What Is Friendship?

What Are the Different Types of Friends?

two men playing video games two men playing video games
Male friendships are often activity-based while female friendships are often based on sharing feelings. James Woodson/Getty Images

Again, rarely does a person go from virtual stranger to insta-bestie. "Friendships develop as each person reveals a little bit more about herself and the 'friend-in-the-making' matches the self-disclosure with disclosures of her own. It's how trust is built between people – through mutual sharing of increasingly intimate or personal information," says Degges-White. In fact, research has revealed that it takes about 50 hours' worth of face time for a mere acquaintance to become a casual friend, then 90 hours to upgrade to the status of a standard friend. Then, it takes about 200 additional hours of interaction for a "close friendship" to develop! [source: Hellman].

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the types of individual friends, it's important to note that we as individuals prefer different types of social structures, according to research published in a 2016 issue of the journal Contexts. Tight-knitters tend to maintain a dense social network where everyone is friends with each other; whereas compartmentalizers have multiple cluster groups of friends, which often hail from different time periods in their life or serve different functions, like advice or entertainment. Samplers have one-on-one friendships, but steer clear of groups [source: Wang].

According to Degges-White, there are four core types of friendship: acquaintance, friend, close friend and best friend. "The level of friendship deepens as the level of reciprocity and mutual respect and affection grow," she explains. Acquaintances are easy enough to categorize. They're the people who aren't complete strangers, who you run into regularly at a place like the coffee shop or work cafeteria, but you don't really know. "They are people we know well enough to make small talk with on a regular basis, but not really people we'd invite to a dinner party or call on if we needed assistance," she says.

By contrast, standard-issue "friends" are those that we try to run into or mix with. "The women that you share carpool duties with for kids' sports and that you usually hang out with or spend time with at the games, for instance. Or people that are your 'crowd' and the ones that you tend to socialize with on a regular basis," she explains.

These buddies are certainly valuable, but when the going gets rough you're more likely to reach out to a "close friend" for help or support. They're also the people you trade secrets with. Degges-White elaborates: "There's not just a strong level of trust between these friends, there's also a whole lot of unconditional regard and affinity. You may not like a close friend's choices, but you'd defend her right to make them."

Last but not least is the truly few and far between phenomenon of the "best friend." "Best friends are the rarest type of friend and the kind of friend that we all need to have in our lives. It's the friend who gets you without you having to explain yourself. It's the type of friend who loves you no matter what," Degges-White says. And they're not necessarily people you talk to every day. "You might go weeks or months without connecting, but when you do re-connect, it's as if no time has passed at all. These friendships are different in their ability to flex and endure even if life temporarily gets in the way. These are 'heart-to-heart' or 'soul friends' and they can give you comfort even if you're out of touch with this friend."

It's important to note that in today's social media-heavy society, people often get confused about their friend status. "The process of actually 'making true friends' hasn't changed! What has changed is the blanket labeling of acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances, and close friends all with the same title, 'friend,' Degges-White says. "All of the followers, FB friends, etc. are not all going to even be 'true friend candidates,' as you probably have little in common, seldom (if ever) even see them in person, and probably couldn't call on them for much in the way of support."

Sometimes, even seemingly true friendships can go sour. Keep reading to learn more about the signs of a toxic friendship, and how to take action.