Writer's Block: Friends and acquaintances
What differentiates a friend from an acquaintance? When does one become the other?
Good question. Again, I don't have a direct answer, I suppose I could think about it for a while and come back with one, but that's not my style. I prefer to puzzle it out as I go, and bring you along for the ride.
I know some people who define their friends very strictly -- friends are only people with whom you've shared many, prolonged meaningful experiences, and with whom you have a lot in common, and around whom you feel very safe. Or at least, I imagine that's how the people I'm thinking of define it. I don't know. I haven't asked; it just seems that for some people, friendship requires a high threshhold of intimacy.
For myself, I'm not sure. I know a lot of people in several different communities, but I spend very little time with any of them. I think the standard answer to what makes a friend a friend is "someone you know well and care about." I feel like it's easy for me to see people as fitting this definition, even if there are many things I don't know about them and even though I don't spend a lot of time with them. Or maybe it's just hard for me to admit to myself that I don't care about X or Y person. There are gradations of caring, right? I may not care the same level for everyone I've ever met. But I think that once I've become aware of someone's existence, they'll always have some kind of claim on my empathy or sympathy (especially if the encounter wasn't negative), and I see those as manifestations of caring. It's a fellow feeling thing...fellow feeling for all humanity translates into something more specific when a person ceases to be anonymous to me.
And the "spending time" factor weighs strangely with me. I used to think that friends were people you spent nearly all your free time with. But I never have and tend not to spend my free time with people. I spend it with words, in one form or another. This makes the realm of human relationships a very strange one for me.
Hmm. I'm thinking that a hokey, Hallmark response ultimately satisfies me on the question -- a friend is someone you can turn to in a time of need. Not any and all need; some friendships only go so far. But that doesn't preclude them from being friendships, especially if the only two levels of relationship are aquaintanceship and friendship. A friend is someone you trust enough and feel comfortable enough with to impose upon, in some way or another. An acquaintance is someone with whom you've shared a mutual acknowledgment of existence. I wanted to say "whom you've met," but with internet life that seems inadequate.