You’ve Got A Friend In Me: What Is A Friend Anyway??


The term “friend” has come up many times in my practice and in my personal life as well.  I hear it all the time, “my friend ” this and “my friend” that.  I may ask how long they have known that person, or how well they know that person (or vice versa)   So then I ask (myself), is there a statute of limitations on being someone’s friend when the friendship is not in use?  Does it need to be renewed every few years, or does it expire?  Is that a lifetime title you are giving that person?  What do they need to do in order to maintain that title?  Do they need to make a phone call every few years to keep it active?  Will a text message saying “Hey” do?


I don’t know why I find this fascinating but I do.  This is just my opinion…and maybe I’m doing a little ranting (so if you have anything you want to contribute please feel free to comment!).  I think sometimes we hold on to that “friendship” from our past for nostalgic reasons.  Or is it just more difficult to let that relationship go?  

But what is a FRIEND anyway?  I believe Cookie Monster may have said it best,
“Sometimes me think, What is friend? Then me say, Friend is someone to share last cookie with”.


Friend: definition from

 1) a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard,

2)  a person who gives assistance, a supporter,

3)  a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile,

4)  a person associated with another as a contact on a social media site.


The Oxford Dictionary defines a friend as: A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations. 

Here is the Urban dictionary definition of friend:  A friend is someone you love and who loves you, someone you respect and who respects you, someone whom you trust and who trusts you. A friend is honest and makes you want to be honest, too. A friend is loyal.  


I believe a friendship is both conditional and unconditional.  It is conditional on there being a mutual benefit for both parties to be in the friendship and stay in the friendship; it cannot be beneficial to one party and not the other and be deemed a friendship.   It is unconditional in one’s love and respect for the other person.  

It is unconditional when one can step out of their own shoes and into their friend’s shoes without any preconceived quid pro quo (such as “I’ll do this for you if you do this for me”, or “I did that for you now you owe me”)…just being there for that person because they are in need at the moment, and awareness it will be reciprocated if needed.  It is unconditional when you look forward to seeing that person and they look forward to seeing you; knowing that each other’s time is valuable and worth giving that time to that person.   It is unconditional when you can go a long time without seeing or talking to each other, and when you are together it’s as if you were never apart.  There is an immediate affection and appreciation for that person.  


“Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness” -Euripedes

When push comes to shove, in times of need, who are you going to reach out to?  Your family? Your co-workers?  Your neighbors? Someone, you only see at your kid’s baseball games?  Or someone who understands you, has always been there, and would drop everything to be there.  Can you identify who those people are?  Is it one person?  Maybe you don’t have that person.  You’re not alone if you don’t.  



What is an acquaintance? By comparison, an acquaintance is defined as:  a person known to one, but not a close friend ( The  Cambridge Dictionary defines an acquaintance as:  a person whom you know but do not know well and who is therefore not exactly a friend.  

The Urban dictionary defines acquaintance as: someone you know but not close to, a friend you don’t see that often or don’t feel close to, someone you don’t see outside school or work.

I believe an acquaintance is someone you know; it doesn’t matter how much you know about that person but you know them.  It is somebody you can be friendly with, someone you share a mutual interest with.  The difference lies in the nature of the relationship.  This is not someone you would normally spend time with (outside of that mutual interest that brought you together).  This is NOT an unconditional relationship; meaning sharing love and respect for each other, wanting to spend your free time with that person.   An acquaintance could be a quid pro quo type relationship, like an exchange of services that benefits both parties.  This could also be someone you were once friends with but the nature of the relationship has changed, such as a high school friend that you haven’t had contact with since the last reunion.   You might label them “old friends” or “childhood friends” but they are really acquaintances now.   

I think we may know many people, but we are really friends with a smaller percentage of them.  It is even a smaller number when we consider who we label “close friends” or “best friends”.  So why do we call these acquaintances in our lives friends?  For one, simply, it’s probably just easier.  Another possibility, unfortunately, is YOU believe they are your friend but they really aren’t.  You are always there for THEM but they aren’t really there for you.  When you talk to them on the phone (or text) they are the ones who dominate the conversation, or somehow turn what you are talking about into something about them. This is a  lop-sided friendship.

This illustration below ( gives you an idea of what I am talking about.  The majority of people on our mountain are acquaintances (gathered there at the bottom), and as you go up the mountain (closer to you sitting on the top), the number of people are fewer and fewer.  So we don’t have a lot of friends, we have a lot of acquaintances. Those with a mountain that is top heavy with people they consider friends probably are trying to be all things to all people, and should a take little time to focus on themselves (see blog post, “I-I Me-Me Mine: The Case for Being Selfish).  


“He who hath many friends hath none”-Aristotle


“Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world”-Eleanor Roosevelt

When I am working with clients who are struggling to cope with issues like anxiety (including social phobia), depression, relationship issues, family issues, addiction, etc, I strongly encourage them to reach out to their support network.  They need to have the social support to help them get through these issues…they cannot do it alone.  When my clients have a good support system, even if it is 1 or 2 good friends, their ability to recover or improve their self-esteem and well-being increases dramatically.  It is just as significant negatively when the support network is not there.  I will ask my clients about their friends, and who they feel close to, and get a sense of how successful they will be at meeting their goals.  That doesn’t mean if they don’t have friends they won’t meet their goals, it’s just going to be a little more challenging.  


What about all those acquaintances???

Sometimes we have acquaintances that we just didn’t do enough (or anything) to cultivate into a friendship.  Sometimes we are too loyal to our current friend group that we don’t want to offend them by exploring other relationships.  Sometimes we make negative assumptions about those acquaintances, when in fact they have friendship potential.  But because of those assumptions, we hesitated exploring a possible friendship.  

When you have a limited social support network it’s difficult to seek new people to be friends with.  As we get older and have more responsibilities, we have less time to develop new relationships.  Maybe we don’t need to acquire new people to develop friendships, but instead invest the time to boost up those “Tier 3, not really friends” category. 

Having people in your life you like to spend time with can really boost your self-esteem.  You don’t always need a close or best friend around to lean on, sometimes you just want to share a laugh with people you can relate to, with no strings attached…but they aren’t necessarily your friends! 😉


“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”-Walt Whitman

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