Although I don’t have a large circle of friends, I do love and cherish my girlfriends. My mother once told me, “You only need a handful of true and loyal friends to help you get through life, and sometimes you can count on one hand the people who have your back.” Her statement still rings true. Through turbulent and joyous times, I can always count on my supportive group of friends to uplift, pour into, and champion me on my journey through life. However, if I were to count how many people I consider to be in my community tribe, there would be more than seven individuals, and for good reason. Community to me includes mentors, acquaintances, and even neighbors, as fostering all different types of relationships that positively add to your life is essential.
As friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson, a noted TikToker and friendship coach who helps people cultivate and expand their friendship circles, described in her viral TikTok video, “weak tie friendships” do matter. She previously stated in the video that people with weaker ties are happier and less likely to have depression because close friends are not the only kind of relationships that offer value to your life.
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A new friendship concept on social media, specifically TikTok, has emerged called the “7 Friend Theory,” which suggests that you only need seven friends to be happy and prosperous in your life, as long as they fill a particular role. A believer in this viral concept, TikToker Allie Worton took to the platform to highlight how the theory applies to her life by listing the seven qualities and pictures of her friends that bring those characteristics into her life. The theory roles are as follows:
- A friend you’ve had since you were little.
- A friend that could make you laugh in any situation.
- A friend you can go on forever without talking to, but nothing changes.
- A friend you can tell anything to.
- A friend that’s like a sister.
- A friend you can’t imagine not being friends with.
- A friend that knows about all your relationship problems, even though they don’t want to hear about it.
While there’s been some criticism and pushback of the concept, given that it can present a limited view of the importance of connection, friendship, and developing diverse communities, friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson is open to the theory. “As a person who studies the research on friendship, I don’t see any research that says that there’s a certain number of people that ought to have; I have seen research around our cognitive capacity to maintain certain levels of friendship. However, what I appreciate about the concept of the seven friends theory is how it’s sparking discussion around how sometimes having the singular best friend is not the ultimate goal,” she says to ESSENCE. “I liked that it has people entertain the idea that I can get all my relational and emotional needs supporting these emotional needs met by a community of people, a council of people to get us through life. So, I’m more excited about the conversation being generated by the idea. I think for black women, especially, this concept is important because we’re not a monolith.”
However, psychotherapist Meghan Watson is too keen on the concept, as she believes friends shouldn’t be viewed as collectible items. “The 7 friends theory, in my opinion, is just that — theory. In real life, it’s not always realistic, reasonable, or supportive to “collect” people to serve a particular purpose in your life. These seven friend types are benign, but some imply exploitative connections. I.e., number 7 notes that although your friend might not even want to hear about your relationship problems, it’s implied that their interest or desire isn’t important: “even though they don’t want to hear about it,” she states. “You can’t simply place people in boxes to serve a purpose just for you without reciprocity, mutuality, and collaboration.”
Watson isn’t saying that folks who are intentional about the types of friends they have and how those friends interact and play a role in their larger community isn’t have a meaningful conversation, but she believes that it’s important to remember that not everyone who is a friend today may be a friend forever, and know the difference between an acquaintance versus a friend. Also, friendship and community building may look different for Black women. “For Black women specifically, in my work as a therapist, community, connection, friendship, and intimacy are all major themes I discuss often. Many times, I’ve observed Black women feeling burdened and burnt out by expectations, duties, and obligations towards their friends that they don’t know how to or feel uncomfortable expressing. A lot of therapy work goes towards building friendship discernment, managing boundaries, and subverting stereotypical expectations around Black women as caregivers, or only in service to others’ needs over their own,” she says.
Watson continues, “Additionally, loneliness as a topic comes up regularly in my work with Black women. I’m not convinced that using the “7 Friend Theory” to build friendships addresses the loneliness and grief that can come with building friendships and community circles. Editing your community to be smaller and more intimate is great, but intention matters. Are you retaining connections and friendships because you value people for who they are or what they do for you? What do you value in a friend, and what shared values do you consider integral to friendships among other Black women? Is shared history and experience important? Defining friendships from a values-based perspective allows you to show up with those values and look for them in others.”