What exactly is a friend? What characteristics does a friend possess? The answers to these questions seem pretty easy and straightforward, and yet, in practical terms, most people ignore them and their application in everyday life. Wikipedia defines a friend as a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, which is typically a stronger form of an interpersonal bond and than an “acquaintance” or an “association”, such as a classmate, neighbour, coworker, or colleague. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a friend as a person who has a strong liking for and trust in another person(someone who is not a foe or an enemy; someone who helps or supports).

As children, we referred to everyone as friends, but as we mature into adulthood, we should be able to differentiate and label our associations better. Not everyone is a friend and should not be treated or regarded as one. I remember, as I got older in my teenage years, my mum would always say to me, “Not everyone is your friend; there are acquaintances, regular friends, and close friends.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand why she wanted me to group my associations and treat them differently. But adulthood has a way of teaching you life lessons the hard way, so you don’t forget them. I am now well-versed in what my mum was trying to teach me then. However, so many young people still make the mistake of thinking everyone around them is their friend. 

People don’t automatically become your friends. The length of time you’ve known a person doesn’t make them your friend. There are different stages or levels to friendship and relationship content creator Abiodun Boluwatife has broken them down in a way that’s easy to understand. Here are four levels of friendship, as explained by Boluwatife:

1. Acquaintance

A friendship of acquaintance is based on occasional contact with very basic and general knowledge of each other. With an acquaintance, you talk about the weather, how your favourite teams did, how school is going, how work is going, just basically general topics that won’t cause the person to feel threatened or that you are trying to pry. It is the lowest level of friendship.

2. Casual Friendship

The next level above acquaintance is casual friendship. A casual friendship is one in which the people involved discover they have some things in common that draw them closer and is the natural growth of an acquaintance relationship. One characteristic of casual friendship is the freedom to ask specific questions concerning personal opinions, wishes, dreams, and goals.

3. Close Friendship

Friendship at this level is founded on shared life goals, and friends at this level enjoy each other’s company. Most people never get this far in their romantic relationships. So many jump straight from acquaintance to “intimate friendship” because that is the model held up by society and because they do not know how to go through the friendship-building process. It is at this level that unmarried friends begin seriously looking at each other as potential mates: “Is she a person I could share the rest of my life with?”

4. Intimate Friendship

Intimate friends are committed to the development of each other’s character. Just as with close friends, but to an even greater degree, intimate friends have the same vision, the same life goals, and are walking in the same direction. They are “fellows” on the same “ship”. This stage of friendship pertains to engaged or married couples who are building a life together. 

It’s crucial to understand the various levels of friendship and to classify the people in your life according to their level of closeness. This allows you to manage your expectations while also preventing you from sharing sensitive information with people who should not have it. From another perspective, it saves you time and money because you know who you should spend them on. Especially in this part of the world, where there is an asoebi to be bought every other week or some celebration that usually requires monetary gifts.

Get comfortable referring to people as acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours, classmates, and so on. Not everyone deserves to get a seat at your table, and that is OK. You do not have to apologise for setting boundaries in your friendships.

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