Home Family & Relationship Making Sense of the Maze: Understanding the Different Types of Friendships

Making Sense of the Maze: Understanding the Different Types of Friendships

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Life is a maze of social interactions, and friendship is one of the most rewarding yet complicated aspects of it. Friends come in many forms and serve many purposes. Understanding these categories of friendship can help you navigate social complexities and even improve your mental well-being.

From casual acquaintances to best friends, each type of friendship plays a role in our social world. Evaluating these connections objectively allows us to invest appropriately based on the depth of the bond. Appreciating the spectrum of friendships in our lives provides perspective on our interpersonal needs and priorities. With self-awareness and discernment, we can traverse the maze of social relationships in a healthier, more balanced way.


You’re bound to meet a plethora of people, many of whom will remain acquaintances. These are the individuals you run into occasionally at social events, whose birthdays might trigger a Facebook notification but who don’t quite make it into your inner circle. While not deep or emotionally invested, these relationships are not to be dismissed. They often serve a purpose, such as professional networking or community involvement.

Casual acquaintances expand our social circles and provide opportunities for mutual benefit through loose interpersonal connections. Even surface-level relationships have value in forging community ties and broadening our horizons.

Fair-weather friends

Fair-weather friends are great for a laugh, a night out, or even a shoulder to lean on – but only when things are going well. These friends are generally not the ones you’d turn to during times of crisis or vulnerability. Research points out that fair-weather friendships are often more about convenience and less about genuine connection.

While these relationships can be fun and entertaining, they lack the depth and commitment of true friendship. Fair-weather friends may come and go, drawn by fun times but not willing to provide support during life’s challenges. It’s important to recognise fair-weather friendships for what they are and supplement them with relationships offering more meaningful emotional bonds.

Friendships of utility

The gym buddy. The study partner. These are examples of friendships based on utility. These relationships often develop around a shared goal or activity, and once that activity or goal changes, the friendship may fizzle out. They are transactional in nature but still provide a sense of camaraderie and mutual benefit.

Friendships of utility can enhance our lives during specific activities or life stages, providing motivation and accountability towards a common objective. While not the deepest connections, these task-based friendships have value in their collaboration and companionship. Once the shared goal is complete, we can reflect fondly on the teamwork and support that bonded us together for a season.

Best friends

This is the category everyone hopes for but is often the most difficult to maintain. Best friends are the family we choose. They provide emotional support, endless love, and sometimes even constructive criticism. According to research, strong friendships can even have a positive impact on mental and physical health. But it’s important to note that even best friendships can evolve or fade, depending on life circumstances.

When we find those rare connections that feel like kindred spirits, it’s worth nurturing that bond while acknowledging its impermanence. Cherish your best friends for the profound love and meaning they bring, but don’t cling too tightly – change is inevitable. Focus on building the relationship rather than the expectation that it will last forever.

Toxic friendships

Unfortunately, not all friendships are beneficial. Some can be draining, damaging, or even dangerous. Toxic friendships often involve manipulation, betrayal, or a severe imbalance in effort and investment. Recognising a toxic friendship can be challenging, but it is crucial for your mental health.

If a relationship leaves you feeling depleted more often than enriched, it may be time to reevaluate its positive value and consider distancing yourself. As difficult as it can be, pruning toxic connections allows space for more nourishing bonds to blossom.

Long-distance friendships

Modern technology makes it easier to maintain long-distance friendships. But these can be some of the most challenging friendships to sustain due to the lack of physical presence and face-to-face interaction. Yet, they offer a unique opportunity to develop deep emotional connections that aren’t bound by geography.

Navigating friendships isn’t always simple. But understanding the different types can help you appreciate the value each one brings to your life, know which ones to invest more energy into, and recognise when it’s time to let go.

Final thoughts

The digital age has revolutionised how we maintain relationships, enabling us to keep in touch with friends from all corners of the globe. Social media, instant messaging, and video calls act as lifelines, filling the gaps left by physical distance. However, it’s crucial to remember that long-distance friendships still require effort, honesty, and emotional investment to remain meaningful over time.

As you navigate the different kinds of friendships in your life, it’s worth taking the time to assess the value and depth of each one. This process not only enriches your emotional well-being but also helps you make informed decisions on where to focus your time and emotional energy, ultimately leading to more fulfilling relationships.

Elisa Santiago, PsyD is a social psychologist specialising in interpersonal relationships and social dynamics.

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