What Are Your Friendship Tiers — Who is a Close Friend vs. an Acquaintance?

friendship tiersI know we just discussed the effect friends have on your life a few weeks ago, but I thought friendship tiers and theories would make a really interesting discussion: How do you define tiers of friendship? What is the difference (to you) between a close friend and an acquaintance, and how has that changed for you over your life?

Recently I saw an interesting article in Vox about “why 30 is the decade that friends disappear, and this is what you can do about it” — and it contained one woman’s friendship tiers:

First come acquaintances, people I can recognize and say hi to at yoga class, cookouts, church, that kind of thing. Then I start to connect with some casual friends, people I can do coffee dates and see movies with. Once we reach a point where we don’t have to make plans in advance — where we’re comfortable enough to do nothing together and I can just text that I’m on my way — that’s when I’ve made a close friend.

I immediately texted Kate to note that I disagreed with that “just text that I’m on my way” level — as an introvert, I haaaate when people CALL without a specific purpose (or, frankly, without us having agreed to have a call at X time — because I am crazy). If a good friend were to just show up at my door, I would be like, “Hi! Are you in dire need of a bathroom? Are you injured? Can I help you in some way? No? OK nice seeing you let’s get together soon!” But again, I’m kind of an extreme introvert. It’s particularly interesting to me because some of the people I consider my best, closest, soul-sister type of friends aren’t necessarily people who are in my orbit on a regular basis — they’re those people I maybe haven’t seen in nine months (or longer) but we talk for four hours straight without stopping when we do see each other. So for me, my friendship tiers look more like this:

  • Acquaintances: People I recognize enough to smile at and possibly remember their name and 2–3 facts about them.
  • Situational friends, aka “work friends”: I have some soul-sister friends from various jobs over the years, so I don’t mean to demean work friendships, but I’ve found that with some people you’re BFFs for a limited time or situation — and then when the situation passes, you never speak to the person again (or when you do, you just have a quick, catch-up conversation). Sometimes I’ve mistaken a work friend for a soul-sister/kindred-spirit kind of friend and have been hurt when they clearly can’t or don’t want to be friends beyond that situation; sometimes I’ve been thrilled to realize that someone I thought was just a situational friend really does become a kindred-spirit friend.
  • Friend family: Some people have been in your life so long that they’re like family — or they may have so many connections to your life (past, present, and future) that they’re like family. You choose to keep them in your life and love them, but acknowledge their faults and failings, and recognize that if you were to meet today for the very first time you may or may not become friends.
  • Soul friends: At this point in my life I honestly may go years between talking to these people, but I know they’re out there, and the love I feel for them is still really strong. When we do get to spend time together or have a call to catch up, I often feel like they’ve elevated my life in some way, either by sharing a point of view or perspective I might not have considered, or passing along books, ideas, or tips, or even just silly turns of phrase or jokes that I think about much later.

While I’ve listed them in what may appear to be “least to most important” order, I think it’s a mistake for me to think of them that way — sometimes acquaintances are what get you through the day, after all. And weirdly, I might allow an acquaintance to “text if she’s on her way” because I’d know that the visit would be short and purpose-based, whereas a soul friend dropping by would kind of require the clearing of the schedule for the next few hours.

As for how my friendships have changed as I’ve moved through life — I’m old enough to tell you that they absolutely have changed, but not so old that I can see the full arc of how they will continue to change. If this metaphor makes sense, there was a time in my late 20s and early 30s where friendships were like coffee — something I needed to have in every single day — whereas now friendships are more like cupcakes or a great cocktail, something that I don’t get to enjoy all the time and makes the day sweeter when I do. Right now a lot of my friends and I are in the weeds with young kids, as well as work and family obligations, and a lot of situational friendships revolve around the kids.

When I was single I always hated it when girlfriends would completely disappear when they got a new boyfriend and then reemerge when they were single again — so in some ways I hate to admit that’s what I did. But my husband is definitely my best friend, and when we met, that changed a lot of friendships and, in some ways, intensified the ones that remained, because it was a definitive choice to keep and nurture them. (I can easily see how when marriages start to break up and kids start to become more independent, my friends will start to reemerge.)

At this point, I think friendship definitely did peak around age 30. I’m in a mastermind group with a woman younger than me, and I encouraged her to go away with her girlfriends for her 30th birthday because, I argued, “It’s peak friend time, and it’s soooo much easier when kids aren’t in the equation!”

Anyway, my own “friendship tiers” are incredibly different than the “I’ll text you when I’m nearby” tiers — so I thought it would make a fascinating discussion. What are your friendship tiers? Have they changed as you moved through life? (In case it needs to be said: there are no “right answers” here!)

Further Reading: (looks like my own friendship tiers are odd ones!)

  • According to the ‘friendship theory’ there are only six types of friends you can have [Hello Giggles]
  • How Many of These Odd Friendships Are You Suck In Right Now [Jezebel]
  • The 3 Kinds of Friendships [Marie Claire]
  • Casual Friends vs. Close Friends: What are the 4 Levels of Friendship [Cyberparent]

Social media images via Stencil.


  1. I also hate when people drop by suddenly. I’m a major introvert and it just throws me off guard. I would of course be there for an emergency, but otherwise, it’s all about planning.

    • hmm, I don’t read this as people dropping by suddenly and unannounced. Honestly, who has time for that, no matter how close you are!? I read that as you just spontaneously make plans to hang out that evening or afternoon, no activity necessary, and you just pop over to each other’s homes.

      • BigLaw Sr Assoc :

        No kidding. I have had people text or call and ask if they could stop by since they were in my neighborhood and they typically aren’t, and the answer can be yes or no depending on what is going on. If someone just knocked on my door, unless it was a neighbor with a normal neighborly request, I would be like WTF are you here, no matter how much I liked them.

    • This time of year we spend most evenings in the front yard/driveway. We grill or eat sandwiches and unplug for as long as the weather will allow. It is very common for my sister-friends to just show up with their own cooler, kids and lawn chairs to join us. No invitation necessary and though we have not set a beginning or end time, they usually leave right around 8.

      Perhaps I’m an extrovert….or I have lived in the suburbs so long that this is my normal.

    • Should there be any suggestion for Shanti in Montreal and Quebec? We have hotels, so we are looking for restaurants and events. Tia! We will have a week between

  2. Any recommendations for a babymoon in Montreal and Quebec City? We have hotels, so looking for restaurants and activities. TIA! We will be there a week, between the two.

    • We had an outstanding brunch at Café Parvis, I enjoy Restaurant L’Orignal, we had a fabulous dinner at Kazu, Hotel Nelligan is an institution and the terrace is amazing (if it is open). Bota Bota spa is very cool.

      • Sorry! All Montreal. I love wandering around QC but a lot of the food is very touristy and medicore. We failed at eating well in QC although there are great places.

    • If you want to eat well in QC, go to the Saint Roch district. (Although I do like Le Lapin Saute in Old QC.) Le Clocher Penche in Saint Roch is excellent modern French bistro food. Le Croquembouche is hands down my favorite bakery for pastries, eclairs, and cakes in the entire world (and trust me, I make it a point to find bakeries when I travel).

      Elsewhere in the city, Le Cochon Dingue is owned by the same people who do Le Lapin Saute and there are branches around the city. The one in Old QC is always mega crowded, but the ones outside the center are not. If you like poutine, Chez Ashton is a local chain that has locally sourced potatoes. La Fromagerie Victoria is a bit outside the city, but also amazing poutine made with their cheese onsite. Ile D’Orleans is a great day trip. Beautiful island and also lots of local farms and producers to explore. My favorite there is Cassis Mona et Filles, which makes many kinds of blackcurrant wine/liqueur.

    • Anonymous :

      I’d be careful about being pregnant in Quebec city, its very…not flat. Walking will be hard and its not really a city you can drive around.

      • I slightly disagree with the second part about driving around. I would not drive around Old Quebec, but that is also decently flat. If you want to go down the hill, you can absolutely drive down there, and there are plenty of parking garages (but hit or miss street parking) in the central business districts (including St Roch that I mentioned above). It depends a bit where you are coming from, but if you drive in any large-ish US city, you should be fine. I do agree that you can’t really tour the city by driving because it’s just too small for that. Ile d’Orleans is great for driving tour though!

    • I just got back from a wonderful week in Montreal and Quebec City! In QC, I had a fabulous meal at Le Lapin Saute. I felt like I had to try the rabbit, and it was really good! (They have lots of other things on their menu). Great patio. I also liked the flatbread at Sapristi. Aux Anciens Canadiens has a great lunch special for more traditional food in an interesting building. I liked the more modern food at the other places I tried, but it was interesting to sample the difference. They had an amazing maple syrup pie.

      One day I did a food tour with Local Quebec Food Tours. We went to 5 different places- Chic Shack, La Buche, Paillard Cafe, Chez Boulay, and Beclub Bistro in Old Quebec- and tried 8 or 9 different dishes between the places, with a good explanation of the history of the dishes, and a nice historical walking tour along the way. There was a pregnant woman on my tour and they were accommodating of any changes she needed to make, slower pace walking and bathroom breaks. Highly recommend!

      I also checked out the Citadelle while I was there, but admittedly my itinerary was heavily focused on eating (gelato, crepes, maple syrup popcorn!!), wandering through the quaint streets, and enjoying the Chateau Frontenac.

      In Montreal, I liked Chez Epicier, Ferreira Cafe, Da Vinci Restaurant, and Le Pois Penche. Highly recommend checking out the Jean Talon Market. I really liked the free garden of the Chateau Ramezay. I had trouble concentrating on all the exhibits inside, but it would be a good rainy day activity. The view from Mont Royal is incredible. I walked up the steps from Peel Street- you may not be feeling up for the 400 steps, but there is an inclined path you can take (or maybe someone local knows a different way to get up there). Enjoy!

      • Hello: I’m from Montreal (born ans raised) and still live in the city. For restaurants: cafe parvis is great for lunch ( in the downtown area) while in old Montreal le serpent is very good as well as Graziella, Club Chasse et pêche and garde à manger. You will need reservations for most restaurants for dinner.
        Enjoy your babymoon. The suggestions for Quebec City are good: I especially love Bistro Boreal.

  3. Anonymous :

    Anyone I get together with one on one is a close friend. My casual friends are basically drinking buddies – people I see out or at parties but it wouldn’t occur to me to call them for a drink.

  4. Anonymous :

    Umm. Introvert or not, I wouldn’t want even my best friend to be like “Hey, I’m on my way.” That’s weird.

  5. Too much coffee :

    Any advice for how to get caffeine out of your system? I overdid it on coffee this morning and can already tell I’m going to be buzzing instead of sleeping tonight

  6. Meg March :

    I was just thinking about this. We moved about a year ago. Our friends in our old city were friends that Mr. Brooke’s been friends with the guys since high school. We never “just dropped by” but didn’t need specific plans to see them: we’d say, come over sometime on saturday, and they’d text sometime between 10 and 2 saying they’re on their way over. Or sometimes it would be “what are you doing RIGHT NOW let’s hang.” We wouldn’t have specific plans as to what we were doing: might end up hanging out all day, might end up hanging out for an hour, we might do things, we might all sit on the couches being hungover and napping. I’m not sure we’ll ever have friends like that again; it seems like a confluence of how long we’d known them and the stage of our lives (mid twenties, no kids) that are unlikely to ever line up with new friends.

    Our friends in new city are great, we’re getting more and more comfortable, have close connections, but it would be rare to be like “what are you doing RIGHT now” unless it’s an opportunity that literally JUST came up.

  7. I love this! I actually just wrote something similar to this: https://wordpress.com/view/vanessarosecorcoran.wordpress.com I call it “the five-finger friendship,” meaning that if you cannot say 5 substantial things about a person, they are an acquaintance and you are not as obligated to them as you are a friend.

  8. My husband (or any romantic partner) is not my best friend, & I think it’s a mistake to put mix those categories. Yes, romantic partners can & should be friends, but there’s a lot of writing & even research coming out lately that shows how hurtful it is to long-term marriages to put so many expectations on one relationship (see: Esther Perel for starters). My best friends are who I depend on for things I can’t get from my romantic partner & vice versa. Each level & type of friendship, from acquaintances to situational friends, fulfills a distinct (if sometimes overlapping) need for me & for them.

    • I think that’s just a matter of managing expectations and expecting one person to fulfill you and be your everything. That doesn’t mean your partner can’t be your best friend. They can be; they just don’t need to be. There’s many ways to be together. But happiness is largely dependent on your expectations and that is the problem with expecting someone to fulfill you all the time in every conceivable way, not whether or not you consider them your best friend.

  9. I was just thinking the other day how sad I am that I’m no longer at that point in my life where friends just show up at my house. I think it has less to do with age though and more to do with the fact that we can all communicate at any time. When I was home on maternity leave with my first, I got to be friendly with an older neighbor and she would sometimes just knock on my door and it was great actually. Sometimes we’d chat for a second, other times she’d come in for coffee and stay for an hour, but I enjoyed the spontaneity of it and we probably became closer as a result whereas I don’t think it would ever occur for me to just call her.

    I also wonder what everyone who says they hate phone calls would be doing if there weren’t text messages and emails. Sure, phone conversations can be awkward, but I suspect part of the reason is actually just that a) we are all out of practice, and b) of course it’s awkward if you’re scheduling your phone dates ahead of time.

    Anyway, I don’t know if it’s so much a function of age as a generational thing. I’ve spoken about this to my mom and she never went through this. Neither did many of her friends. Sure, some friends maybe disappeared, but others emerged or became closer. I think this is more of a symbol of how we live now where people have to coordinate google calendars 3 months in advance, etc. I agree that how often I see someone or even talk to them may not be the most reliable metric of how close we are but I also think there is just a lot of change happening that we can’t fully comprehend yet. Everything from the false intimacy of social media to the rise in self-analysis and the notion that one doesn’t need to do anything that ever makes you even a little uncomfortable to just how much our lives and expectations have changed.

  10. Anonymous :

    So, do you even want friends then?

  11. I disagree about soul friends. If I haven’t talked to someone in years, I am no longer close with that person. I thought I had some of these soul friends. Then I had my wedding. I thought I was close to several friends from college 6 years later but only 2 made it to my wedding. If we aren’t going to share life events with each other, why are we friends? (And yes, of course I understand that things come up, and I did get married on the other side of the country from most people, but everyone has priorities. I took that to mean I wasn’t a priority for these people and no longer put effort into keeping in touch.) Since then, I’ve been hesitant to get super close with people. I’ve since made several wonderful girlfriends but I honestly wonder how many I’d keep up with if either of us moved away.

    • Anonymous :

      Yeah if we haven’t talked in years we aren’t friends. If you’re important to me I make an effort. Frankly, Lars attitude says to me she doesn’t care about having friends.

    • I disagree, to a point. Sometimes life circumstances get in the way. I’ve fallen away from my friends for several years now due to the demands of eldercare. I really value my friends, and I send a catch-up e-mail a couple of times per year, but there isn’t much to say on my end that isn’t oversharing.

      “Hope you’re well. Still diapering a parent that screams like he’s being murdered and can’t remember who I am. Toodles.”

      • Indeed. I lost a close friend when I had a child with special needs including some behavioral problems. My friend tried for a while to be sympathetic, but she just couldn’t tolerate being around someone so different from her expectations of how a child should act. Not that he was a monster, but he had his moments. I was certainly struggling myself. My point is, people sometimes go through things so bizarre you can’t even imagine. It’s isolating, because you know for a fact that no one understands what you are going through. As a friend, don’t try to understand. Just show up for them as much as you can tolerate, with as little judgement as possible.

      • Indeed. I lost a close friend when I had a child with special needs including some behavioral problems. My friend tried for a while to be sympathetic, but she just couldn’t tolerate being around someone so different from her expectations of how a child should act. Not that he was a monster, but he had his moments. I was certainly struggling myself. My point is, people sometimes go through things so bizarre you can’t even imagine. It’s isolating, because you know for a fact that no one understands what you are going through. As a friend, don’t try to understand. Just show up for them as much as you can tolerate, with as little judgement as possible.

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