Friend or Acquaintance?

A reader recently asked me to expound on the difference between an acquaintance and a friend as she finds in her adult life most people she feels are acquaintances not friends. She describes a friend as someone she would feel comfortable leaving the keys to her house while she was on vacation.

In general an acquaintance is someone you can’t be 100% yourself with. You have to monitor your behaviors and worry about things like offending them, or alienating them or scaring them away, or worse the repercussions of something you might do or say as it gets spread around i.e. gossip. A friend knows who you are, accepts who you are, and isn’t spreading stories about you, so these aren’t things you generally think about. But I also find in life things don’t break down so black and white. As an adult what the reader would call an acquaintance is often what I would call a role friendship.

As kids and through our school years our roles aren’t really defined. We meet people through what we are involved in or where we live or through family but as we are not invested in single specialized roles. People we get to know as kids and through our school years can share much of us and get to know us on a broad base. As a kid you can invite your friends from different groups home and mix them with other friends as there aren’t specific necessary roles that divide them. To really know someone it’s necessary to experience them in many aspects of their life.

As adults our time is more invested into specific roles. If you still live as an adult in an area where you grew up and went to school then people know you pretty well and in many capacities but like most of us as we went through our lives we moved a few times and settled with our families somewhere entirely new. Now you only meet people in specific capacities/roles; our job, our identity as someone’s parent, our religious organizations. People you meet vs people your spouse meets.

It is harder to take people across these roles and thus to get to know them/us on a wide range of themselves/ourselves especially outside of the group or place you got to meet them in. We are all time crunched and invested in our roles and there is often a car ride between each role placement.

For example, You might not mix you sons school or baseball parents with your church or synagogue peers as they go to different ones than yourself and you might not mix your coworkers into these groups as they would have nothing in common and have no kids thus not relate or feel comfortable in the mix.

There are also larger numbers of people to have to deal with mixing. You have your spouse and kids and they theirs and this is true for each new person you meet and each has their different roles and ties and responsibilities.

Your boundaries within specific role groups have to match the expectation of the roles or you will be disappointed. You might not expect your peer at work to watch your house while you are gone thus you shouldn’t offer to watch theirs. Boundary mis-expectations often Leeds to disappointments, ill feeling, and conflict.

It is wonderful to ponder Sex and the City and dream about their close nit friendships but in real life this is rare and often only with college friends who no longer live in the same city or state with you.

Of course with great effort you can turn role friends like ones church or temple or play group into friends but it is difficult with all the adult responsibilities we have to devote the time necessary for this and when we do it creates small close nit groups (clicks) that are hard for anyone new to penetrate. This decreases the chance of it actually happening at all for many people.

It is sad but an inevitable part of growing up. It is hard to make and maintain friends as an adult and there are losses you will experience within your own family. Your kids whom acted like friends growing up only want to hang with you and be friends to about age 12. Then they want their own friends and activities outside of you. This is normal.   You become their chauffeur and you are their parent not their friend. That leaves your Spouse who hopefully will hang with you and to get together with role friends for specific role related social activities or to hang with your niche/click friends. Once your kids aren’t taking up all your free time you can join some activity and though that make new friends. I hear volunteer organizations like the Elks or the Lions work well as there are many facets of these groups so your spouse and you can make individual friends yet all still have the connection of the larger group.

This is similar to the niche/click friends you might have made though tour church or temple or kids group when your kids were younger.






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Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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6 Responses to Friend or Acquaintance?

  1. SAD says:

    I agree with the definition of “role friends”. Then how do you find that “friend” in your crowd of “role friends”/”acquaintances”? So, the bottom-line is that we won’t have any friends as we become adults? And any close nit relationships are just in the movies?

    • It is hard once out of school and once in the “adult” world, especially when married. Its a slightly different story for singles. It is not impossible just friendships take time and effort and if applicable a matching up of kids (sex and age), interests, and a liking of the person/people. Again difficult, not impossible. Joining some larger group like a temple, church, volunteer organization, play group, helps.

  2. Someone else also pointed out that even when you grow up and still live in the same area you might have grown as a person. People from the old neighborhood might not relate or like or want this new person or mix with your new friends. In our culture It’s hard all over. Again as a culture socialization as an adult is really geared around your family, religious, or volunteer community.

  3. Another thought I just had. Pushing past role friend to general friend can cause boundary issues. For instance if a man or woman makes a “friend” with a woman or man outside their role friendship and apart from her husband/ his wife , this can lead to adultery. “They really know me, no the real me! No one else knows me.” I hear it all the time. Role friendships are normal and probably safer for a certain period of ones life.

  4. Sad replies:
    The question is then, how does one create a bond with someone to be friends besides being a spouse or a lover.

    Can real life have friends like in the movies or TV?

    It is sad that people can’t have best friends besides their spouses. What about the people who are not married? Single parent? Divorced person, etc? They don’t have kids, how do they meet friends?

  5. As a single its easier there are meet ups, groups, activities… same for married folks but it’s harder due to time crunch and multiple people’s needs and schedule’s all happening simultaneously. Our culture isn’t designed well for cross socialization its designed for isolation within family and socio, ethnic, religious, economic, units. People having socialization issues and questions about socialization are just not grouping themselves into one of the prefab acceptable groups our culture provides.

    Oh and TV is TV. We shouldn’t model our lives or governmental candidate picks after it.

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