Over the last month you have learned what friendship is, and how it relates to your life. You have also gained an understanding of the 3 levels of friendship, acquaintances, friends, and close friends. In the fifth and final entry in my “Friendship Series,” you will see how these 3 levels interact with each other as you go through life. Armed with this information, you will be able to better understand and manage your friendships and ensure that you have a healthy social environment.
The idea of how the 3 levels of friendship are dynamic and ever changing has been touched on in previous posts, but it is such a crucial concept to remember that it will be discussed again here. Everyone who enters your social world begins as an acquaintance. Even your bff who you have known since kindergarten was at one time just another Tom, Dick, or Harry. They may have very quickly become a friend, or even a close friend, but initially they were just a face in the crowd like everyone else. The reverse of this is also true. We all have people in our lives who used to be a close friend, but for one reason or another they now reside in one of the other, more distant “Friendship Rings.” They may have even fallen off of your social radar altogether. It is important to remember that these changes in the types of relationships you have with people are not intrinsically good or bad, but they are an inevitable part of life. As you and your friends grow and develop as individuals, how you each see the relationship between you changes also. This social evolution is a good thing, as it allows you to create and maintain the most fulfilling set of friendships for you at any given time in your life. This fluidity also makes it much easier for you to control the number of people in each level to make sure you have a balanced and healthy social group across all 3 levels of friendship.
I am always reminded of the complex, dynamic interplay among the 3 levels of friendship whenever I host a party or social gathering. You decide to host, and you start out all excited about how much fun it will be to have all of your friends over, eat great food, and dance/play games/watch the big game. You take advantage of this exciting energy and sit down to write a guest list. After jotting down the names of your close friends, you get to a point where it becomes difficult to decide whom to invite. Do all of your friends get invited? What about acquaintances? If not all of your friends, which ones make the cut? You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving them out, but you also only want people at your party that will fit in. You start thinking about things like, “Will they know about my party if they are not invited?”, “Will they fit in with my other guests?”, and “Will there be ramifications at work or at home if I leave them out?” It is so complicated because you not only have to consider whether your relationship is worthy of an invitation, but also how they will interact with the other friends you invite. You almost feel like you need to run an in-depth cost-benefit analysis with flow charts, graphs, and social maps to figure all of this out. Your excitement turns into anxiety as you work to complete the guest list, but after numerous edits and revisions you end up with a list that you are happy with.
After you discreetly pass out the invitations with the stealth and skill of a ninja to avoid alerting any non-invitees of your upcoming shindig, you get your house ready and before you know it the night of your party arrives. As you play host throughout the evening, you have two distinct social situations to monitor. The first is how you are going to come across to this group. Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone changes their personality and behavior to some degree depending on the group of friends they are with. For example, you may act very differently when you are with your buddies from college than you do with your friends from church. Since we rarely are with more than one group of friends at a time, this is not a big deal. However, in situations such as your party where several discrete groups of your friends are present, you have to decide which version of your personality you are going to wear. This will allow people to see you in a new light, and will undoubtedly cause changes in the strength of your relationships with some of your friends, for better or for worse.
The second major social situation you have to keep track of is how your different groups of friends are interacting with each other. You don’t want it to be like a middle school dance with the jocks in this corner, the goths in that corner, and the band kids mulling about in the middle. You want your groups of friends to mingle and like each other, as that will not only make it a much better party, but it will also make them think more of you for having such cool, interesting friends. In addition to strengthening your friendships, this will create connections between your friends that strengthens your social network as a whole. By monitoring the different groups you can also be alert to any situations that arise that may reflect poorly on you. For example, you may not want your super conservative coworker chit-chatting with your gay neighbor who works at an abortion clinic. Any disagreements they have could be placed on you by the association effect, which will definitely alter your “Friendship Rings,” and could have even further negative consequences down the road.
On top of all of this social life management and control, you also have to interact with your friends and enjoy the party. You should make an effort to interact with as many people as possible. Take the time to get to know some acquaintances better, or talk to a coworker about their personal life to create a stronger bond. Be careful not to spend too much time with your close friends, because you talk to them all the time. Use your party as an opportunity to create new connections or strengthen existing ones by showing people the real you, as opposed to the abridged version they see at work or church. If you put yourself out there, smile, and listen empathically, you will be amazed at how easy it is to build relationships.
I hope this has shown you how complex your friendships are and how quickly they can change. You have to be aware of the status of your social life overall in order to make sure you have the friends you need to live a happy, successful life. As with all things, it is critical to find the best balance of friendships for your life. Each level of friendship is important in its own way, and they all must be managed and maintained, but the number of friends at each level varies from person to person depending on their social threshold. Friendship is an idea so big that you could take a lifetime to study it and still only touch the tip of the iceberg, but I hope that you have a better understanding of your friends and relationships after reading this series. If nothing else, be sure to devote the time to take care of yourself socially just like you take the time to take care of yourself physically. This part of your world is just as important in determining the amount of happiness you experience in your life.