Stages of Friendship
"Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together." – Woodrow T. Wilson
For the most part, it seems like when we are younger it is a lot easier to make friends. I mean, you could become friends for the simplest of reason. A typical kindergartener's dialogue might go somewhat like this "Oh! You like tater tots. I like them, too," and from this one similarity a friendship is born. We become friends, but we do not understand the concepts behind the word nor the development of the friendship. We just slap the term friend on any person that makes us feel good and has some similarity to us.
Unfortunately, this is how many of us progress throughout life when trying to make friends. This habit results in us jumping from one stage of friendship to the next, while skipping other stages. For example, freshmen girls move in to their new dorms to start off the year and they are just meeting their roommates. Instantly, they hit it off and they immediately consider themselves friends. So, they begin to hangout and confide in one another. Then, somewhere in the middle of the semester they get into an argument—probably over some guy—and immediately their friendship ends. Not soon after, they begin to talk about each other and tell each other's business to other people. This is the perfect example of what happens when we skip past the stages of development.
In jumping the stages of development, we can unintentionally treat people in a manner that is not appropriate for the real place that they occupy on the friendship pyramid. Consequently, this action often results in the disintegration of many friendships because they do not have a clear understanding of the friendship development process. I know that this has been an issue in my life because I was raised to treat everyone almost as if they were a close friend, but my years in college have taught me otherwise. I have learned that once you can establish where a person falls in the friendship pyramid, you can begin to treat them accordingly—thus, establishing expectations accordingly and lowering disappointment.
Below is an image of the Friendship Pyramid that I created from doing research on the topic of friendship. Some of the ideas were adapted from Waiting and Dating by Dr. Myles Munroe. In the image, there are five stages of friendship development, which are: Stranger, Acquaintance, Casual Friend, Close Friend, and Intimate Friend. I will provide an explanation of the different stages of progression of a friendship.
Strangers (I Don't Know You):
The Stranger stage of the friendship-development process is defined by the lack of awareness of another's existence. It is the lowest stage and also the most important. The birth and progression of a friendship is dependent upon the first impression a person makes on another. If it is a bad impression, then chances are it will not develop. If it is a good impression, then the chances are it will develop. A good impression will lead to continued interaction, which opens the doors to the next stage in the process.
Acquaintance (I Know of You):
The Acquaintance stage continues from the Stranger stage, and it is defined by occasional interactions that you experience with a person. It is important to note that this is the stage where an "Associate" falls as well. An associate is defined as a partner or colleague in business or at work. So, an associate is basically like your coworker or a fraternity member. With an acquaintance, you know of each other because of the occasional high-and-bye situations that you both encounter with each other. Both of you have very general knowledge about each other such as knowing each other's name, major, who you hang out with, or where you work. However, this is about as far as it goes in with this stage. Overall, you both know each other in the social and business aspect of each other's life, but do not know each other personally. It is only once both people have made a decision to acknowledge the other as worthy of getting to know the next personally that the friendship can advance to the next stage.
Casual Friend (I Know You):
The Casual Friend is the stage where most people make it to. It is the stage where a person can actually say that they know a person. During this stage, people meet more frequently than acquaintances, more than likely, because the interactions are planned. The bonding factor in this stage revolves around the friends' common interests and activities. Additionally, in this stage, people are personally invested in each other; they are aware of each other's achievements and they give praise and support. However, they are not emotionally invested in each other. This is normally the stage where people begin to see each other with their mask off—no pun intended; it is an introduction into who the person really is. Sadly, most people never make it past this stage for a number of reasons, but sometimes it's because one person cannot handle the other's undesirable qualities. Also, because the foundation from which the friendship was built was not a healthy one. However, if a person proves themselves worthy, then they can level up.
Close Friend (I Understand You):
This zone is the area that very few make it to. Once a person has reached the Close Friend stage, not only have both people invested in each other personally, but also emotionally. Because of the level of investment, close friends have shared more information. They are aware and familiar with each other's family members and intimate life. Also, they both know and help each other to accomplish their life goals; hence, the emphasis on emotional investment. I consider this stage to be the connection of the mind, body, and spirit of two individuals because they have shared many experiences together. Both people have seen each other at their best and at their worst, and they have stayed around regardless. This is the stage where friends can begin to understand the each other truly.
Intimate Friend (Connected Soul to Soul):
Intimate is defined as a very close connection, so an intimate friend is an individual who you are familiar with. This stage is attained over time, through shared experiences, and, most important, through vulnerability. It is through vulnerability that a friendship reaches this stage. At this level, one has shared their deepest secrets such as their biggest insecurities and their biggest fears. It is from this level of intimacy that friends become connected soul to soul, and they commit to the development of each other's character and as people. This is the stage where one is considered a true friend. The saying that embodies the spirit of this level of friendship is by Aristotle in which he states, "a friendship is one soul occupying two bodies." These individuals truly understand each other.
There you have it: the five stages of friendship development. It's from this explanation of the different levels that I hope everyone can identify what level of friendship they currently occupy. This way people can avoid the all too familiar phenomenon of unrealistic expectations of the next person, or of one another.