Friendsgiving and the Four Stages of Friendship

The holidays are already just around the corner (how did that happen?), and so many of us are already filling up our calendars with festive events, dinner parties, school functions, and traditional gift exchanges. It’s a season to focus on family and friends. How many of you are having a Friendsgiving celebration this year? I know that I am, so I definitely have the topic of friendship on my mind.

With so much focus on spending time with those we love, I’m reminded of what real friendship looks like. “Friend” is one of those words that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social media-inundated world. Now, the word “friend” can easily refer to a life-long confidante, or simply someone you just connected with on Facebook or started following on Instagram! BIG difference, don’t you think?

Generally speaking, healthy long-term relationships progress through four stages and—no offense to Facebook—“friend” isn’t the first stage. Ideally, each relationship stage should build on the other and at the proper pace. What advances a relationship to new stages or levels, IF it is meant to advance at all, are: mutual trust, compatibility, a shared interest in cultivating a deeper friendship, and the tests of time.

The stages go like this (imagine a pyramid, starting at the base):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend)
  3. Friend
  4. V.I.P. (Very Important Person)

Every person who becomes more than an acquaintance will start in the first stage.  Most stay there forever while others may progress into the next stages. Only a very few will make it to the VIP stage—and that’s the way it should be. Most of us usually have 4-5 VIPs, the crème de la crème of people in our lives.

Unfortunately, many people—particularly young people—can rush the stages, prematurely moving from one to the next in a quest for intimacy, new friends, popularity, or a full social calendar. When the stages are rushed, people exhibit behaviors in one stage that should be reserved for a deeper one. Inevitably, these relationships disintegrate due to a breakdown in trust, a loss of interest, or a pace that is uncomfortable for one or both of the parties. Note this applies to both friendships and romantic relationships.

If you want healthy, lasting relationships, don’t rush to stage four (like they do in the movies!). When you do, you risk making an emotional investment without really knowing the person—a mistake that can take a major toll when the relationship ends. It’s better to go slow through the stages and reserve the VIP level for people who really prove their friendship, commitment, and compatibility over time.  Don’t forget that good friendship and true love take time and good timing, and that’s okay.

Take some time to think about your current relationships. Can you recognize which stage each one is in? This holiday season, make a conscious effort to invest your deepest relationships and those poised to move up to the next stage. Those are the friendships that will build you up and last a lifetime!

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