Social media has drawn attention to the circles that exist in our life. Circles of friends, colleagues, acquaintances. By lumping everyone together in a rather ungraceful and largely transparent heap, it has somehow become offensive to be anything other than “a friend”. This is bad for friendship and bad for all the other relationships that exist in life. Displayed below is an overly simple visualization of the circles in my life. Somehow, on facebook, every single member of these groups is awarded the title of friend, despite the fact that only the circles closest to me would receive that designation based upon our mutual relationship. Our lives and human interactions are complicated, and this is by no means a complete view of my network. I’d like to share a few thoughts, though, on what these tiers mean to me.
Me: Well, this one is fairly obvious. Without myself, I don’t do much socializing. BUT – I do have a responsibility to care for myself and I’m driven to achieve various personal goals. I am closely tied to the next two following groups. And honestly, although the diagram does not show this, there is a gap between the top 3 tiers and the next subset. I am highly involved with: Tyler, close friends and family, and our dogs.
Tyler: Obvious as well. I spend most of my human interaction-related energy tending this tier. It’s called marriage, and most people find it to be fairly significant – and mutually beneficial. Congrats Tyler, for making the top of the list.
Family, Friends who are Like Family, and our dogs: This is the group of people whom I would answer a midnight call from, who I would help in an emergency without a second thought, who I feel comfortable being around without makeup or when I’m sick or crabby, who, even if my time is limited, I make it a point to include in my daily/weekly life. These are the people who know the mundane details – from what I ate for breakfast, to how the hostas are doing under the latest grasshopper barrage. When we get together, we spend a lot of time talking about those day-to-day events. They know me. I know them. I consider their well-being a top priority. Our future children will go in this group as well.
Good Friends: Then, there is a bit of a break.The next group is friends, but in a busy world full of work, obligations, etc. they do not repeatedly make my daily “to-do” list. Still, I feel we have a bond and enough in common that we’ve maintained a friendship – usually over many years. There is something fundamental to our relationship that allows it to last. Current friends, with bonds that are not as strong, fall in this group as well. These are people I like to socialize with, although do not always have time to do so. If someone from this group were coming into town, I’d make it a point to at least try to hang out. If they invited me over, I’d probably come – unless an obligation from a higher circle pulled me away. I think of this group as “fun” – but there is also a sense of obligation and duty here as well, but more in a “in a time of need” way. These are people I like and know pretty darn well.
Friends With Whom I Could Share a Hypothetical Beer: In my mind I refer to this group as “Friendlies”. We are not necessarily “friends” but we’ve had enough interaction and there is enough in common that I like them, and feel we’d have a good time if we ever did get together and socialize. A variety of reasons could have prevented us from being closer – but we often encounter each other in overlapping social circles and the interactions are pleasant. We may talk online, say hello via facebook, etc. and engage in light social activity. Some people are in this group to stay – perhaps we went to school together and have always been pretty good friends, but now, as adults, there is nothing that’s going to take that relationship to the next level, or, this might be a friend who will become a good friend or a friend who’s like family at some later date.
New Acquaintances on Friendship Fast Track: Sometimes you meet someone and they just happen to be awesome. You “click”. They are technically a new acquaintance but you have a feeling they won’t be that for long – you’ll hang out soon, and they will move to friend status.
Next, a whole cadre of Acquaintance-level relationships adjoins the friendship circles. These groups include current work colleagues, who are more involved in my life due to that amount of time we spend together, former classmates and colleagues, and people I know from some activity or another. Anyone from this group has the potential to “move up” but currently I feel very little obligation to them and have developed little, if any, trust.
Lumping everyone together into the same group diminishes the importance of friendship and elevates casual relationships. In the end, though, what is important is treating everyone with respect, dignity, and understanding. Oh, and behaving like adults – that would be nice. Because if you are an “acquaintance from a past class” that doesn’t guarantee you an invite to my Friday BBQ like it would if you were my mom. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that I don’t like you, simply that our relationship does not command a higher investment of energy from me at the moment. So in summation – there are many different kinds of relationships in life, so let’s view them with a bit of perspective.