XOXO: Friends vs. Acquaintances

Fact: relationships are complicated. More specifically, college relationships are complicated – gone are the days of the black-and-white definitions of friends & non-friends. Now, friendship exists on a spectrum, and while we like to think that we treat every person that we meet with the same level of respect and kindness, there are definitely distinctions in the relationships that us college students build at school.

In an attempt to simplify things, college relationships might be classified into three different groups (not including romantic relationships): peers, acquaintances, and friends. Of course these distinctions are not solid lines; relationships flow in and out of different cycles, and some friends may become more distant over time while stronger bonds are developed with an acquaintance. As a result, I like to think about my relationships through the lens of how I would define them to other people – if I was asked if I knew as specific person, what would my answer be? 

When asked about a peer, “I know of them,” is my go-to answer. Although my interpretation is different from the textbook definition, to me a peer is someone that I know very distantly. Maybe someone that was in my freshman year orientation group, or someone I met at a SAC event; regardless, a peer is someone with whom I’ve had little to no interaction with, and haven’t made the time to develop the relationship further. Though I can’t know every person I meet as deeply as I know my closest friends, my peers are still important to me – sometimes a passing “hello” in the Campus Center is all I need to brighten a bad day, and often times my peers are the ones to provide that little bit of comfort.

“I know them!” is usually how I answer questions about my acquaintances, as the line between acquaintance and friend tends to blur for me. Whether it is the person I sit next to in my math class or someone I met through a club I am a part of, acquaintances are the people in my life that I see on a regular basis and feel comfortable engaging in conversations a little deeper than small talk. These relationships I find to be the trickiest, because they tend to drift towards one end or the other of the spectrum depending on how I approach them. With a little bit of nurturing and effort, acquaintances can blossom into great friendships, as has been the case with many of my close friends today. On the other hand, if neglected, acquaintances can become very distant very quickly, “peer-zoning” a potential friendship.

Finally, “Of course I know so-and-so!” is the answer for my friends, or the relationships in my life that I hold closest to my heart. My friends are the people in my life that I make an effort to spend time with, my closest confidants, and the people I go to when I need advice. I am completely comfortable around my friends, and we push each other to be the best possible versions of ourselves. Many of my past friends have become acquaintances due to a lack of effort from both parties, and from that I have learned that friendships require effort and nurturing in order to keep a certain level of closeness. I cherish the friends I’ve built at college deeply, and it is a personal priority of mine to maintain these relationships for as long as I can.

These three different groups of relationships have proven to be essential in my college life, and I do not think that I would pick one over the other. Yes, relationships are complicated, but in the end, it’s important to note that relationships can devolve as quickly as they’ve evolved – all politics aside, the most important thing is to treat everyone with kindness, and that is the philosophy I believe we should all carry throughout our college careers.

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