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True friends vs. acquaintances
October 22, 2005 8:33 AM   Subscribe

What are the little things I should do to deepen relationships from the good acquaintance level to true friend level? Why did your best friends become your best friends?

(BTW: I've read "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie)
posted by Sharcho to Human Relations (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I thought about this for a bit, and the only thing I can come up with is time, particularly time spent with those friends. For that level of friendship, I don't think there's any substitute.
posted by musicinmybrain at 8:52 AM on October 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


I think another definition of true friends are people who are there for you when things go wrong and nobody else will help, so going the extra mile for someone is going to have much more of an impact than agreeing that you like the same movie. Who helps you move house is a real acid test :-)
posted by forallmankind at 8:56 AM on October 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


I think true friendship comes from mutual trust and support and effort rather than circumstances. Your best friend isn't your best friend because you hang out at the same bar with the same group of people. He or she has built a connection with you that extends beyond interests or a common environment. That person has shown you, and you have shown that person, a level of acceptance and support that encompasses all areas of your life, not just those where your path and your friend's converge. A true friend is one who appreciates who you are as a person, not just what you do or how you are similar to him/her.

As for what you can do to deepen that kind of connection with someone, I think the first step is developing an interest in getting to know that person as a whole being. Asking thoughtful questions and remembering his/her responses, and then following up on them later. Learning more about that person's values and passions and expressing interest and encouragement. It's an old (but like most, true) cliche that people generally love to talk about themselves, but I think it also creates a bond between them and you. Few people are lucky to have someone else truly intrigued by what makes them tick, and I think we gravitate to those who express that.

Also, making a consistent effort to maintain contact with that person. After a short while, as the connection deepens, you won't have to make such an effort because it will be well-reciprocated, and/or the bond will remain strong even when you're out of touch. But until that time, I think it's important to check in occasionally (even if it's just an email to ask how their trip to such-and-such went, if they told you they were doing that the previous weekend). It's very easy among acquaintances to fall into a pattern of only getting in touch on a Friday night to make weekend plans. And if an opportunity arises for you to show some support during a difficult time (such as if the person is undergoing a medical crisis or a death in the family or a loss of a job), then do it! So many "good acquaintances" vanish as soon as a person experiences a real problem. People tend to remember, and appreciate, those who stuck around. I know for me, that one thing has been a real eye-opener over the years.

My best friend of 10 years developed over time, as the more superficial relationships of college sort of fell away, and the person remaining was the one who had seen me through a lot of difficult times and whose problems and worries I took on as being as significant as my own. She's not exactly like me, but rather is just completely supportive, has my best interests at heart, and never fails to see a good side of me that I sometimes have trouble seeing in myself. I'd like to think I do just the same for her.
posted by justonegirl at 8:57 AM on October 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


At first, my response was going to be something like, "You just can't force a meaningful friendship. It'll happen on its own as fate sees fit." But then I recalled how it went with me and one of my truest friends today and how I did make a very deliberate effort to befriend her.

I can't remember exactly what tactics I used, and given that we were in high school I'm sure some of them would have been juvenile and unapplicable to adult relations. What I remember was talking to that person a lot, generally being as nice as possible and—well, that's about it. I guess the answer is the be aggressively good-natured and sooner or later you'll both want to get together beyond that social network that united you in the first place.
posted by Evstar at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2005


I've known my two best friends for over 20 years, since we were in kindergarten together. We went to different elementary and high schools, but lived in the same town. Then we all went to different colleges, one out state while I and the other friend remained in Boston. Now I'm moving to San Francisco, the other is in San Diego, and Boston boy plans to stay there. I was a best man (we were best men) at both of their weddings, and we have basically been through everything together.

The simple answers that come to mind for me are time and trust/reliability. These two guys have been with me for basically my entire life, and nothing has been able to change that. Thus, I feel confident that we'll always be friends. Also, they have both been there for me in many situations where I needed someone, as I have for them. We're honest with each other, we don't judge each other, we're alike in some key ways but also different enough to keep things interesting.

Another angle to responding to this quesetion could be how to LOSE friends. I've lost a few myself, and the most common way is through lack of communication or openness. One close friend parted company with some animosity, and in spite of repeated requests on my part, never cared to explain what made him decide that I wasn't worth his time anymore. It bothered me for awhile, but I concluded that if he wasn't willing to make the effort to sort things out with me, he probably didn't value the friendship that much to begin with.

Other people have just drifted away - one of the surest ways to lose my friendship is to not keep in touch with me. Everyone is guilty of this sometimes, and I've written people off only to have them come back into the fold a few times. Another best friend, though, just stopped speaking to me. We didn't get to see each other much, but we communicated regularly via IM. At some point she just stopped responding to messages, even though she was clearly around/not idle. After awhile I gave up trying. Two years went by, and then I got an email from her. I was glad to see it at first, until I opened it and discovered it was a mass email to a whole slew of people she had "lost touch with," wanting to pick up where we left off. Sorry, but we were very close for 10+ years and then you went to complete radio silence without a word of explanation. I don't really have time for that kind of thing.

As you can see, for me it's very much a two way street. Maybe with that last friend I ought to have forgiven and forgotten, but I felt like she ditched me at a time when I really needed the support of friends. My other two buddies of 20+ years stuck by me then, and that meant a lot.
posted by autojack at 9:52 AM on October 22, 2005


Hit rock bottom. Look around. See the people standing by you? It's them.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:58 AM on October 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


It's funny. There is a pattern to my close friendships-- a particular personality type, and even a astrological sign (though I don't really believe in the zodiac)-- but my very closest friends don't match. I think time and shared experience are a big factor, but there is also mutal interest in each other's quirks. I have nothing in common with my best friend of 20 years. I just like the way she sees the world. We know that we couldn't live with one another, but we talk about once a week, and have for as long as I remember.

I am North American, but I have spent a fair amount of time with Russians, who find the concept on more than a couple of friends very suspicious. I was asked how many "true friends" I have. I had to pause. I really like a lot of people. It never occured to me that decide who was a friend versus an acquintance. I'm not sure I know how.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2005


Shared experiences. Good or bad.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2005


Dale Carnegie has some good suggestions about how to connect with people from the beginning, but he doesn't really give advice on how to take it to another level.

My best friends, as I look back over the years, are people I've participated in creating something with. What we created really barely matters; it was the process that brought us together. But not like doing a homework assignment together; I'm talking about a game of D&D, or a rock'n'roll band, or a feature film.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:55 AM on October 22, 2005


Travel together.
posted by Aknaton at 8:07 PM on October 22, 2005


Who helps you move house is a real acid test

"A friend will help you move. A REAL friend will help you move a body."
posted by afroblanca at 9:43 PM on October 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


I don't think they're little things. The difference between an acquaintance (or a decent-level to casual friend) and a best friend is not as much tangible as it is an overall sensation that you and the person have made a possibly lifetime commitment to understand and support each other in a way free of transitory judgements and circumstances. (Only an opinion.) Some of the few people I would consider best friends don't know everything about me. It's the quality of the way they relate to me, and I to them, that counts. They became my best friends over time, and I began realizing that I didn't 'pull my punches' or hide anything from them, present myself in a certain way, worry about false steps or dire consequences... I was totally at ease with them, and knew that they would interpret all my actions through a truly informed lens of perspective.

I suppose to cultivate that relationship you'd want to seek out the reasons that this person should be, or is, such an important part of your life, think them over to make them more concrete in your mind, and maintain them as principles that guide your feelings and actions toward them. With luck, your friend will start thinking similarly toward you, realizing what a significant person you are to him or her, and appreciating you for your insight. Developing the tolerance of bad times, I think, has to come with time, but maybe you can help your friend keep that perspective toward you.
posted by rebirtha at 1:56 PM on October 23, 2005


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