumstances, we’ve slowly drifted apart. Given the chance to be friends again, we would. I am most likely facebook friends with them. Maybe we currently have a common Circle 1-3 friend and due to transitive property of equality, there is a weak bond between us, but nothing more. I don’t see myself contacting this person unless some very special occasion. The opportunity to grow closer has either never come about or it appeared once and didn’t work out. Due to mutual friends or sheer kindness, I maintain a civil Circle 5 friendship.

Circle 4: People I keep in touch with because I like them. A lot of these friends are newer (<6 months). Others I’ve known for a long time but they may not consider me a good friend. They simply prefer keeping in touch from time to time and our lives (the environment and timing) don’t allow us to be closer. I communicate with some of these friends a few times a year; other friends in this group I haven’t talked to in years, but their number is in my cell phone still.

Circle 3: Amount of time I’ve known them doesn’t matter. We may not have enough in common to hang out for more than a few times a year, but we have an understanding of each other and share at least one common interest. We probably communicate every couple months. An event (new job, relationship, geographic relocation,etc.) could easily make them a Circle 2 friend, but just as easily push them to Circle 4.

Circle 2: For the most part, I tend to communicate most with this group. However, we could go months w/o talking and I know a smile will pop up on my face when their name appears in the caller ID, and vice versa. They are friends I have fun with, can hold a conversation with, will go to for advice (I trust their opinion), have probably known for more than 5 years but not necessarily, and we share at least one passion. But there are some secrets I will not share with them.

Circle 1: # of communications (phone calls, texts, emails etc.) doesn’t matter. These friends will let me be me, never judge me; they are emphatic (as best they can be), and have my back 100%. I can tell them anything on my mind and trust they will listen, maintain confidentiality, and support me at all times. Geographic location matters not. We love each other and I’ve known most of these friends for at least 10 years (1/3 of my life). They are definitely on my speed dial.

Does it devalue a friendship to quantify it? Absolutely not! Life is a long, arduous journey. Its important to know who will be there for you in times of stress or difficulty, and who is that circle 3 or 4 friend you enjoy hanging out with, but won’t be there when you need them most.

I’d like to note, like electrons, moving friends to higher or lower levels requires a gain or loss of energy, respectively:

  • When an electron moves into an inner circle, energy in the form of a photon (light) is given off. I like to think when a friend moves to an inner circle, a light goes off, not an idea but a bright spot of happiness emits. Who wouldn’t be happier to gain a closer friend.
  • For an electron or friend to move to an outer circle, energy is required. In real life I think of this as some event (graduation, moving to a new city, a fight, job change, new relationship, etc.). All of these events require massive amounts of energy. When I look at my life or my friend’s lives, those instances in which a friendship falls to an outer circle usually involves such an event.

As you try to manage your life, think about your friends. Who is worth your time and energy? Who isn’t? The friends who don’t judge you, love you for who you are, and let you be you, are the friends who deserve inner circles. Thanks for reading. letUbeU! (take the poll below)

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