There are a lot of people in the world, and as you go about your day-to-day life there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to meet some of them.
While many of the people you meet will remain acquaintances, some of them will become your friends.
But how do you know the difference?
According to the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP), there are four levels of friendship: acquaintanceship, casual friendship, close friendship, and intimate friendship. 1
It’s important to understand the differences in each of these categories so that you know what is and is not appropriate to ask or tell someone, as well as to help you determine who you can call on in your hour of need.
Acquaintances can be people you’ve just met as well as people you’ve known for a while. It isn’t necessarily the amount of time you’ve known a person that makes them an acquaintance (because it’s entirely possible to become close friends with someone very quickly). What makes a person an acquaintance instead of a friend is the amount of time you spend with them.
A person is your acquaintance if you only see them in passing instead of making mutual plans to see each other. With an acquaintance, you will say “hello,” ask surface-level questions about life (work, the kids, the weather), and move on. Acquaintances are not people you discuss personal details or serious topics with.
For example, I like to take my dog to a local dog park when the weather is nice. I don’t go on the same days or at the same times, I just go whenever I get a chance and feel up to it.
There are many different people at the dog park, but I’ve encountered the same woman on more than one occasion and every time she’s there we end up talking. These conversations are always exclusively about our dogs, the military (since the dog park is on a military base), and events taking place in our city.
We don’t meet up on purpose, we don’t discuss the more personal details of our lives, and we don’t make plans to meet again. But if we happen to run into each other again, that’s great. It would be rude not to speak with acquaintances when you see them, but it is not expected that you make plans to see them intentionally.
If, during the course of my conversation with this woman (let’s call her Joan), I decided that we had so many common interests or had such a good time talking that I’d like to invite her to bring her dog over to play with my dog, then we would be entering casual friendship.
A casual friend is different than an acquaintance because you make plans to see each other instead of just seeing each other in passing or by chance. However, with a casual friend, your hang-outs may be sporadic and are often related to the same type of event that took place when you met.
Remember how I invited Joan’s dog to come play with my dog? It makes sense, because we met at the dog park and have dogs as a mutual interest. At this stage, I’m not going to plan regular dog play-dates or invite Joan’s family to come to dinner with my family.
A casual friend may be someone from work with whom you occasionally at lunch or attend work-related conferences. You probably wouldn’t call on a casual friend to help you change a flat tire or pick you up at the airport.
Now, if Joan and I were to occasionally hang out while our dogs played, and continue to see each other in passing at the dog park, we may discover that we both love Mexican food. We may decide to go get dinner one night, and while having dinner we may begin to open up more about the details of our jobs, our families, and our personal histories. We would then begin making intentional plans to spend time together more regularly.
At this point, Joan and I would be entering the stage of close friendship.
In a close friendship, you spend time together regularly and the things you do together do not revolve solely around the event where you first met. Just like Joan and I would begin to do things that don’t involve our dogs, a close friend is someone you would hang out with outside of work or school, doing non-work and school related activities.
A close friend is someone who makes an effort to help when you need it, and can be depended upon to keep their word.
In close friendships, you are comfortable discussing the things that go on in your day-to-day life, both good and bad. You share your secrets, commiserate with one another on the bad days, and celebrate with one another on the good days.
The last and deepest level of friendship is the intimate friend. This is a best friend– the type of friend who knows everything about you and you about them. No matter how far apart you may ever live, the intimate friendship is one that lasts a lifetime.
In the intimate friendship, there are few topics that are ever off-limits. The intimate friend is one who can point out your flaws and offer suggestions for improvement, and while it may be difficult to hear, it isn’t offensive because you understand how deeply they care for you (and you’re willing to do the same for them).
Friendships are a necessary part of your mental and emotional health, but it’s important to know who your real friends are. If you’re struggling to make friends, check out this article.
Thoughts? Share your opinions in the comments!
- Institute in Basic Life Principles. Friendship: Understanding four levels of friendship.