As an introvert who has struggled with social anxiety, eye contact, and even things that “should” be easy like accepting a compliment, that's not an easy truth to accept. But studies like the one on Adult Development from Harvard, Murray and Peacock and the Blue Zones have shown it to be true. It’s a core piece to the Bowlby Conjecture. We are social animals so we are wired to need connection.
But if relationships are so important, why are they so hard? It shouldn’t be so difficult for an organism to maintain such a necessary function to survive, right?
The problem is our environment. It’s much different than the one bands of our modern hunter-gatherers ancestors lived in for 50,000 years.
There are three key factors—social network size, social mobility, and ability to meet basic needs (the lower levels of the Maslow hierarchy). I’ll focus on the first in this post.
Robin Dunbar’s research shows that our brains are designed to be able to maintain about 150 social connections. Let 𝓡 be the total amount of relationship energy any one person has to invest. In the environment in which we evolved, it would look something like this, where more intimate relationships get more energy than weaker ones.
But in modern society, we have a lot more that 150 relationships to manage. Our brains simply aren’t designed for this. We only have so much 𝓡 to distribute, so by investing in longer tail relationships, we necessarily have to reduce the investment in more intimate ones.
It’s common for the most intimate relationships to suffer the most, especially for people who haven’t learned the deepest relationship skills for what it takes to truly be compassionate, vulnerable, and non-judgemental.
I’ll cover the other two points in subsequent posts. But short answer is if you struggle with your relationships, you are not alone. It has a lot to do with your environment.