A good friend once told me there are levels of friendship. He said he has Level 1 friends that he would give his life for, Level 2 friends that he keeps in touch with social reasons, and Level 3 friends that are barely acquaintances, but he plays his role to keep up appearances. I immediately wondered what level I was on, but I was too scared to ask. I suppose if I needed to ask, then I knew the answer already.

We were having the conversation because I’d had a falling out with someone very dear to me, and as a result, he had cut me off completely. He blocked me on social media, stopped taking my calls, ignored my texts and emails, and pretty much behaved as if I didn’t exist. The worst thing was he didn’t even tell me what I had done wrong. For about a week, I apologized non-stop, without really knowing what I was sorry for. At the end of the week, he sent me an email telling me why he was upset with me, asking me to get out of his life, and reminding me of situations when I had similarly banished people from mine. I cried for three days.

Thing is … I don’t have levels of friendship. In fact, I often say I have no friends at all. I suppose it’s because I have a warped definition of friendship, and I don’t know anyone that fits inside the little box I’ve labelled ‘friend’. Lately though, I’ve had some people come into my life. One was a platonic admirer that had tried to meet me for years and I refused because he scared me. The other is a friend I adored in high school, and I’m so happy she’s back in my life. I’m immensely grateful for them both, because they do fit in my Friend Box.

Ghost friends

I do have a different box called ‘could have been a friend’. It’s kind of like ‘could have been a love story‘. It’s basically people I think are really cool, but I’m happy to admire them from afar. Because when you meet people and dispel the image you have of each other, it becomes awkward and sad. I know, I’ve been down that road a few times.

So nowadays when I meet a cool person, I put them in the CHBF box so I can take them out and admire them once in a while without initiating direct contact. Social media is a good place to do that, to watch and marvel unseen. In the real world, following people around, giggling at their jokes, celebrating their successes and silently sharing their pain (all without them ever knowing it) could get you arrested. The funny thing is there are people I’ve actually met and interacted with who still end up in the CHBF box, because I don’t want to burst the bubble.

There’s also a different kind of friend. People who I see once a year and barely call, but they mean the world to me. They don’t know, because we don’t see each other often, but I would literally drop everything for them. I don’t know how to tell these people how important they are because it would seem weird. Sometimes I don’t even realise how much I care until I bump into them.

When someone like that is in trouble, I jump to do what I can in a way that is so out of character it even surprises me. I did that recently. I wanted to be there for that person, but I didn’t know how, because we hadn’t spoken in years. So I sent a text and a gift, and hoped it somehow conveyed everything I felt. I’d like to deepen the friendship and spend more time together, but there are so many things in the way, and I can only put them back into the box.

Friend box

Here’s the thing though. I realised that this person is my friend because we care for each other and help each other out. We might rarely talk or hang out, but we both know that when help is needed, we can rely on one another. And if I look at friendship that way, then I have so many more than I thought I did, pretty labelled boxes notwithstanding.

People can surprise you. Human nature is so changeable that sometimes the people you trust can let you down at your worst. But then other people show up, people you didn’t expect at all. So maybe your friend isn’t the person you talk to every day and have lunch with every week. Maybe your friend is the person who sees you in a  jam and says, ‘I’m here. Tell me how I can help.’ Friends are not just the people that are always there with you. They’re the ones that will be there when you call them, the ones you enjoy when you see them, even if you barely see them at all. They’re the people you trust enough to ask for help, but they’re also the people that help before you ask. Actions, words, all that jazz.

The funny thing with friendships (and relationships) is we all know what we expect from them. When our expectations are not met, we feel the person doesn’t really care for us. But people show care in different ways, and maybe we need to learn to recognise and accept love – both romantic and platonic – when it’s offered. Maybe I just have to be willing to call these dear people ‘friend’.


In my life, I don’t think friendship should have levels, just different languages, different forms, periods, and frequencies of expression. Of course most people don’t define friendship at all. They just live. And I suppose the fact that I just spent 1000 words explaining a word that I claim has no place in my life … says more about me than it does about them. Still, to all my special people … I don’t know if you’ll all read this, but I just want to say … thank you for being my friends.

You and me ♫ Lifehouse ♫

97 thoughts on “Redefining friendship

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