What makes someone a friend rather than an acquaintance? This is an age-old question that has yielded no universally accepted answers. In this essay, I will offer my own perspective on the topic, drawing upon personal experience and insights from social media. Traditionally, one of the criteria for being someone’s friend is to have visited that person’s house or to have gone out somewhere with them. This view dates back to one’s school days, when a classmate was someone with whom you might have had friendly conversation at school, but a friend was someone with whom you had spent time outside of the school grounds.
I think that this traditional view does provide a suitable framework for distinguishing between friends and acquaintances. It feels like a stretch to call a classmate, a fellow club member or a coworker, a ‘friend’ without having spent time with them outside of those contexts. One reason why this is a suitable framework is because what a person is like at school or work may be an entirely different proposition from what they are like at home or when they are out and about. Furthermore, what they are like in the latter context is likely to be a more accurate representation of their true self, because it is a time when they are free from the eyes of teachers or superiors. Therefore, one might know someone’s “school/work persona” without knowing their true self.
The traditional view is incomplete, though, because it doesn’t address what it is about someone’s personality or character that makes us feel comfortable to call them a friend. In this regard, I think that the most important attribute of a friend is that they are someone whom we can trust. For example, a true friend wouldn’t share information that we shared in confidence with them, nor would they belittle us when we shared that information. On the other hand, we would feel much less surprised if an acquaintance betrayed our trust, because we wouldn’t have the same expectation in the first place.
Social media has blurred the line between friendship and acquaintance somewhat, though. Websites such as Facebook use the term “friend” for anyone who accepts your friend request or whose request you accept. The range of people encompassed by this umbrella term might include genuine friends, coworkers whom you only see at work, old classmates, people who you once met at a party many years ago, and random strangers. Having such a broad umbrella term arguably cheapens the meaning of the word “friend” and necessitates further clarifications between “friends” and “Facebook friends”.
In summary, based on the criteria established in this essay, what makes a person a friend is that you have spent quality time with them outside of the context of school or work, that they be someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal thoughts or information, and that they be true friends in real life as opposed to someone whom you added on Facebook after meeting them at a conference fifteen years ago.
framework (noun) – a set of principles that you use when you are forming your decisions
proposition (noun) – a statement that expresses a judgement or opinion
persona (noun) – the part of your personality that you deliberately show most people
belittle (verb) – to say that someone or something is unimportant or not very good
encompass (verb) – to include a lot of people or things