Friendships are relationships that involve two very critical dimensions – interdependence and voluntary participation," explains Northern Illinois University psychologist and friendship expert Dr. Suzanne Degges-White in an email interview. As anyone who's ever been in a friendship knows, it's a complex process and experience. "True friendships are hallmarked by each member's desire to engage with the other – it's about mutual interest in one another's experiences and thoughts, as well as a sense of 'belongingness' and connection," she says. "Friendships require reciprocity – of admiration, respect, trust, and emotional and instrumental support."
That said, there's no telling when and where a friendship will develop. Often, they arise from a shared interest or hobby, and people are typically drawn together because they're in the same stage of life, like new parents or retirees. People of similar backgrounds and cultures also tend to come together by bonding over shared lifelong experiences. Although most of these relationships take time to get really deep, occasionally friendship is more like a lightning strike. "Sometimes you can be in a big group of new people and you catch someone's eye and it's like 'boom!' – instant friendship," Degges-White says about an experience she's termed the "clicking phenomenon." "It's kind of like that burst of 'love at first sight,' but it's a friendship, not romance."
Indeed, quality friendships are extremely important to our general happiness. A 2017 study in the journal Personal Relationships found that the presence of strong friendships is actually more indicative of overall health and happiness in old age than even family involvement and support! The benefits of friendship in general, however, are lifelong. Research has shown that people with good friends often feel happier, less stressed and more like they belong than those without. Having a strong network of buddies also increases self-confidence, plus they provide much-needed emotional support during trying times, like illness, loss of a loved one or divorce.
"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.
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.
What Is Friendship?
BY ALIA HOYT & MOLLY EDMONDS
When Good Friendships Go Bad
two friends talking
If you feel a friend is becoming more of a frenemy, it may be worth trying to talk to her about it before giving up completely. HENGLEIN AND STEETS/GETTY IMAGES
There are a bunch of versions of a wise, old saying that there are three types of friends – friends for a reason (you lived next door to each other growing up), friends for a season (high school, college, new parenthood) and friends for a lifetime. Sometimes, the season of life passes and friends fall out of touch due to no particular problem. Occasionally, however, a once healthy friendship turns toxic. There are six common signs that the so-called friendship is less than stellar, according to Degges-White:
You realize that hanging out with a particular friend leaves you feeling worse, not bbetter.
You begin to try and find reasons to avoid spending time with a friend or wanting to cancel plans once they've been made.
Your friend only seems to "like you" or want to spend time with you when she needs something from you.
Your friend tries to isolate you from other relationships in your life – for instance, badmouthing romantic partners or other friends
You find yourself trying to make excuses for your friend's behavior or "defend" your friend from other friends who are more able to see her shortcomings or poor treatment of you.
While friendships are based on social exchange, "red flag" friends typically draw more resources from the "friendship bank" than they ever put into it.
Not all friendships are worth fighting for. "When you feel like a relationship is holding you back or dragging you under, it is definitely okay to let that friendship go," Degges-White notes. "The beautiful thing about friendships is that they are voluntary relationships – and if you're no longer finding it worth the investment, you have the option to let the relationship go."
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."