For Kim, who helped me discover and test this theory, and who gracefully and quickly moved through the friendship hierarchy…landing herself one of a few spots in my “BFF” category.
My mom taught me that friends are fiercely loyal, 100% supportive no matter the circumstance, and would go to the ends of the earth for me. And while these are undeniable characteristics of close friendships, they are not the distinguishing attributes of *all* friendships.
I spent 22 years constantly evaluating all of my friends to make sure they measured up to my standards (most didn’t). In those 22 years I told off, reamed out, and cut off many friends whom I would later apologize to (or wish that I hadn’t been so abrasive, abrupt, and judgmental towards). I felt let down and miserable…
If only someone had said this to me,
“We don’t have to change friends if we understand that friends change” — Paul Coelho
One day I put it into perspective and developed the Friendship Hierarchy – which seems pretty “I’m a 14 year old middle school girl trying to be popular” but might be one of my most brilliant philosophies to date (at least Kim thinks so). Instead of forcing all of my acquaintances and friends to become “best friends” I slowed down and valued each relationship as it was. I stopped trying to accelerate everyone into the coveted BFF category. I released the insanely impossible demands I placed on every person in my life. And I felt an immense sense of relief.
The Friendship Hierarchy looks like this:
What’s your name again? Oh right. You must be an acquaintance.
My acquaintances are the people in my life that I love to bump into and spend time with – you know, when there is actually time in our hectic schedules. They are the people that I can rely on for a quick chat, a good laugh, and an occasional cup of coffee. I expect nothing of my acquaintance’s beyond normal social graces such as: be kind, be authentic, and be honest (even if it means telling me I have a kid-related stain in an embarrassing spot on my shirt).
My acquaintances are the people that looked really uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say when I let them know my mom died.
I know your first name, last name, and your spouse / kids names. You must be a friend.
My friends are many. They are the people that I have much in common with, make time to talk with / see as often as possible, have fun with, and know I can ask for an occasional favor (in fact I recently knew that I was officially Rachel’s friend when she asked me to watch her kids for 40 minutes during my work day).
I expect my friends to have all the same traits as my acquaintances with one important addition: make time to spend together. If we aren’t talking or seeing each other…we are probably just acquaintances.
My friends are the people that sent a sympathy card, flowers, or another kind gesture when my mom died.
I know a really big secret of yours, and you know at least one of mine. We must be close friends.
Close friends take the level of friendship one step further. These are the people I confide in, rely on, and need – not just want – to talk to and spend time with, even if those occasions are few and far between. These are the people in my life that I can stop talking to for 2, 6, or even 12 months and know they are still my close friends…and if we talk after big gaps of time, it’s as if no time has passed at all. We pick up where we left off, laughing and confiding in one another as if we talked just yesterday.
These are the friends I take time to send a silly card to just because I am thinking of them. The people that I can call or text out of the blue with “remember that time I put your stuffed giraffe in an elevator and sent it to the lobby?” (to be fair I did this to a current best friend who was a close friend at the time. And while I thought it was hysterical, she was outraged and almost ended our friendship over it. This just proves that one hallmark of close friendship is forgiveness.)
My close friends are the people that attended — or considered attending — my mom’s funeral, who called or emailed me day-after-day and week-after-week to make sure I was ok. Who thought to contact me on the first mother’s day after my mom died just to check in.
You were in my wedding party, or would be if I was getting married today. You are a best friend.
My best friends…I love these people with every ounce of my being. They are the people that have stood by me for years and years, accepted me as I am even though that person has changed quite a bit (I think for the better but they can tell you for sure), who I have the most fun with — even if we are just having a cup of coffee or reading magazines in the bookstore.
When I am with these “best” friends time seems to stand still. We can be in a loud bar, a crowded restaurant, or sitting in the park surrounded by screaming babies and barking dogs and I would only notice them; only hear the words they were speaking. These people have my undivided attention because I am so interested in them and happy to be with them.
These are the people that can ask me for the most obscure or shocking favor which I would immediately find a way to help with – and I know they would do the same for me.
My best friends are the people that I can call years after my mom (either of them – I was fortunate to have two wonderful moms) died to express sadness, anger, grief, or any other emotion and they will know just what to say.
Acquaintance, Friend, Close Friend, and Best Friend…I need them all
Defining friendship categories brought me much relief as I realized that I need acquaintances, friends, close friends, and BFFs in my life to feel fulfilled, to become a better person, to learn more about who I am and who I want to be. Not to mention sometimes I want idle chit chat that doesn’t have to lead to anything besides a polite goodbye after 5 minutes.
I don’t spend time evaluating who falls into which category. I accept that there are people in my life in each, and a person’s position could change over time. And that’s ok.
The hierarchy helps me prioritize how to spend my time (which is very, very limited with 2 kids, a husband, a full time and very demanding job, multiple hobbies, and a coaching certification in-progress). It used to be that I had to give 100% to every single person in my life but now I know better…now I know to give my BFFs my everything, my close friends as much as I can, and to nurture all of my friendships.
And now for the Academy Award speech
Thank you to all of my acquaintances and friends — mostly for putting up with my eye rolling, sarcasm, and blatant honesty which I know can be hurtful (hey, I am working on that) but also for helping me figure out that there are different types of people in my life, and different levels of relationships for a reason. That one isn’t better or worse than another. That all are beneficial.
Thank you to my mom for teaching me about friendship even though she never quite mastered the art of friendship herself. While she couldn’t articulate the minute differences of every relationship she gave me the tools to figure it out for myself.
Thank you to my co-workers who are a mix of acquaintances (most of you), friends (quite a few of you), close friends (I stopped counting), and best friends (you know who you are).
Thank you to my absolute best friend and husband, Josh, who took all of the fabulous photographs strewn throughout this blog. As Josh’s self-proclaimed best friend (he would NEVER use that language) I find it to be my duty to support his rotating obsession, ahem, habits which include photography, golf, and BBQing.
Hey, Jill, where do I fit?
To all of the people that ask me which category they fall into…don’t ask me. Instead ask yourself “where does Jill fit into my pyramid?” the answer likely applies in the reverse.