Can we “settle” in friendships?


WHAT MAKES A GOOD FRIEND? Friendships are complex and everyone brings different qualities to a relationship. Despite common misconceptions, friendships of different levels can be very fulfilling.

If there’s one takeaway in every romantic movie, it’s to never settle. Find the person who serenades you from the bleachers, chases you down in the rain or writes you love letters every day for a year, and never accept anything less. Supposedly, the hidden foundation of every healthy romantic relationship is knowing what you want and deserve in a partner and understanding when to let go when certain boxes are left unchecked and your needs aren’t being met. But, this idea becomes much more convoluted when it comes to friendship. Each type of friend brings different qualities and companionship to a relationship, and despite common misconceptions, friendships of varying levels of closeness can be equally fulfilling and valuable.

Most friendships can be placed into four categories: acquaintance, casual friendship, close friendship, and intimate friendship. Particularly in settings like school, many people form friendships out of proximity. Whether you’re in the same English class, hang out in the same common areas, or play on the same sports team, it’s natural to gravitate toward those you see on a consistent basis. Depending on the level of contact you maintain with these individuals, these relationships are often categorized as acquaintances or social/casual friends. These relationships may be with the people you share a quick conversation with in passing in the hallways, or your gym buddy you see weekly.

Next comes close friends, the people you make an active effort to spend time with. You may have shared interests or things in common and feel like you can depend on these individuals, but you don’t necessarily share every aspect of your personal life with them. You feel at ease with close friends, enjoy their company, and know you are there for one another.

Finally, there are intimate friendships. Intimate friendships are bonds formed on the basis of mutual trust, dependability, support, and a deep connection. With these people in your life, you know you can tell them anything and embrace vulnerability; they will listen to and support you in whatever way you need.

It’s undeniable that every relationship in your life will be different, but there is a false notion that every friendship must check a certain set of boxes to be considered true and meaningful friendship.

It’s undeniable that every relationship in your life will be different, but there is a false notion that every friendship must check a certain set of boxes to be considered true and meaningful friendship. The point of friendship is not to manufacture a set of perfect companions. The point of friendship is to surround yourself with individuals you connect with and to seek joy in the moments you share with others, regardless of how close you may be.

The first part of deconstructing the fallacy of a perfect friendship is acknowledging that everyone approaches relationships from a different perspective and standpoint, depending on their own life experiences, values, and struggles.

In his book “Friendship Development, Ecology, and Evolution of a Relationship,” Daniel J. Hruschka defines friendship as “a social relationship in which partners provide support according to their abilities in times of need, and in which this behavior is motivated in part by positive affect between partners.” A key part of this idea lies in the phrase “according to their abilities,” as it is undeniable that many people may not have certain abilities or skills that come easier to others, which is often completely out of their control. Many of these include vulnerability, feeling comfortable sharing personal information or experiences, and listening to understand someone’s experiences rather than responding or trying to relate to them. So, recognizing disconnects between what you value in a friendship and what someone else is able to offer at a given point in their life is crucial to understanding the depth of the relationship and the type of friendship you wish to pursue with someone. When you set clear expectations and boundaries in relationships, you can shape connections that each serve a role in your life without a lingering disappointment that certain levels of friendship may be unattainable with an individual.

Though the “perfect” friendship doesn’t exist, and you may not be able to establish intimate friendships with everyone in your life, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on seeking friendships that suit your needs. While it becomes particularly meaningful in life transitions like entering high school or leaving for college, at any point in your life, it’s important to recognize what you value in others and seek relationships that satisfy those conditions. One might attract friends due to certain traits they demonstrate, such as being a good listener, being kind, or being accountable because it feels good to be on the receiving end of these qualities, and they contribute to a sense of support and comfort that everyone seeks. However, it’s important to also form relationships based on your own needs and values, not just what others value in you.

When you consciously pursue connections of different levels and welcome new connections into your life, you can surround yourself with a community of people that serve fulfilling roles in your life, regardless of where, when, or how you meet. You might look forward to chatting with a peer on the way to class, catching up with a friend over coffee, or opening up to your best friend when you need to vent. Each type of friendship and interaction has merit that shouldn’t be disregarded. Navigating friendships will always be difficult, and understanding your dealbreakers is crucial to building healthy relationships. However, the idea that friendships must meet certain qualifications to be meaningful or that having friends of different levels of connection and depth is “settling” is harmful. Feeding into this idea only prevents you from making unlikely connections and memories with people in your life.