Like dip or casserole, friendship styles are filled with multiple pieces, some of which are better than others. We all prefer one part of the pot pie over the rest: whether that be the crust, the chicken, the gravy or a certain vegetable. This theory I’ve had for a few years investigates the different types of intensities within friendships.
Some sociological theories that relate to my homemade theory include strong and weak ties: strong ties indicate a strong friendship or relationship, weak ties indicate a weak friendship or relationship. This theory is great except it doesn’t explain the shades of ties present in friendships. Part of the research that uses strong and weak ties goes by how ‘often, occasional or rare’ one sees the individual. But in contemporary society, there are multiple ways we can engage in friendships such as social media and technology.
Aristotle says there are three types of friendship: those based on utility, pleasure, and goodness. Again, this theory doesn’t follow explore the gamut of friends or even the possibility that these interlock.
For the purpose of dyads and triads, we will examine this theory from the point of the individual. This theory does not discuss or include romanticism nor rivalries, disputes and ‘ex-friends’. Perhaps those two pots act on parallel planes to this theory.
Note: Some of the research gathered is based on actual studies. My own theories presented are more discussion in nature, strung together from my own experiences.
Here's a visual at the theory:
1. Best Friends: These are the people who you see all the time, you text all the time. There is a constant ebb and flow between you and this small category. You’re living their lives almost as your own and vice versa. These people are the first to receive important news, difficult dilemmas, the first you think of when it comes to social activities. In a way, these are the people who you have chosen to be a ‘family’ with. Of course, best friends don’t have to interlock with each other. But yet they still create a family of yourself. Best friends don’t necessarily remain your best friends. You don’t need to know someone for ‘x’ amount of years. They can reach this point quickly and like a song, fade away in popularity or by chance. Usually one can pinpoint three to five people at one time in this category.
2. Close Friends: These are friends who are important to the concept of who you are, but for some reason or other have failed to end up in the penthouse. This can be due to a variety of reasons: their significant other bothers you, they move out of state/country, they don’t work with you in the same office, they get married, they have a family, a significant event happens which impedes the relationship. There’s plenty of reasons why these friendships becoming the supporting role. In many ways, the close friend and best friend mirror each other except for the intensity and consistency.
3. Great Friends: If we are to go by ‘starring and supporting’ as the distinction for Best and Close, we might go with ‘secondary’ or ‘minor’ for Great Friends. These are people who you think about and still contact, but they are not top of mind. You’re reminded of Yolanda because you see an event she’d like. You call Frank because he shares a random interest that you too like. You hang out with Fred because you work together and get along decently. These relationships aren’t the ones you decide to pursue deep attachment to. They might not be your bridesmaid or groomsman, they might not be the first that comes to mind for social visits. But they play roles in the movies of our lives, even if it’s just for small periods here and there.
4. Friends: This is perhaps where the intensity truly does turn. Friends is a blanket term for this entire theory, but what does it mean to just be friends? In the context of this theory, friends are just that: average. You’re friendly, you’re nice. But you might not hang outside of work, you might not know deep material about them. You might go to a festival or a concert with them, but you’re not hanging out all the time. There are almost sub-genres here: the friends you go to for work advice, the friends you go to for parties, the friends you go to for homework help, etc. These are connections, the embodiment of the midway between a strong and weak tie.
5. Casual Friends: Casual friends are almost a friend or they might be a friend of a friend who you might see here and there. You know enough about them to have a discussion with or hang out in the group setting. There’s nothing to this friendship which implies strength between two people. You’re friendly, but you’re not friends. You might see each other often enough but there’s yet to be a connection. Unlike acquaintances, you’re either seeing them more often or you know more about them.
6. Acquaintances: Acquaintances have not much to offer except their name and a few casual facts if that. While there is a mystery to a 'referenceable' (the next ring) or a factor of the unknown, you have met an acquaintance. You might forget due to poor memory or you might know only one fact about the individual: ‘Oh, Shelly how are your plants doing?’, ‘Carmen, do you enjoy your work in insurance’. There are some acquaintances who move up the chain quickly, but some people might spend decades in your life as an acquaintance. They are the most minor of minor characters, the kind of people who are but a small asterisk. You might not even consider these people are a part of your life yet they make up the largest circle yet.
7. Referenceables: These are people who could be ‘referenced’. You might not know their name, but you might recognize them from the office. You see them at the gym, the grocery. You attend the same church but have never shared a church doughnut. These are people who you might be likely to introduce yourself to over a pure random stranger. People who you might provide an off the cuff response, such as ‘nice weather we’re having’. To others, this person might be more than a ‘referencable’, but to you, they are a reference: ‘she works in marketing’, ‘he might have gone to college with me’, ‘he goes to the same bar as me’.
The rest outside these circles is ‘the unknown’, the largest circle perhaps. These are people you have never met, passerbys you don’t know. There is no reference to these people, no way for you to casually know them. The only way they move forward is an introduction to becoming an acquaintance or as a ‘referencable’. No doubt this is the largest category, although it could be argued that because there is no friendship between the individual and the ‘unknown’, it’s not part of the theory. And while I wouldn’t consider it a layer, I would consider this the backdrop for all relationships.
Here's a rough drawing I did to showcase the theory. The filled in dot within the middle represents the individual, while the rings reference the circles as well as a 'visual idea' on how many people are within those rings. Of course, these circles are different based on the purpose. And most likely Friends, Casual Friends, Acquaintances and Referenceables are far greater then showed below.
As mentioned earlier, this theory does not explain romantic relationships or ‘negative relationships’: e.g.: rivals, ‘enemies’, exs, disownments, etc. Although these sorts of relationships most likely have a similar type of layering based on intensity, regularity, and reason for there to be strained relationship.
As visually demonstrated in the diagram, these circles grow larger as they move but there’s no way to count the amount of ‘referenceables’ or ‘acquaintances’ in one's life. One might be able to measure the smaller circles, but even then it becomes a challenge.
What are the ways people move between circles? How quickly can one ascend to the inner spheres? These are questions which would take less qualitative theory and more quantitate and hard numbers.
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