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The six types of friend everybody needs...
And why quantity matters as well as quality
Ever felt your life was off balance? Instagram may tell you it’s your diet or your lack of exercise that’s the problem, but it may actually be something that’s rather gone out of fashion: you’re lacking a diverse bunch of supportive friends.
When it comes to friendship, we tend to fixate on quality, but in my view, the quantity and the mix are also important. One friend can’t fill all of our needs, and your lifelong best friend who knows all your best and worst points isn’t ALWAYS the right person to call.
Here I outline six types of friend and how they can make a difference in your life.
1. Best Friend
How they feed us: it’s a difficult job description. Your BFF is supposed to be your number one supporter, but they’re also the person most likely to tell you the unvarnished truth.
But pull it off successfully and you have the most fulfilling friendship - your best friend may well be the person who sustains you when a physically or emotionally distant family can’t do the job.
Potential pitfalls: you can spend so much time together that your partners feel resentful, especially if they disapprove or don’t like the best friend.
However the opposite is even worse! Lover and best friend sleeping together is the ultimate modern emotional disaster - with often the best friend’s betrayal causing the most heartache.
How to manage them: many people find they have a different best friend during each decade of their life as circumstances change: like having a baby.
Don’t be afraid to review best friend status - there is more heartache in hanging on than moving the friendship to a different level.
If your partner and best friend clash, decide once and for all where your priorities lie and let each know where they stand.
2. Sibling Friend
How they feed us: these friends are so like us they could be our brother or sister.
The relationship goes back over so many years, their mum and dad become surrogate parents. Therefore sibling friends tend to become yardsticks to measure our progress. Their friendly rivalry encourages us to try for a promotion; practice our tennis backhand; or consider starting a family.
Potential pitfalls:As nobody likes to be left behind, we are often jealous of our friends’ success or derive satisfaction from their misfortunes. Bitchy comments turn from funny to hurtful.
At the other end of the scale, these friends have known us so long and so well, they accept our faults without question, which can lead to our annoying habits becoming magnified.
How to manage them: accept jealousy as perfectly natural human characteristic; social psychologists consider it vital to the survival of the our caveman ancestors. Rather than letting envy eat you up, turn it into a spur for self improvement.
My podcast interview on Loneliness with Dr Sam Carr goes deeper into our relationships and what it means to be lonely: listen here
3. The Dramatically Different Friend
How they feed us: friends from diverse social backgrounds stop us from having a one-dimensional view of life. Older friends can provide role models for growing older (either gracefully or disgracefully - depending on your taste.)
Different friends also introduce us to new hobbies and prevent us falling into a rut. This is especially important during the career or the baby boom years when we are tempted to only hang around with work colleagues or other parents.
Potential pitfalls: we can feel out of our depth when the conversation turns to something we know nothing about - like 19th century opera stars!
Also don’t rely on a dramatically different friend for good advice. Their life experiences are so different, they may not fully understand your problems. They will most likely have plenty of wisdom to share, but you may have to process it more carefully than you would with the friend who stood next to you in your kindergarten school picture.
How to manage them: figure out what works. This friend might not be the one who gets you through a relationship breakdown, but they may well be the one who you call first when you’re lonely. If you think carefully about the strengths and the limitations of the relationship, you’ll be able to turn this type of friendship into something really joyous.
4. Fun-loving Friend
How they feed us: they are good for a laugh down at the pub or a gossip at a party. If you’re planning a day out, they’re always happy to make up the numbers. However the two of you often have little in common - perhaps just a shared love of booze!
This type of friendship is particularly common among twenty-somethings who often socialise in big gangs.
Potential pitfalls: there really are none -as long as you don’t expect too much. These are not the sort of people to visit you in hospital and never confess a secret, unless you’d like it broadcast all round town.
Not surprisingly, these friends are always falling in and out of our lives.
How to manage them: when they ask: “how are you?”, remember they don’t want to hear about problems at work or your mum’s operation. Smile and put the best spin on life and, who knows, after ten minutes you might believe it.
5. Wicked Friend
How they feed us: the easiest way to feel virtuous is knowing somebody who drinks more; sleeps around more and/or has tried more illegal drugs.
We lap up stories of these friends’ bad behaviour and enjoy their wickedness second-hand without risking our sanity or a prison sentence.
Potential pitfalls: sometimes they encourage our worst side, egging us onto something out of character that we’re fairly likely to regret later.
How to manage them: you need to be well practised at saying no, and meaning it. Never lend money or give a character reference; and take everything they say with a pinch of salt.
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6. Wise Mentor
How they feed us: we all need someone to look up to and inspire us. Famous heroes are great, but it’s even better if we can find someone closer to hand.
At one end of the scale a mentor is someone in the same line of work, always ready with good career guidance, at the other they are often our mum or dad. These mentors are always good at a time of crisis.
Potential pitfalls: don’t fall in love with them. In a master / pupil relationship, the mentor wants to help - but not too much, or you grow out of them. With an age difference, as often happens, the older friend will often keep viewing the younger as the age when they first met. Twenty years later, this can be very frustrating.
How to manage them: be aware of the fine line between someone helping and taking over. If you have a clear boundaries, they are more likely to respect them.
Secondly, try and have a range of mentors so you do not become too reliant.
In other news, this week’s podcast conversation with Avrum Weiss, PhD, is essential listening! It’s all about how we share anxiety with our partner, and how to make this process healthier. Check out Anxiety: Are You and Your Partner Playing Hot Potato?
As always, if it feels like the right time to start marital therapy, send an email to Tricia (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a virtual or in-person appointment with one of my team of therapists in London, or with me here in Berlin.