I recently had the pleasure of hosting a good friend of mine from my San Francisco days—one of my favorite friends ever. We were close back in the day after we met on New Year’s Eve 1999. Single girls living in the big city, we both helped each other through Carrie Bradshaw‘s breakups and our own job losses and breakups. Now married with two young boys and living in San Antonio, Shandelle flew in specifically to visit and spend time reconnecting with me. I was over the moon to see her standing at baggage with a big smile on her beautiful face. We hadn’t seen each other since her wedding in 2004, and yet it felt like no time had passed at all.
Although we’ve both experienced a lifetime since leaving San Francisco, we fell right back into our friendship as if we were reuniting with our most comfortable and favorite pair of soft jeans. Over the years, I have learned some hard lessons about friendship—meaning, not all friendships are created equal. Some are joyous and last a lifetime, and some are toxic and draining. Some friendships can fall into a category in between which can be confusing or comfortable depending on how you see it.
I’ve experienced many of these friendships in my lifetime, learning a great deal from each and every one. Some remain close to my heart, while I’ve had to cut others loose to save my sanity. When you realize the differences in your friendships, life becomes so much easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few of the different types of friendships:
1. The Best Friend
Since birth, we are taught that everyone has a best friend. Books, movies and television always have the main character and her/his lovable, best buddy sidekick. Does this happen in real life? Sometimes, but seldom can you have one true best friend who you are glued to for life. For the most part, best friends should be plural. I seem to have best friends from each chapter of my life. It took me years to realize it’s okay not to have a single best friend, but to have several best friends who will be in my life forever.
2. The Close Friend
Through maturity, I’ve learned that having close friends doesn’t mean I need to talk to them every day. These are the friends you met at one point and they made enough of an impact on you that you keep in touch despite living in different cities. They are also the friends who know you and your past and all the good, the bad and the ugly. They will be the ones you put first on the invite list to your wedding and the friends you will shell out money for a plane ticket to visit.
As we age, life gets thrown into the mix, and although you haven’t spoken to your close friends in a couple months, you can still pick up the phone and continue your conversation as if you spoke yesterday. These are the friends who will support you and let you commiserate and vent, the friends you can basically drink your issues away with, and they will be the ones to celebrate with you when you get pregnant, promoted or engaged. These are the friends you know will never leave your life.
3. The Acquaintance
It’s interesting how maturity taught me that not everyone needs to be a close friend. I always wanted that best friend growing up and always tried to make everyone a close friend. Often, I would end up disappointed and hurt. In my early 30s, I finally realized it is very much okay to have a social circle of friends who are more acquaintances than close friends. I go out with them often, but I wouldn’t be hurt if I moved away and we never spoke again. These are most likely work friends or social group friends. I found I was much happier when I had a bunch of acquaintances in my life and didn’t have to feel hurt if I wasn’t invited somewhere with them.
Acquaintances are just as important as close friends, because they do fill your life and help you keep a good perspective along the way. They will always come and go, and some will impact you more than others. Some might even eventually become close friends. Regardless, you should feel good with a bunch of acquaintances in your life and just a few close friends.
4. The Significant Other
The best advice I ever got was from my mom. She was the one who told me best friends exist only in the movies and in books. Sure, we have close friends, but a true best friend doesn’t really come along until you meet the person you want to marry. It’s because of the extra level of intimacy and loyalty you share with that person. Since I haven’t married, I’m waiting to fill that spot in my heart, but I definitely have room, because I’ve wanted to fill it since I was a little girl.
5. The Toxic Friend
This one is probably the hardest to define. We have all had that friend who drains our energy with her problems and anger. The hardest part is feeling the guilt when you realize you can’t be friends with this person anymore. She isn’t a bad person, she’s just not a good fit for you. I’m an extremely loyal person, and it took me so long to figure out that I didn’t have to keep toxic friends around if they didn’t feel right. I could cut ties, wish them the best and go about my life bringing in the energy I needed.
Sometimes, a toxic friend is disguised with behavior that is fun but destructive. You like that person a lot, but she is going to get the both of you in trouble at some point. I guess you could say she is a bad influence. When you are young, it’s harder to see these qualities in a person, but as you get older, you start to know from experience to look for people who will boost you up instead of bringing you down. It’s okay to let the others go. I’m sure I’ve had people let me go because I wasn’t right for them too, and that’s okay.
Friendships are the reason we remain a civil society. The old saying is true: You can’t pick your family, but you sure can pick your friends. I’ve collected a lot of friends over the years, and many are actually close friends, a lot are acquaintances, and a few turned toxic and I had to let them go. I am the person I am now because of the influence of my social circle. I’ve learned open up more, be less judgmental and have a lot more patience when it comes to friendships. I don’t demand as much anymore because its okay to have friends at the acquaintance level.
The best part about understanding friendships is letting the pressure go and being okay with who you are first and then attracting the people you like next. It’s a relief that comes with age.
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