By Judith Ashley

The words “friend” and “friendships” bring specific ‘pictures’ to mind. When I think of the word “friend”, my list is short in that there are not hundreds of people on it. I tend to separate that general category into more specific ones: acquaintances, colleagues, friends, best friends.

One reason this is important for me is that I have personal expectations for myself and the people in each category.

Acquaintance: someone I know either in person or in cyber-land. This person is not a colleague but also not really a friend. I engage with this person but do not on an ‘in depth’ level. We may enjoy talking about books we’ve read, flowers we like to grow, favorite foods/restaurants, etc. But while in some ways this is personal information, it is more superficial. There are people in my neighborhood I see as ‘acquaintances’. I know who they are. We wave or even stop to chat about their garden or a neighborhood event when I’m out on my walk.

Colleague: someone with whom I have a special interest connection. They may be a member of one of the Romance Writers of America chapters to which I belong, or another author who does not write romance. Perhaps I know this person through my long association with The William Glasser Institute or my past employment with The State of Oregon or Multnomah County.

Friends: Obviously this is someone I know however they’ve moved from the acquaintance or colleague category to ‘friend’. Why? Our relationship is broader based. We spend social time together. We talk about world events as well as topics near and dear to our hearts. We listen and problem solve when life’s challenges appear. We support each other’s life journey through encouraging words and celebrating successes.

My friend, Lois

Best Friends: Considering the number of people I know, I’ve very few people in my life at this level. We share our journeys through life by being with each other in the good and the bad times. We know many of the intimate details of each other’s lives. We’re attuned to our friend’s energy (or lack of it). We’ll put our own needs aside in order to support each other.

It may seem strange to some to separate people I know into different levels of engagement but it works for me. The main reason is works is because I have a set of expectations for myself as the other part of the relationship.

I’m friendly and present when engaging with an acquaintance. 

I’m friendly and present when engaging with a colleague but beyond that, I’m open to sharing information, resources, etc. In other words, when appropriate, supporting them ‘up the ladder’.

With friends, I expect myself to still be friendly and present when engaging with them. I also expect that I’ll share more of my feelings/emotions about things. Perhaps adding some past experiences that color where I’m at these days. I’ll offer to help this person by listening, calling to check in, or whatever they need when life is challenging. I’ll also show up with chocolate, a gift, or a song (at least in my heart) when things are going well. If a friend needs me, I’ll make an effort to be there.

A best friend is all of the above and more. I pay closer attention to my best friends. If they ask, I will rearrange things in my own life so I can show up. I make the calls without being asked. I listen with a heightened intensity to the words and what’s behind the words. I look for ways to be supportive. And, I have a higher level of expectation for people who are my best friends. They are loyal. I trust them implicitly. They are honest – even telling me things I’d rather not hear but most likely need to.

What I’ve learned about myself and this categorizing of relationships is that I have certain standards for myself that impact how I feel when I don’t meet them. And, my meeting my own standards is more important than my friends and best friends meeting them. After all, how can I expect them to meet a standard I’ve set that they don’t even know about?

Am I alone in this? Do you categorize or “see” the people in your life differently depending on the relationship?

Judith Ashley is the author of The Sacred Women’s Circle series, romantic fiction that honors spiritual traditions that nourish the soul. Hunter the fifth book in the series is due out this summer. You can learn more about Judith’s books at Windtree Press.