When we’re young and (somewhat) naive, friendship seems like the simplest thing in the world… But did you know that there are actually 5 different levels of friendship development?
Your best friend was once a complete stranger, and the casual friends you once had turned into such close friends that you often marvel at how unpredictable life can be.
You know what they say – a good friend is hard to find and even harder to keep! And they’re not wrong.
In order to maintain a desired level of friendship, first, you must understand where you stand with certain people and who your true friends are.
So let’s dive into why it’s so vital to take it step-by-step and not rush into anything, and pin down the friendship levels.
Different Stages Of Friendship Progression
It’s time to pinpoint the main levels of friendship development and how each of them differs from the other. Find out where you stand with each friend and if there’s hope for leveling up.
Stage One: Mere strangers
Obviously, this particular level of friendship is based on a clear lack of awareness of the other person. This stage is the lowest one, but at the same time, it’s one of the most important.
How is that? Well, simply put – we all start as strangers. Like I’ve already mentioned, your best friend was once a stranger. Your co-workers with whom you’re close were once complete strangers.
You were completely unaware of the impact they would once have on your life and look at you now. So, to say that this is a vital level is an understatement.
When you’re still strangers, it all depends on the first impression. As sad as it is, if one leaves a bad first impression, chances of a friendship blossoming are slim to none.
But if you click, you’ve got a good chance of turning it all around.
It’s all about continued interaction and the will to meet up on a semi-regular basis to establish if there’s a chance for a deeper bond.
And by no means should you force anything. If it happens organically, great. But if you don’t feel any type of connection, it’s just not in the cards.
It’s not the end of the world if things don’t pan out. Those who are meant to be in your life will always find their way to you. A stranger today could become a close friend within a few months.
And isn’t that the beauty of life? You never know how it will surprise you, and that way there’s always a sense of excitement and anticipation.
Stage Two: Acquaintances
This is the second level of friendship development, and it comes right after the ‘stranger’ one.
The acquaintance level can be characterized by random interactions on an occasional level that don’t necessarily amount to much.
You don’t experience constant communication and you’re not familiar with each other’s personal lives, but you do bump into each other from time to time and develop a brisk conversation.
An acquaintance is someone you casually know from work or someplace else, which, in turn, makes you see each other often.
But this doesn’t result in meaningful conversation but rather a ”Hi, how are you” – ”Good, how about you” or something along those lines.
The other person doesn’t know any of your close friends, family members, or who you like to spend your time with.
But that’s perfectly normal for this level of friendship. There is hope for progression though.
It’s not uncommon for two acquaintances to become closer with time after they realize that their casual run-ins always result in fun banter or chit-chat.
But there has to be a mutual will for that to happen. If it’s one-sided, it’s unlikely to work. Both of you need to be willing to see if you have actual friendship potential.
After you decide you want to meet up and actually see each other intentionally, you’re slowly moving toward the third stage of friendship, which I’ll elaborate on below.
Stage Three: Casual friends
Of all the levels of friendship, this is the stage where you actually have a chance of making it. Casual friendships mean that you have some ground knowledge of the other person.
At this point, your meet-ups are more frequent than those of acquaintances, as the level of closeness is deeper.
What bonds two people in the ‘causal friends’ stage are some common interests that you both partake in, and your interactions aren’t accidental, but intentional.
Moreover, you’re much more likely to be personally invested in the other person, as you’re up-to-date with their life and achievements, and often give them pep talks and support them fully.
But on the other hand, the emotional connection isn’t yet as deep as it has a chance of becoming.
When it comes to levels of friendship, in this one, you start seeing this person for who they are, and vice versa, without putting on a mask and pretending to be someone you’re not.
There are still certain qualities that are stopping you from deepening the friendship, but the potential is definitely there. Some relationships break at this point, but most of them strengthen and persevere.
The foundation for this friendship isn’t rock-solid, and that can play a large role in how it all pans out.
You definitely have the potential to level up, but you both have to be willing to truly work past your differences and put in the time and effort to make it work.
Stage Four: Close friends
Of all the levels of friendship, this is the one most people aspire to. In this stage, there is no holding back, and both people are closely connected on both emotional and personal levels.
Intimate friendships such as this allow for a freedom you don’t often experience in other types of friendships.
Not many people make it to this level, but those that do, know how valuable and precious a true friend is. This a zone of love, understanding, healthy communication, and a sense of belonging.
Close friends cheer each other on like no one else. They push each other to be better, and they are extremely emotionally connected, unlike the casual stage, where it’s still not fully there.
Your best friend is the person you tell all your secrets to. There is no shame, judgment, or awkwardness. You can simply be your quirky self and share what’s in your heart.
You help each other toward your life goals and you’re sad when the other one is sad, just like you’re pleased for their happiness.
Their existence provides you with so much joy, as close friends are almost like family. They’re not your blood, but they might as well be.
To me, this stage is all about being in sync mentally, physically, and spiritually. Two individuals who go through life’s ups and downs together, hand in hand.
You’ve seen them at their worst and they held your hand when you were falling apart. There is almost no one else you’d call in time of need and vice versa.
The understanding you two share is extraordinary and you thank your lucky stars to have stumbled upon such a special creature.
No way did you ever think someone like them would end up meaning so much to you, but now, you can’t imagine how you’d function without their daily support and encouragement.
Stage Five: Family members and romantic partners
If you thought close friends was as good as it gets, you were wrong (and that’s amazing, isn’t it?)
To think that there’s another level of closeness than the one you share with your best friends is astounding. But there is. And all the levels of friendship cannot beat the bond you share with your family and your S/O.
Don’t get me wrong. Close friends are absolute gems, and some of them rank up to family level, which only goes to show how priceless human relationships are.
I’m sure you already know how special the connection you share with your significant other is. They are probably the only person who puts up with your constant shenanigans and still loves you beyond words.
I find that some things are just completely impossible to describe (which won’t stop me from trying though). And one of those things is those special relationships.
Think about it. The things you share with your siblings are some of the things you couldn’t imagine telling a friend.
How amazing is it that in your sibling, you have a built-in best friend for life? Only they’re so much more.
You can fight, explode at each other, say all kinds of things you don’t mean, and you’ll always come back to each other. Sometimes, people take for granted how much family really matters.
Not a lot of people would put up with some of the things we put our families and significant others through and still choose us every day.
And I think people should be more mindful of that.
There is nothing greater than having somebody you just know will always be there. No matter what you do, say, or how much you try to push them away. Family (S/O included) is for life.
How to maintain these closest levels of friendship
For starters, never take them for granted. The foundation of every healthy relationship – be it with your partner, sibling, or closest friend – is continual support.
Be there for them the way they are for you with no ulterior motives.
Keep an open line of communication. And no, this doesn’t mean constant communication. We all have lives, responsibilities, families, etc.
All it takes is checking in with them and making sure they’re okay. You don’t have to talk every day for them to know you care.
Don’t let it go too long without seeing each other. I know that sometimes it takes a lot of effort to find time to spend with those you love most.
But if you don’t, the relationship will wither. Always make sure to see them on a regular basis, or at least try.
Never let them think that you’ve forgotten about them. Your closest people need to know they’re not alone. And sometimes, we all get lonely.
Text them out of the blue just to let them know they’re on your mind. Little things mean the most.
Always say ”I love you”. Whether it’s your S/O or your bestie. Everybody loves to hear those three words. And if you do love them, don’t be afraid to say it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to brighten their day.
Never forget that the closest levels of friendships took a long time to become what they are today. In accordance with that, never stop putting in the effort to keep it that way.
Take care of these relationships, because they’re the most precious thing you have.
Why You Should Never Skip Stages Of Friendship Development
Let’s put it this way. Here is an interesting analogy that perfectly encapsulates the importance of moving up in your friendship level step by step.
In kindergarten, making new friends is beyond easy. You both agree to like the same animal and you’re immediately friends. And at that point – it’s totally justifiable.
I mean, what do 5-year olds know about good friendships? To them, saying I love you bears no deeper meaning as they love their toys almost as much as they love their parents (you know what I mean).
When you’re that young, there is no meaning to small talk and you don’t depend on that one person for anything other than being your playdate.
But fast forward 15 years, where are they now? Are those friends still in your life? My experience tells me, no, and that’s okay.
But do you now get why that’s the case? Because the whole premise behind your type of friendship was based on just being two young kiddos liking the same things.
And when friendships are based on something so silly, they don’t stand a chance. And you can easily incorporate that logic into adult friendships as well.
Let’s say you’re in college, you just met your roommate, and you immediately clicked. You consider her part of your inner circle, as you’ve quickly got to know her on a deeper level.
And it does make sense. I mean, you spend the majority of your time with this person, and you probably know her favorite sports team, her life goals, and you see each other on a regular basis (whether you like it or not).
You immediately added each other on social media and tagged a bunch of photos with one another in the span of three weeks.
You skipped the casual friendship and jumped straight into being besties thinking this was the real deal right from the get-go.
And for a while it was. Until your first argument happened and things started to unravel. Maybe you found out she stole your BF, or you heard that she’s been talking badly about you behind your back.
This immediately stopped you in your tracks and you were lost for words. How did the girl you developed such a close friendship with so fast betray you like this?
I’ll tell you how. Because you never really knew her in the first place. You were two girls who were spending time together on a regular basis and had a lot of common interests.
You knew each other for a few weeks and you decided that you were closer than you actually were.
And when she finally showed her real face, it hurt you like hell because only then did you realize how shallow this friendship really was.
When you skip levels of friendships so recklessly you only end up hurting yourself. You cannot make a life-long friend quickly. It takes time, patience, love, and mutual understanding.
I know you probably think that you had something so special, but actually, you were just there. You had no choice but to see each other all the time, which made it seem deeper than it is.
My advice is to not rush into these things head first. There are definitely college friendships that will stand the test of time. I can proudly say that for a fact.
But you must let them develop organically. No skipping stages and no calling each other besties in the first month.
If it’s meant to last, it will last. Skipping stages only means deluding yourself and making things worse than they need to be.