The Relationship Detox: Why Sometimes Less is More

It’s time for a relationship detox because, from Lagos to London, Nairobi to New York, the truth remains: sometimes less is more
The Love Central - The Relationship Detox: Why Sometimes Less is More The Love Central - The Relationship Detox: Why Sometimes Less is More
The Relationship Detox: Why Sometimes Less is More
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Is your WhatsApp buzzing more than a Ghanaian market’s loudspeaker? Are you attending more Nigerian owambes than you can count fufu wraps? For Africans in the diaspora, our vibrant social lives can become overwhelming. It’s time for a relationship detox because, from Lagos to London, Nairobi to New York, the truth remains: sometimes less is more

In today’s hyper-connected world, we’re pressured to expand our networks like we’re building a transnational business empire. But this isn’t new for us. Throughout history, Africans have been community-oriented.

From the tight-knit Igbo villages in Nigeria to the communal Ubuntu philosophy in South Africa, to the strong West African enclaves in 1970s Harlem, we’ve always sought connection. However, there’s a profound difference between having many acquaintances and having true kinship.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist who spent years studying primate societies in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, argues that humans can only maintain about 150 stable relationships.

That’s right, 150—not the 3,000 LinkedIn connections you’ve garnered since moving abroad! This concept, known as “Dunbar’s Number,” suggests our brains aren’t wired for the social overload many diasporans face.

Why sometimes less is more? Because our ancestors in the Sahel or the Congo Basin didn’t need a contact list longer than the Nile; they needed a close-knit circle to share hunts, harvests, and hearths.

The Love Central - The Relationship Detox: Why Sometimes Less is More
Those hours are as precious as the last drop of palm oil Image source Freepik

Why a Relationship Detox?

Let’s dissect why a relationship detox, embracing that sometimes less is more, is as crucial as your monthly shea butter hair treatment:

1. Quality Over Quantity

Imagine you’re craving Ethiopian kitfo. Would you rather have a massive platter of lukewarm, under-spiced meat or a smaller portion that’s perfectly seasoned with mitmita and niter kibbeh? The same principle applies to relationships.

A University of Kansas study found it takes about 50 hours of interaction to move from acquaintance to casual friend—think from “you’re also African?” to discuss which country has the best jollof.

It takes 90 hours to become a real friend (debating politics back home), and over 200 hours to become a close friend (the one you call when you’re homesick). For us in the diaspora, juggling work, family, and adapting to a new culture, those hours are as precious as the last drop of palm oil.

2. Emotional Energy Conservation

Ever felt drained after a six-hour Instagram session, seeing everyone from your primary school in Kampala to your distant cousins in Cape Town? Or after attending an all-night Congolese soirée where you knew every song but truly connected with no one? 

That’s your emotional battery, your “ujumbe” (Swahili for energy), draining faster than your phone at a Wizkid concert. Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, a counseling professor who’s worked with international students, says, “We have a finite amount of emotional energy. 

When spread too thin, especially across cultures, we end up feeling empty.” Sometimes less is more because it helps preserve your emotional palm wine for those who truly toast to your health.

3. Deep Cultural Connection

As Africans abroad, from Cape Verdeans in Boston to Somalis in Minneapolis, maintaining authentic ties to our roots is more than crucial—it’s survival. But juggling too many surface-level friendships (“Yes, I’m from Africa. No, I didn’t have a pet lion.”) can prevent us from nurturing relationships that genuinely reflect our multifaceted identities.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her famous TED talk, said, “The single story creates stereotypes… the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”

Deep friendships allow us to share our complete narratives—not just the “starving child” or “Black Panther” stereotypes, but tales of our grandma’s secret okra soup recipe or our teen years listening to P-Square.

4. Reduced Drama

More people? In our community, that can mean more wahala! Every relationship has its ups and downs, but managing conflicts across a vast network can feel like mediating between rival fans at an AFCON final—Egypt vs. Senegal, anyone?

A smaller circle means fewer misunderstandings, less “who said what at the braai,” and more peace. As the Yoruba proverb wisely states, “A river that flows between rocks is free of slime.” In plain Naija Pidgin, sometimes less is more because “too much crowd dey cause wahala.”

5. Personal Growth

In “Year of Yes,” Shonda Rhimes (whose parents, interestingly, met in Africa) talks about making space for what truly matters. When you’re not busy maintaining a network larger than a Kinshasa phone directory, you have time for self-reflection and growth

You can finally master that Amharic script, learn to wrap Ghanaian kente like a pro, or dive into that memoir about straddling Senegalese and French-Canadian identities in Montreal. Sometimes less is more because it gives you room to nurture your own baobab tree of personal development.

The Love Central - The Relationship Detox: Why Sometimes Less is More
With your chosen circle go beyond surface level Image source Freepik

How to Begin a Relationship Detox

So, how do you begin your tailored, diaspora-friendly relationship detox?

  1. List Your Core Values: Is it shared experiences like navigating visa issues? Love for specific regional foods—maybe you need a dedicated fufu or chakalaka crew? Or is it about finding fellow third-culture kids who understand your blend of Mozamibican, Greek, and Canadian influences?
  1. Assess Each Relationship: Does this person get why you can’t just “visit Africa” for a weekend? Do they energize you or leave you feeling like you’ve been through a grueling capoeira session?
  1. Curate Gradually: No need to ghost faster than a Nollywood movie scene change. Instead, invest more in those who truly reflect your values.
  1. Deepen Those Bonds: With your chosen circle, go beyond surface-level. Host a Senegalese thieboudienne cooking night, start a book club featuring Tsitsi Dangarembga or Ngugi wa Thiong’o, or have a heartfelt discussion about the complexities of being “African enough.”
  1. Stay Open, Within Limits: Keep a small window open for new, genuine connections—maybe that Eritrean neighbor who noticed your injera-making skills—without overextending.

Conclusion: The Relationship Detox

Remember, in our African diaspora context, sometimes less is more isn’t about being antisocial; it’s about being as intentional with our relationships as we are with our cultural identities.

So, detox those relationships like you’re cleansing with black soap. Focus on those who don’t just know Africa as a monolith but who see and celebrate your unique Angolan, Malian, or Zimbabwean essence. 

Whether you’re in São Paulo or Sydney, this approach will not only enrich your social life but will anchor your sense of self in this beautiful, complex journey of being African away from Africa. After all, in our myriad cultures, the message is consistent: sometimes less is indeed more.

READ: Pause for Growth: Relationship Breaks Explained

Ever felt like hitting the pause button on your relationship? You’re not alone. Relationship breaks, often seen as the kiss of death for couples, might just be the secret ingredient for growth and deeper connection.

Let’s delve into the world of relationship breaks, unraveling their purpose, benefits, and potential pitfalls

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