The Friendship Gradient

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Friendship is not a clear cut subject. There are many levels of friendship and an infinite number of shades in between. In addition, friendships are always changing, morphing as our lives evolve. A best friend one moment may become a mere awkward hello in the course of a year. Likewise, someone we barely know may soon become our closest confidant. Despite their ambiguity, our friendships shape our world and experiences, and it is necessary to understand them in order to fully value them.

Although friendship exists as a continuous scale of sorts, several distinct phases can be identified. The basic friendship gradient goes as follows: enemies, to acquaintances, to convenient friends, to fake friends, to real friends. The starting ground of a relationship comes with that initial introduction, immediately launching to two parties from stranger status into the acquaintance phase. In that brief moment, the score of the relationship is 0, and probably never will be again. First impressions immediately shift the score negatively or positively. Due to a lack of information about the other person, the few interactions made and word of mouth are extremely influential in determining the outcome of an acquaintanceship. Acquaintances will often merit a nod or smile in the hallway, indicating a potential for a more meaningful relationship. Unfortunately, some of the acquaintances will earn themselves a look of disdain instead.
Moving backward on the scale, we arrive at enemies. Although enemies are directly left of acquaintances on the scale, they are not usually formed without first moving right of the acquaintance phase. Enemies work against each other in hopes of crushing their foe while simultaneously raising their own self esteem. Often times, the worst enemies may have previously been some of the highest scores. They are also one of the most influential presences in a person’s life, for better or worse.

Convenient friendship is a stage often misunderstood and frequently mislabeled. This type of friendship involves a relationship that developed out of mere necessity. Two people are thrown together in a situation and are forced to interact, despite the fact that they would most likely not have formed any relationship otherwise. They are friendly towards one another while the situation continues, trying their best to keep the tone light and polite. There is a subtle strain on these relationships because both would acknowledge the extra effort required to maintain a conversation with a convenient friend. These relationships form frequently in school settings. When faced with a class lacking any close friends, students often turn to acquaintances to find refuge from solitude. They form a mutual, yet unspoken, arrangement in which they sit near one another, possibly work on a project or two, and generally carry out several short conversations per class. However, in contrast to more developed levels of friendship, after the context of the class, or party, project, or club, has ended, so does the relationship. Generally speaking, no feelings are hurt with the termination of the relationship. It was only ever a formation of convenience, after all.

Fake friends, although much closer to level of real friends on the scale then are enemies, can be just as hurtful as enemies. Fake friends are those who pretend to be a friend when they are not in fact. Often referred to as “fair-weather friends”, these individuals frequently use others for personal goals. Fake friends abuse their relationships for a myriad of reasons. Maybe someone pretends to be friends with “the smart kid” to be partners on a project, or with “the rich girl” to get tickets to a concert, or with the birthday boy to get cake that he brought in. Whatever the reason may be, these fake friends only want the benefits of the relationship, not the hardships. When the other person is in need, the fake friend will be of no help. The difference between a fake friend and a convenient friend is all in the perception of the other. As previously described, convenient friends both have an understanding of the meaning of their relationship. However, in the case of a fake friend, one person puts much more value in the relationship than the other. It is an unequal friendship in the sense that it means much more to one person than the other. One specific subcategory of this occurs when one person only pretends to even like the other. Now one may wonder why anyone would continue the pretense of a friendship with someone they don’t even like, but believe me, it happens all the time. These relationships are often a result of significant self change without a change of peers. Through the course of growing up, our opinions and values change. However, as many people stay within the same school setting for most of this maturation process, they are forced to stay with the same group of friends despite changing attitudes. While new friendships may be formed, losing friendships can be awkward and difficult, and therefore many find it easier to just continue with the friendship act, especially when the other person doesn’t acknowledge a change in the relationship. Unfortunately, as a result of such dysfunctional relationships, more gossip and backstabbing occurs between supposed friends than between any enemies.

At last, we’ve reached the level of real friendship. This level takes so many different forms that it is almost indescribable. Your real friends are those who you can call whenever, wherever, with any problem. Whenever you hang out, you both are guaranteed to have a great time. They’re the ones you don’t feel a need to dress up for, no need to impress them. They are the ones who will be there with you simply because they want to be. These relationships, once achieved, are some of the most fulfilling ever experienced.

Relationship scores shift across the gradient continuously. Friendships will change as our lives do, but with the acknowledgement of the gradient, we gain a more conscious understanding of it. If a relationship is important, effort needs to be made to lock in its location. High scores require high maintenance.





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