18 different types of friends
Some good, some not so good.
Last week, Elizabeth Day’s book Friendaholic came out, which I’m sure you’ve seen, storming the bestseller charts already. I always love Elizabeth’s honesty in her writing, it’s inclusive and generous, however I wasn’t quite sure I personally needed to read another book on friendship at this point in my life — I only recently read Claire Cohen’s BFF?: The truth about female friendship and enjoyed Kate Leaver’s The Friendship Cure plus Platonic: How to Make and Keep Friends as an Adult. These books focused mainly on female friendship and/or maintaining friends, as did the wonderful Everything I Know About Love, but it turns out, Friendaholic is not just another book on friendship.
Elizabeth’s book is a much needed addition to this category in fact; it is broader, digging into friendship as a whole (an ambitious task done brilliantly); plus, as the title suggests, it focuses on a slightly different angle. What to do when you realise you have collected quite a few friends along the way, but something’s not quite adding up. It’s actually about what happens when you have gathered too many friends or acquaintances (or “acquaintanceships” as she calls them) and how to take a honest look at your life. It asks: what happens when you want to untangle yourself from the people-pleaser in you, and actually down-size your life and prioritise the people you actually love?
Post-pandemic, a lot of us found ourselves doing a cull, not only of friends, but of things in general that were bogging us down. I am not a friendaholic (I don’t actually let new people in that easily), but I have found myself at different times in my life realising the people around me were not making me feel good (e.g. only interested in drinking/doing drugs when socialising [in my twenties], and never asking me any questions but monologuing at length telling me I was ‘a good listener’ [in my thirties].) There have been so many times when I’ve realised I’d been spending too much time with people who demand too much of me, and not spending time with those I really cherish (which is something Elizabeth talks about specifically in the book.) I remember Reese Witherspoon (on Glennon Doyle’s podcast) once describing friendship as a ‘deposit and withdrawal’ set-up, it needs to be sort of balanced, you can’t be friends with someone who only ever withdraws from the relationship.
A few years ago, I said to my sister: “I don’t think I have enough friends.” I said it to my husband too. Both of them were quite baffled. How many friends do you need? I have small separate groups of friends from school, University, former workplaces. My Whataspp is seemingly always pinging. I see friends every other weekend (I need weekends to myself also), I love having people for dinner, to stay over. But I don’t have heaps of friends. Paul and I had a small-ish wedding. What’s funny is that society/culture makes me constantly assume I need more friends (more, more, more! I blame Instagram. The hen-dos of 20 people, the group holidays, the group photos. I write about this in The Success Myth.) When I said “I don’t have enough friends” what I meant was “I don’t have 100 people I could invite to a party at a moment’s notice so clearly I am unpopular!” Madness, really.
Funnily enough, I discovered the opposite to be true. I actually needed less, in all areas of my life. Now, post-pandemic, my circle is even smaller, and I like it that way. On Elizabeth’s podcast Best Friend Therapy, her and co-host Emma Reed Turrell described the motorway test as a sign of someone being your ‘best friend’ — i.e. someone you would turn around on the motorway for, mid-journey, if they needed you. I only have 2 or 3 of these. (Only! I’m lucky to have even that.) Friendships need care and attention and you can only do that for a certain number of people otherwise you stretch yourself far too thin.
However, not everyone has to be a best friend to count, and in fact some friendships thrive with the pressure taken off. Some of my favourite people are just casual friends, there’s no real label on them. I think Adam Grant calls these people ‘weak ties’, a phrase I don’t really like as it sounds a bit corporate — but he has said a similar thing, that our ‘weaker’ or ‘dormant’ friendships matter a hell of a lot too, just in a different way. These more transient relationships can be so enjoyable and worthwhile for different reasons. You can enjoy a friendship even if neither of you are that committed, but the important thing is knowing where you stand.
Anyway — back to Elizabeth’s book. I really enjoyed it. It has so much in it: incredibly well-researched but also peppered with gripping anecdotes about ghosting, bullying, boundaries, friendship break-ups, different types of friendship, the benefits that good friendship can brings to our lives, and how 'friend’ is such a big broad term that actually means so many different things. The book also mentions the work of Robin Dunbar, and I discovered his book Friends: Understanding the Power of our Most Important Relationships (with an amazing cover) which in short reinforces what we already know from his well-known theory: that quality over quantity really does matter. Phew. Makes me feel better about my set-up, not that many friends, but brilliant ones.
18 different type of friends
No really. All this thinking and reading on this topic made me think about the different types of friendships and how it shows up in so many different weird and wonderful ways in my life. I wrote a list of the different types of friends who have floated in and out of my life over the years, and I counted eighteen types of friends, from broad descriptions to very niche, (and I’m sure there’s more)…