5 Types Of Friends—And How To Deal With Them

The author of Wordbirds reveals how to navigate different friendships.
Trina Dalziel/Getty Images

Not all friendships are created equal; that is to say, although you may value your friends equally, each person has a distinct friendship style. If you’ve ever had a friend get furious at you, and you didn’t know why, chances are you were interacting with her in a way that worked well with another friend (or many) but didn’t match that friend’s criteria of closeness. The same thing can happen in reverse: Sometimes you will feel rejected by a friend who doesn’t understand your hurt feelings. Everyone’s friendship style is different—including yours—which can change when new elements, like work, family, school or love, enter the picture. The trick to making it work is to figure out what each one brings to you and what each one needs from you.

1) The Second Sister
This friend regards the women in her social life as an extension of her family. She maintains a tight circle of intimates who’ve known one another for a long time, and she enjoys small get-togethers, usually in her own home, at a friend’s place, or at an informal picnic or potluck or sporting event, where her usual crowd convenes, and everyone acts socially pretty much as they would act privately. If the two of you go out one-on-one, she looks forward to having a long, meaningful conversation that reflects deep knowledge of each other’s past and present concerns. Be careful if you run into her at a large party with your other friends (and strangers). She will be hurt if you don’t take time apart from the throng to focus on her and affirm your special bond. This friendship must be carefully maintained and nurtured. It has a huge payoff, but requires a large investment. She has your back, and you’d better have hers.

2) The Activities Pal
She’s got a busy schedule and so do you—but when she’s looking for a sidekick to take to a gallery opening, a play, an art fair, a concert, a lecture or some other tempting cultural event, she’ll ask you to come along (and you return the favor). To avoid misunderstanding, recognize that neither of you counts on the other for steady emotional sustenance, but each of you considers the other good company. While you’re out and about in tandem, taking in the main attraction, you’ll gossip about your wider friend pool and catch up on each other’s news. This is a no-strings friendship, made for camaraderie, not for crisis. Its purpose is to double the fun of activities you both find worthwhile.

3) The Errant Boon Companion
You’ve known her since you were 5—or maybe she was your first grown-up friend—and she’s all but evaporated. Maybe she’s been overtaken by overwhelming responsibilities—like raising young children, struggling with a demanding career, or caring for aged parents—and can hardly ever see you in person anymore. (Maybe she’s moved to another city.) When you do connect, it’s as if time hasn’t passed at all. Even so, much time may pass before you connect again. In such cases, it’s easy to feel mournful, or even resentful—especially if the two of you live in the same city and she never seems able to make a plan to meet face-to-face. It’s not worth holding up your end of the friendship if she doesn’t reciprocate interest, or if your own interest in her has waned. But if she does keep in touch, and if, when you do meet, you still see the qualities in her that first made you friends, give it time. Penelope held out 20 years for Odysseus; people’s personal journeys can send them on detours that have nothing to do with their regard for you and everything to do with their own predicament. If she’s not inattentive, just overwhelmed, she’s worth waiting for.

4) The Styleminder
She possesses breathtaking flair and taste, and also has the budget (or the dedication) to track down gorgeous clothes and shoes that turn heads, while you dress in whatever you can find, or whatever fits. It can be hard not to feel like her shlumpy sidekick, but her passion and knowledge can point you the way to your own signature style (and she’ll have the guts to tell you when a look doesn’t flatter you), while you can remind her that what’s inside matters more than what’s outside. (Also, when she tires of her most recent striking outfit, she might just pass it along to you).

5) The Flexi-Friend
She calls, she doesn’t, you call, you don’t; neither of you minds because you’re always on each other’s wavelength. Both of you have many groups of friends; some overlap, some don’t. You both may be infuriating in other people’s eyes in different ways, but because your foibles are complementary, you don’t notice. It’s luck that throws a friend this flexible in your way. Another word for flexi-friend: best friend.

Simon Schuster

Liesl Schillinger is the author of Wordbirds and translator of The Lady of the Camellias, by Alexandre Dumas fils, and other works of fiction.

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