It’s tricky to figure out whether you have the right number of close friends and the math gets trickier still when you become a father. Do the other men at playgroup count? The checkout guy at the supermarket? Does Phil? Hard to say. Depends on your individual relationships. But while it’s impossible to define “friendship” in toto, it’s very possible to get a quantitative sense of friendships. Data from Gallup suggests that American men have an average of nine close friends, and that dads with children under the age of 18 have an average of seven close friends.
These close friends don’t include relatives (no, you can’t count your wife and baby) and the figures appear to be at least somewhat tied to income and age. Men older than 65 have 13 close friends, far more than the average nine, and men who make less than $30,000 per year reported three more close friends, on average, than men who earned more than $75,000.
Friendship is essential for long-term mental and physical health and, for men, studies suggest it really is all about the numbers. A 2007 study on the different friendship-related needs of men and women found that men prefer larger social networks and fewer intimate conversations. If given the choice, roughly 100 men told researchers, they’d rather have more pals and fewer close friends. (Women largely chose the converse). The findings emphasize that new dads need friendship just as much as new moms—even if they don’t have exactly the same social needs.
Which can be tricky. New parents are awful at keeping in touch and, when they do, all they want to talk about is diapers and their new playgroup friends. As Amy Blackstone of the University of Maine told Pacific Standard in 2015: “In stories I hear, the parent disappears without conversation. I think most often the assumption is the child-free friend is not interested.” And since postpartum depression affects both men and women, baby blues can also contribute to new moms and dads not returning their friends’ phone calls. But a real friend finds a way to keep in touch. “Maintaining the friendship requires patience on both sides,” Blackstone says.
And if new dads can find at least seven buddies like that, they should be just fine.