5 stages of friendship
At the turn of last century, Irish poet William Butler Yeates said, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met.” and some 100 years later, the same stands true. Because no matter your age, where you live or what your interests are, every friendship first starts as a stranger.
Let’s take an example; think of the last person you sent a text message to. Can you remember the day you first met them? What did you think of them? Do you remember what you spoke about, and did you think at the time that one day they might become as important to you as they are now?
And how about your own friendship groups? (We won't call them 'circles' becuase they're really more of a horseshoe shape with an open end to include new people.) There are probably some friends that you only see in the company of other mutual friends and some you might speak with regularly. There may be one or two that you would call in an emergency, and others that you would want to join you on the dance floor at a party. That’s because we have different types of friendships with different people.
Some friendships feel effortless and natural, whereas others might take more thought and intention. But they all have value. In the same way that we can’t be close friends with everyone, neither do we expect everyone else to want us in their close circle either. Friendships are about balance and connection.
So what are the stages of friendship and how does someone go from being a stranger to a best friend?
Stage 1 - Strangers. You may know their name and you walk past and say hello, but haven’t been introduced. You make impressions about each other and assess whether you might have anything in common. You might talk about the weather or current events without sharing personal opinions that reveal much about yourself.
Stage 2 - Acquaintance. Someone you know slightly, you have their contact information and would get in touch with them for a specific reason, eg. work or school. Any occasional interactions are polite and friendly, but still relatively formal.
Stage 3 - Casual friends. You have shared interests and activities. Occasional time spent together is fun and you might start to share certain aspects of yourself. You don’t feel ready to be open with emotions or personal feelings, and you wouldn’t reach out in a time of need.
Stage 4 - Close friends. You’ve built mutual trust and there’s commitment from both sides. You may start to allow yourself to be vulnerable and will have shared good times and helped each other through difficult days. You spend more time together and make weekend and summer plans.
Stage 5 - Best friends. These are people who you trust most. Friends who you would be open and honest with, share your hopes and confidences with, and who have stood by your side. Their happiness is just as important as your own.
Remember, there’s no specific time scale attached to how quickly a new friendship will develop; some friendships remain at acquaintance level for years (and that’s totally fine!), whereas other friendships will very quickly become close and trusted. Friendships should be given mutual respect, kindness and developed at a speed that feels natural and comfortable for you both.