New partner costs two close friends, say scientists

Two close friends is the average price you pay for falling in love, scientists have discovered.

Research has shown that when people start a new romantic relationship they are likely to lose two members of their inner circle of friends.

One is sacrificed to make way for the new partner, and the other disappears due to being ignored for too long, scientists believe.

Previous research has shown that friendships can wither if insufficient effort is put into maintaining them.

Psychologists also know that people have “layers” of intimate and more distant friends.

Typically, people have a small number of around five “inner circle” friends who they can confide in.

It is these friendships that can be sacrificed for love, according to the new research outlined today at the British Science Festival at Aston University in Birmingham.

Study leader Professor Robin Dunbar, from Oxford University, said: “We’ve just shown that if you have a romantic relationship it actually costs you two friends.

“When people are in a romantic relationship, instead of having the typical five inner circle friends on average they have only four.

“Bearing in mind that one of those is the new person who has come into your life, it means you’ve had to give up two others.

“Quite literally we’ve just discovered this and it’s a bit of a surprise.”

Prof Dunbar is famous for determining “Dunbar’s number” – the maximum number of stable social relationships the human brain is theoretically capable of handling, which is said to be 150.

He suspected one reason people lose friends when they fall in love is simply the amount of time devoted to the new partner.

“The intimacy of a relationship, your emotional engagement with it, correlates very tightly with the frequency of your interactions,” he said.

“If you don’t see people, emotional engagement starts to drop off with time, and does so fairly quickly.

“What I suspect happens is you’re so wholly focused on the romantic partner you just don’t get to see the folks you held onto before, and so some of those relationships start to deteriorate.”

More than 100 men and women aged 18 to 60 took part in the internet-based study which involved answering questions about romantic relationships and friendships.

Although women tend to be more socially active than men, both sexes tended to lose the same number of friends when they found a new romantic partner.

More in this Section

Increasing health risks from heatwaves as climate changes, experts warnIncreasing health risks from heatwaves as climate changes, experts warn

‘It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax': Trump downplays moment as impeachment hearings open‘It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax': Trump downplays moment as impeachment hearings open

Takeaways so far from public US impeachment hearingsTakeaways so far from public US impeachment hearings

Johnson insists voting Tory ‘only way’ to deliver Brexit despite Farage threatJohnson insists voting Tory ‘only way’ to deliver Brexit despite Farage threat


Aileen Lee meets Christina Kenny - co-founder and design director of Lamb Design - to talk about her work and inspirations.Christina Kenny of Lamb Design: ‘I love bringing the outside in and inside out’

Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her career and the worth of luxury fastion. By Paul McLachen.From Marc Jacobs to her own label, Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her life in fashion

The recent sentencing of two teenage boys for the murder of Ana Kriégel has once again brought the issue of pornography into public discourse. The details of the case, which are finally coming into public knowledge, illuminate some very worrying trends that are pervasive in the modern adolescent world and as parents and indeed as a society we can no longer languish in complacency.Learning Points: Hardcore porn can pollute our children’s minds

If children are confident in interacting with others it takes away so much stress and social anxiety for them. Not too long ago, my daughter Joan and I were out with friends at a restaurant and we wanted extra water and a few other bits and Joan volunteered to go up and ask the waiter for them. My friend was really surprised at this and said that none of her children would willingly do that.Mum’s the word: We should look for chances to strengthen our kids’ social skills

More From The Irish Examiner