Thursday, November 17, 2005

Just a Perfect Blendship pt.1:Move Over, Maslow, There's a New Hierarchy In Town

Here's an honest-to-goodness "thinking out loud and have no clue exactly where I'm going with this" rambling post for y'all. The topic: the friendship hierarchy.

Let’s see if I can somehow make it through this without going too far off course, shall we?

Back in pt.2 of my Secret Origin, I wrote the following:

[M]y biggest stumbling block is determining just how to refer to the people I hung out with back [in high school]. Is there some word which adequately covers the ground between "acquaintances" and "friends"? Pals? Chums? Homies? My need for specificity of verbiage defeats me.
I wonder if I'm in the minority in this sort of over-analysis . . . okay, okay, I know I'm in the minority, but I wonder how small of one it is; does anyone else think about our societal impulse to just choose words without thinking through the exact connotations evoked by the choice, trusting to context to sort it out? I'm as guilty as anyone of this, usually as a result of my hyperbolic nature; the word "love" has become my standard unit of measurement for anything I enjoy: I love this show, I love that show, I love that book, I love that actress in that one movie which I also (in case you were wondering) happen to love. I'm usually only aware of it after someone questions the depth of feeling I've just expressed (You love her in that? Really?), and then I rein in the exaggeration a smidgen and downgrade to "I liked her a lot." Do such distinctions really matter? And just how far off topic have I strayed, anyway?

Getting marginally back on track: what makes a friend? Or, more accurately, what makes somebody think of someone as a friend? And what wide range of variations are contained within that word for each person? Have you ever been telling a story and been forced to refer to someone as your “friend” because it sounds less awkward than "this guy I used to know and kind of hang out in the same circles with, but really didn't have a whole lot in common with otherwise"? I know I have.

Another thing I wonder is just how far off the average person's concept of "friendship" my concept is, and how much of that deviation is a result of my younger, Outsider nature coupled with a fascination for fictional friendships; does the influence that TV played on my idea of group roles also creep up in my view of who I consider a friend? I don't think the parallels are nearly as strong there, but I think the influence can still be felt; the stronger influence is probably my innate need to categorize, to collate, to define; a place for every thing and everything in its place.

There are lots of different levels of friends: the Old Friend, the Good Friend, the Friend of a Friend, etc., as well as that most elusive of creatures, the mythical “Best Friend.” To be honest, most of my views on the level or kind of friendship I have with someone are formed on an instinctual level; I don't sit around with a pen and pad and work out the formulas to assign the labels: "Okay, number of years I've known them times the number of in-depth conversations we've had, divided by the number of years we've been out of touch, minus the number of times we've ticked each other off squared equals . . . 0.075. Fair-weather Friend it is!" No, like just so many of my worldviews, most of the cogitation is performed far below the surface, where my conscious mind is blissfully unaware of it; it's not until the right circumstances come along to jostle those thoughts free that I suddenly have an epiphany: "Hey, you know what? I consider Papa Lightbulb a Good Friend; imagine that!"

So, we’ve established that, for me at least, friendship determinations are calculated on an instinctual level; but what factors play into that? That’s a pretty impossible question to answer fully; as I look at the list of friends I have, I see so many variations in sense of humor, temperament, interests, beliefs, politics, career, etc.; I see no common factor amongst all of them other than the fact that they’re all somehow able to tolerate me for extended periods of time.

Now, I do not have a solid list of all the different levels of friends, complete with definitions; I'm kind of winging it on this one (remember the whole “thinking out loud” intro?); I will, however, provide you with some basic thoughts.

My general sketch of the hierarchy of friendship unfolds thusly:
  • Best Friend: pinnacle of the hierarchy; in overly-simplified terms, a Good Friend you don’t feel the need to censor yourself around
  • Good Friend: slightly below the Best Friend, the Good Friend clicks with you on multiple levels, both shallow and deep; someone with whom you can have a fun time and then switch to a serious heart-to-heart without missing a beat
  • Old Friend: someone whose friendship has been maintained mainly through inertia and the accretion of memories; if all you have in common now is nostalgia for the good ol’ days, then you have yourself an Old Friend. The Old Friend straddles the line between Real Friend and Semi-Friend.

  • Casual Friend: someone you enjoy hanging out with, someone you can have a good time with, but who doesn’t necessarily “get” you; the potential for a real friendship may be there, but has not yet been able to develop
  • Contextual Friend: gotta come up with a better name for this one; someone with whom you share an interest, but little beyond that; you could talk for hours with a Contextual Friend about that interest for an eternity, whether it be church, work, hobby, etc., but once you stray from the topic, you both flounder.
  • Fair-weather Friend: someone who only remembers you exist when all of their real friends are MIA; not necessarily a bad guy/gal, just obviously not as invested in the friendship as you are
  • Friend of a Friend: a bit self-explanatory; for me, it’s always been hard to break through the imaginary barrier that separates a FoaF from being So-and-so’s Friend to them being My Friend; no matter how much I might like the FoaF, getting myself to accept that they might also like me takes some mental gymnastics that have always been difficult for me.

  • Former Friend: someone who was occupied one of the higher levels, but with whom there has been a large falling of such a degree that a workable friendship is nigh unto impossible; it takes a lot for someone to get relegated to this spot for me; my need to be liked, to repair what is damaged, will keep me clinging onto hope long after its obvious to all others that the hope is long dead.
  • Unwanted Friend: the hanger-on who likes you, but who bugs the ever-living crap out of you, and whom you’re constantly trying to avoid; I spent most of my Dark Years feeling like I was the Unwanted Friend in all social situations; for me, the Unwanted Friend is often a reflection of my less admirable qualities, or a projection of what I fear I could become: nobody likes to look their negative attributes right in the face.

A brief interruption to stave off the comments, questions, and suggestions I can sense headed my way; I can hear G'ovich in my head now, suggesting that I make a list of everyone in the Cast List and what sort of friend I see them as, and don’t leave out any details, make myself vulnerable, controversy is good! To which I say: get thee behind me, Eeeeeeeeevil one! That way lies madness and hurt feelings; I’m not sure I want to deal with the fall out of telling someone that I don’t view their friendship status the way they view mine.

Along those lines: does friendship have to be reciprocal, or can it be a one-way street? Granted, to have the goodwill flowing both was is preferable, but not truly necessary; I’m sure there are people out there who I’ve considered friends who wouldn’t bat an eye if I dropped off the face of the earth; I can think of a couple of cases from over the years where I felt the same way. Of course, the lack of relational balance might not be so extreme; it could just be a matter of degrees: my view of Flunky as my Best Friends is not dependent on him viewing me at the same level in his own personal hierarchy; whether he sees me as Good Friend, Old Friend, or Damn Nuisance has little to nothing to do with it. Now, I couldn’t have said the same back in the college days, when my need for validation and recognition was at its paranoiac heights; but now I’ve come to terms (of a sort) with the vagaries of each individual’s personal perceptions.

And now, we shall take a brief recess from my ruminations on the nature of friendship; I know that the typical reader can only take so much of my rambling before the cracks in their sanity begin to show, so I’ll let you have this break to gather your wits about you before you return this afternoon to read a little bit about my thoughts on the top of the hierarchy: The Best Friend.


g'ovich said...

I generally just use "friend" and "aquaintance". Based mostly on if I think that I am also their friend. And if I want to admit that I like the person or not. Sometimes, in my stories, friends have to become aquaintances, so I can distance myself from the idiot-behavior I am telling about.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Nice, simple, straight-forward way of doing it, Doc: so, of course, it would never work for me.

I've tried to use "acquaintance," but it just feels awkward to me, too formal; odds are good that if decided to use something other than "friend" to talk about someone that would qualify only as an acquaintance, I'll be saying "this guy I know" instead.

And unlike you, I embrace the idiot-behavior of my friends in the storytelling, mostly in the hopes that it will distract from my own idiot-behavior; don't want to think of how many stories I would be downgraded to acquaintance in; of course, that would be assuming that I was actually in any of your stories (thougth I'd beat you to the punch on that one).

Anonymous said...

My definition of a friend is someone that you can call after you have maimed/killed oh, let's say, your mother-in-law, and they bring the shovel. Needless to say, I can count the number of friends on one hand...might need some redefining, eh?!

Cap'n Neurotic said...

That's quite the . . . intersting definition, my fine anonymous "friend." I can't say as I've ever had call to ask someone to help me dispose of my mutilated mother-in-law but, hey, whatever works for you, right?

Bubblegum Tate said...

Along the lines of the mother-in-law definition, but less disturbing.

I once heard someone say that a real friend was the one you could call in the middle of the night to come bail you out of jail.

I was pretty proud of myself when I instantly piped up with the suggestion that my real friends wouldn't be able to pick me up because they'd be in the cell sitting right next to me.

Not the greatest definition, but a clever one anyway.

Flunky lover said...

I hate to burst your "bubble"gum but that saying has been going around for a while. Perhaps great minds think alike. My brother had that on the signature line of his email for quite some time several years back.