The 4 Levels of Friendship: Where Do You Stand with Your Friend?

Throughout our lives, we form different connections with other people. Some of them come and go, and others become our forever friends. Ultimately, it all boils down to the different levels of friendship.

What are they and how do you know where you stand with your friend?

What are the levels of friendship?

1. Acquaintance

one-to-one communication introvert

It’s the most numerous part of your social circle. Estimates show that an average American knows about 600 people.

An acquaintance is someone you know but don’t have a close connection with. It can be a neighbor, a colleague you don’t feel close to, or your spouse’s work friend.

From all the levels of friendship, this one doesn’t involve any intimate communication at all. You can only have small talk and discuss general topics and work matters with an acquaintance. You are not close enough to share any details of your personal life.

Sometimes being an acquaintance doesn’t include any communication at all – you just know someone but never talk to them. For example, it can be your elderly neighbor you say hello to every now and then but never open up a conversation with.

Signs someone is your acquaintance:

  • You know them in person, but you barely ever talk to them
  • Your conversations don’t go beyond small talk or just saying ‘hi’
  • You don’t talk about your life with them
  • You may share a common environment, i.e. work in the same office or live in the same block
  • You don’t feel close to this person, so you don’t try to get to know them on a deeper level

2. Casual friendship

group of people talking

The second level of friendship is casual friendship. It describes a closer connection with someone, which still doesn’t involve any emotional intimacy.

Studies show that an average person may have up to 150 casual friends.

It can be your work or college friends or the people you met in yoga class. You do share some details of your life with them after classes or during a lunch break. For example, you may tell them about your kids or your plans for the weekend.

At the same time, you don’t get too personal with a casual friend. Oftentimes, it’s someone you share a common social environment with, such as a workplace or a group of friends. So, you happen to hang out with them sometimes, but it doesn’t go further than that.

Typically, you’ve had some conversations with a casual friend and have realized that it’s not someone you would like to get more personal with. For example, they may have totally different interests and aspirations. So, they don’t feel like ‘your tribe’.

So-called “situational friends” fall into this level of friendship. You hang out with these people as long as you share a common situation, like working in the same job or going to the same classes. As soon as you go your separate ways, they disappear from your life.

Signs someone is your causal friend:

  • You hang out with them and tell them something about your life
  • You don’t get too personal except for sharing some basic details of your life
  • You may have common friends and be part of the same social or working environment
  • You drift apart as soon as your shared situation is over
  • There is no deeper connection between you – you may have different values, beliefs, and interests, so it feels pointless to get closer

3. Close friendship

friends talking

Close friendship is the third level of friendship. Typically, people tend to have around 15 close friends. For introverts, I would say that this number is probably even lower – up to 5 people.

A close friend is someone you have a lasting connection with and there is a certain degree of emotional intimacy between you. You tell them a lot about yourself, including your personal concerns, and so do they.

You hang out with them because you enjoy their company, not because you just happen to share the same circle of friends or work in the same job. You have a lot in common – interests, aspirations, and views. And there is always something interesting to talk about.

Close friendship is a lasting type of friendship. Even if you change your job or graduate from college, you will keep in contact with your friend. You feel that their presence in your life is important, so you keep in touch no matter what.

Close friendship doesn’t form out of a sudden – you should know a person for at least a few years to tell that they are your close friend. This is how you know that your connection has endured the test of time and this person is not just a situational friend.

Signs someone is your close friend:

  • You’ve known them for years
  • You enjoy their company and hang out with them in your free time
  • You tell them a lot about your personal life
  • You have much in common, such as hobbies, interests, and views on life
  • You keep in touch regardless of life circumstances

4. Intimate friendship

intimate friendship

The last one on our list and the highest of all the four levels of friendship is intimate friendship.

Scientists studied how Dunbar’s number theory works in practice and found that an average person tends to have up to 5 intimate friends.

To be honest, I don’t think that everyone is lucky to enjoy intimate friendship in their life. Many people seem to stick with casual and close friendships. It’s because this level of friendship requires a genuinely deep connection and emotional intimacy with another person.

An intimate friend is someone who makes you feel totally accepted and comfortable being yourself. Typically, it’s someone you’ve known for many years.

You feel free to share your most personal problems and intimate thoughts with them. You know they won’t judge or misunderstand you.

At the same time, you also know that your friend will give you support when you need it. You trust them and rely on them as there is something more between you than just convenience or small talk.

You have a deep bond based on the experiences you’ve had together in the past, but also the same views and values in life. Just as with close friends, you have a lot in common. But these things are deeper than just having fun together or sharing the same hobby or interest.

Usually, intimate friendships last for a lifetime. You may even lose contact for some time, but you always keep returning to your friend. Even if they live far away, you still feel close to them and free to talk about your most personal concerns and thoughts.

Signs someone is your intimate friend:

  • You’ve known them for many years
  • You have the same beliefs and values in life
  • You feel accepted and understood in their company
  • You feel free to talk on the most personal topics with them
  • Your friendship endures all the challenges and you keep in contact no matter what

As you see, the four levels of friendship involve totally different types of connections with other people.

How many people you have at each level depends on your personality, occupation, and lifestyle. It makes sense that extroverts tend to have more connections than introverts do. Or that someone who holds a coffee shop knows more people than an IT guy working from home.

But what ultimately matters more than the number of your friends is the quality of your social connections. So, don’t get sad if you have a small circle and rarely meet new people. Just one intimate friend is worth dozens of casual friends.

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