Friends. Since the days of Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Joey and Phoebe, this word has been begging for clarity. As evidenced by my recent blog posts on opposite sex friendships, the word “friend" is interpreted differently (and passionately, I might add) by virtually everyone who uses it. We use this term to describe people we have known for a lifetime, as well as those people who popped onto our screen because the Facebook algorithm suggested we click them into our lives. Certainly these people are not classified the same way, right? For instance, “ fiends” include people I’d die for as well as people I “unfriend" the moment they invite me to anything related to Farmville! There is no doubt the term “friends” needs defining in our society. I also hope a new understanding of how we use the term will offer some good clarity on opposite sex friendships.
Like you, I call lots of people “friends.” Yet, I don’t treat them all the same. There are different rules in play for different people. Here are the categories of friendship I see in my life. As you read them, imagine concentric circles where the more intimate or higher value connection is in the center and with increasingly less value connections with each widening ring.
1. Lifeline friends.
There are a handful of people that I would consider indispensable lifelines for me. These are people whose opinions truly matter. The connection and trust are high. These people know the real me. I can and do share important details about my life with them. Incidentally, this does NOT include my wife. I believe spouse is a unique relationship that no one else shares, in a category all her own. I have multiple “lifeline friends” but only one wife. I also do not include other women in this circle. To include other women would be inviting them into a more intimate place in my life that lends itself to private exchanges, personal details and higher trust that could easily be mistaken for romantic connection on my part or hers. I believe we all need lifeline friends and I believe we find a model for this in the Bible with David and Jonathan and even among Jesus and his inner circle of Peter, James and John. Lifeline friends get priority. I take their call at 3am, I pray for them, I am honest with them, as they are with me. One of the essential distinctions of lifeline friends is frequency and proximity of connection. I talk to these people regularly. It’s rare a week goes by that we don’t talk or see each other. On a scale of 1-10 these friends have a level 9-10 connection with me.
I need people in my life that I know support me and cheer me on. They have my back. These are the people who speak highly of me when I’m not around. These people keep up with me and I keep up with them. This group gets the generic prayer request, whereas my lifeline friends get the specific prayer request. These people have influenced me in meaningful ways. We send Christmas cards to these people. I keep up with these people even if they move out out of town. I don’t share the deeper, personal stuff with them, but I do appreciate them and enjoy spending time with them. I do include a select few women in this group. I believe a Biblical case for this is Jesus’ inclusion of Mary and Martha and other unnamed women in his ministry circle of allies. It is my opinion that even at this level, intentional steps should be taken to ensure that romantic connection does not unintentionally develop around the shared sense of respect and honor among this group. On a scale of 1-10 these friends have a level 7-8 connection with me.
3. Common interest friends.
I have a variety of people who are in my life because of some area of common interest. This includes some of my friends at the gym. This includes most of my coworkers. There are a number of ladies on our team that I am “friends" with, but our connection is our work. There are clear lines of appropriateness and boundaries to ensure that these opposite sex friendships don’t unintentionally become something more. The reality is, if I were to leave my job I would not likely maintain these friendships, unless I’ve developed a connection with their husband. These types of friends tend to go away when the common interest is removed. I only consider females “friends" because I have a healthy friendship with their husband. In other words, because I’m friends with the husband, I consider myself a friend to his wife. On a scale of 1-10 these friends have a level 5-6 connection with me.
4. Historical friends.
These are the friends I’ve had over the years. I likely don’t have any current connection but these people were probably in the common interest category at some point in the past. These are the people I’ll run into at Starbucks and be sure to say, “Hi.” However, I may not even sit down and talk long, but I’d definitely say, “Hi.” For me this category includes men and women from school years, from college, from different neighborhoods I’ve lived in, and from various other places I’ve been and things I’ve been involved in. On a scale of 1-10 these friends have a level 3-4 connection with me.
5. Social Network Friends.
I have TONS of friends that exist in my life as part of a larger social network. This does not simply mean those on social media, this also includes a number of people I know at church or around the community. I might know their name, but i’m so bad with names I would likely need a reminder. I appreciate the light connection we have but see very little opportunity to invest further. It’s simply a reality of time. There’s an outside chance that a common interest may emerge and become a foundation to build a deeper friendship, but it is not likely. On a scale of 1-10 these friends have a level 1-2 connection with me.
Classifying friendship categories is not an exact science. As you probably already discovered there is a good bit of overlap among these. The purpose of attempting to identify categories is to help identify these subtle ways we open up ourselves to temptation or trouble. I have emphasized how I apply these to my relationship with opposite sex friendships but I would also apply these in a very similar fashion to those with addiction issues. For instance, a person with a self-destructive addiction may have been a life line friend at one time but because of their struggle it is not healthy for me to have them in my inner circle. The dysfunction changes the nature of the relationship. All this to say, not all “friends” have the same place in our lives. Beyond that, not all friendships remain where they are today. Relationships evolve or devolve. With every priority relationship (spouse, children, etc.) we must realize that our friendships must be redefined if we plan to prioritize certain people above others. In light of the prevalence of emotional and physical affairs plaguing marriages today, I think it is in the best interest of all married people to know how to classify friends and not allow unintentional intimacy to develop with the wrong person.
I hope this pose helps you redefine and rethink some of your friendships. I’d love to hear what you think. Post your comments below!