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How Many Different Types Of Friends Are There Really?
different friendship types

Three?  A half dozen?  Close to a thousand?  It's a lot less than you think.

Just last weekend I caught up with an old friend over a good value but just slightly above average Indian dinner buffet.  He picked the restaurant. 

I've known Artur now for over seven years.  I met him my first full day in Hua Hin back in 2007.  I had gone to this Thai beachside resort to learn how to kite surf.  I swung by the local kite shop to sign up for lessons the day after arrival, and Artur was there, nursing a jellyfish sting. 

I wouldn't say we became instant friends, and I don't recall the moment we began hanging out together regularly.  He was renting a room near the beach in a large condominium complex for about $250/month, which was a better location and price than my place closer to town.  It took a week before I was able to snag an available condo.  Soon, we started having dinners together. 

By some fortuitous occurrence (for me), Artur encountered my future wife in a local forum a month later.  She was about to relocate to Hua Hin from Malaysia and wanted some advice on places to live and what schools to send her young son.  Artur was fresh off his second one-year teaching gig in Korea and assumed he was still heading back there after first visiting Canada to see his mother.  This connection with Korea was why he responded to her posting.  Eventually, Artur introduced her to me and some of the other kiteboarders we were hanging out with. 

I had never expected to remain in Hua Hin after the kiting season ended.  Fate intervened.   Within ten days of Artur's introduction, my future wife and I became a couple, and we've never been separated for more than 7 weeks since.  My staying in Hua Hin may have played some part in subsequently altering Artur's fate.  He returned to Canada for a six month period that year, but he was back by November, and has since been living in Thailand almost as long as I have.  

There were actually three of us who met on the beach in that spring of 2007.  The third party in the triumvirate we'll just call Bean, due to his resemblance to the Rowan Atkinson goofball character.  Bean returned to Thailand permanently from Britain shortly before Artur.  By the beginning of 2008, all three of us were living in Hua Hin; and just three years later, now married to the woman Artur had introduced me to, I moved to Bangkok where Bean and Artur had resettled for better work opportunities 12-18 months before.

Bean and Artur still play a role in our lives.  I've had the two of them over to my abode, both in Hua Hin and Bangkok, on too many occasions to count.  There was a temporarily falling-out period I had with Artur for two years over something stupid, amounting to me expecting more from Artur than I probably should have. 

So what kind of friends are they?  Best Friends?  Best Friends typify people you could tell your deepest and darkest secrets, call at any hour of the night, stay in close touch with wherever they are.  On that measure, I don't know if I have any best friends in my life anymore.   Best Friends Forever friends (BFF's)?  BFF's are merely a theoretical concept. Anyone who bothers to sign your junior high school or high school yearbook with a BFF moniker is someone you won't be in touch with in five years. 

Are Bean and Artur old friends?  They're certainly my oldest friends in Thailand and likely to stay in my life as long as we're all living here.  They share an unusual history with me and my wife.  Bean met my wife at the exact same moment I did.   Artur misinterpreted some comments she made to conclude that my wife really had feelings for Bean.  The two even went out on one (excruciating) date!  But old friends doesn't capture who they are either.  The Old Friend would be someone I've known for over twenty years or a friend since childhood.  A seven year friendship isn't all that long in the scheme of things.

Bean and Artur are the closest thing I have to Old Friends in this era of my life.  Old Friends transcend your connection to a particular school, job, or city.   You've known each other so long that keeping in constant touch isn't required.  A short e-mail every few months to check up on the other party is enough to keep the friendship alive.  I have a genuine Old Friend I've known now for 27 years.  The foundation for that friendship was set up between 1987-91, and since 1991, I've only seen him a total of less than two weeks.   That's the way it works with Old Friends.  Legwork performed decades ago or shared histories from critical periods in the past is enough to keep the bond alive.

I don't see Bean or Artur all that much.  Once every four to six weeks sounds about right.  By the standards of my youth, a person living this close whom I see this infrequently qualifies as an acquaintance, not as a friend.  That was then, this is now.  The applicable criteria used to classify friendship in one's teens and twenties goes out the window by the time a person reaches his thirties.  Responsible adults spend the lion's share of their time at work.  What little time they have left is spent with their families.  By 35, you'd be lucky to see your very Best Friends once a week unless they work with you or live next door, a phenomenon I've only observed in sitcoms. 

In our thirties, most of us have already picked most of our Best Friends and our significant other.  Nearly all of the people you meet at work from this point on remain work colleagues for as long as you stay at that place of employment.  You won't keep in touch with them beyond a Facebook posting here and there after you depart.    Artur works as a teacher in a local high school.  I've heard him mention a few gatherings with fellow teachers.  Aside from an Austrian teacher he used to work with, at this stage in his life, he's friendly with the people he works with rather than friends with them.   My wife has worked alongside many of the same people for 3-7 years now.  Despite 80% of them living just across the street from us in another housing complex in Hua Hin, we never socialized with any individually or as a group beyond the work functions.   None of her Bangkok colleagues have ever been invited to our condominium, either alone or as a couple. Most recently, we went back to Korea for a visit and I tried to initiate contact with an Italian executive chef she worked alongside of for several years.   He effectively blew us off.  This is how it goes.  Work colleagues aren't friends, but in a fickle category all their own. 

At this point in my life, I realize I'm unlikely to have many opportunities to setup foundations for future Best Friends or keep their interests long enough to eventually make them Old Friends.  Cementing friendships as I knew them decades ago isn't realistic.  A sense of shared history between myself, Artur, and Bean in an adopted land escalated them into a kind of Old Friends category they wouldn't have otherwise qualified for.   It would not be an easy task to place new recruits into this same category.

What that leaves are social contacts and networking contacts, neither of which may qualify as friends in the traditional sense. 

A social contact would be the Korean couple my wife and I have gone to dinner with several times in the last few years.  My wife knows them because they're also hoteliers.  In August, that couple is moving from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  They invited us to look them up.  If I am to tell it like it is,  I can guarantee we would NEVER make a trip to Chiang Mai especially to see them.  And when we do return to Chiang Mai, which I'm sure we will do at some stage, our stay will last just a matter of days, so I doubt my wife would take the time to look them up.  If I journeyed up to Chiang Mai alone, I don't have a solid enough connection to justify making contact.  There's a more than fair chance we'll never see them again.  Being able to say that without a second thought boots them out of any kind of Friends category, in my opinion.

The Koreans are examples of social contacts of some substance, at least for my wife.  Bangkok, more than most places, has no shortage of social contacts of no substance.  You can park yourself in a pub, a fetish show, or a nightclub and strike up a chat with any number of others who live here.  At the end of the night, you'll have had a decent enough time, but in a generic type of way.  You won't feel a need to collect any of the telephone numbers of your social compadres.  Too often, you'll find the people you encounter to be like the minor characters on major television shows.  A minor character remains a minor character because there's not enough substance or interest to elevate him or her to a major one.   No television show is successful if all the characters are minor characters.   A TV show requires a core of several major characters, just like our lives do.  So often filling a social void with substance-less social contacts won't get you very far.  I've already been there, done that.   

In my older age, I've developed a very simple test as to whether someone qualifies as a decent social contact.  I just ask myself if I would rather be watching a video or reading a book on my phone than having an extended chat with the person sitting in front of me.  Nine out of ten times, the video or book is the more enjoyable option.  When the contact is truly abhorrent, picking your nose is more enticing.  That could become a newly accepted definition of friendship.  A real friend is always guaranteed to earn your attention. 

A networking contact is someone you rely on to further your professional interests.  Ideally, networking contacts are also your social contacts – and even better, your friends.  When you're at the top of the pyramid, there's a significantly greater chance your friends are also your powerful social and networking contacts.  No one is surprised that successful actors George Clooney and Brad Pitt are networking contacts (they appear in movie projects together), social contacts, and friends.  Ditto for the late Steve Jobs and his fellow billionaire buddy Larry Ellison.  When you achieve a certain level of status, you naturally meet, associate, and gain the respect of others in that class.

For those of us not scaling the highest pinnacles of success, reliable networking contacts not based upon a social framework first are difficult to forge.  I've been to well over a dozen entrepreneurial networking meetups here in Bangkok and collected countless numbers of business cards.  I am sure many others attend these meetups, like me, to source someone competent they could team up with on a project.  At these types of events, you need to assess the competence of the potential contacts you're meeting.  A business card proclaiming the giver to be a web design expert or SEO marketing pro doesn't make this the unequivocal truth.  You likely won't make time for a second meeting unless this potential contact is someone you really like, in which case he could be a solid social contact if nothing else; or someone you have a gut feeling is exceedingly competent whose services or expertise you feel you might someday require.  Nearly all of the time, you hand over your business card, the other guys hands over his, and neither of you do anything about it.  When you're actually in need of a web designer or SEO marketing pro, you don't even think about the dusty cards you collected months before from people you hardly remember.  Instead, you do your due diligence by scouring the internet for possibilities, just like what you would have done had you not attended the networking event.

So you can see there aren't that many friend types, and by the time you get to middle age, you realize there really aren't that many friends period.  Those who've remained behind in the communities in which they've grown up have better odds on a richer list of Best Friends and Old Friends.  My grandparents' generation and, to some degree, my parents' generation possessed long lists of more-than-superficial friendships given that they settled where they were raised, a trend which markedly changed after the 1970's.  The rest of us pad our social calendars with work colleagues (at work-related functions only), social contacts, and networking contacts. 

It's not as sad or dismal as it sounds.  There's something liberating in life about marching through it with little baggage and adjusting to fluid contacts. Life is all about letting things in and letting things go, and you get better at doing both when you recognize friendship types for what they are.

 A few months ago, the food & beverage director of my wife's hotel moved on to new horizons in Phuket with his wife and newborn child after six years in Hua Hin.  His loss would be more pronounced if he were a friend, but he wasn't.  He was just a another friendly work colleague of my wife's we saw around the hotel whom we now have an excellent chance of never seeing again. 

Life goes on.  We've already forgotten his name. 

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