August 13, 2011
A friend and I were talking about the definitions of “acquaintance,” “friend,” and “sister/brother.” We didn’t come up with any answers, but the discussion certainly got my mind thinking.
When does an acquaintance become a friend? At what point does a friend become a sister or brother?
I believe that it has to do with intimacy: the amount of intimacy and the kind of intimacy that two people want to nurture in their relationship. According to dictionary.reference.com, an acquaintance is “a person known to one, but usually not a close friend.” In other words, an acquaintance is simply someone you know.
There is not a lot of intimacy between acquaintances. These are people that you work with, that you meet in the grocery store, the regular client or customer that you may get into conversations with, the service provider that works at the coffee shop you frequent, the students in your class, the teacher, your next door neighbours. You know these people, you may hold lengthy and engaging conversations with them, and you may even know some of their personal lives. But that is where the intimacy ends.
An acquaintance is someone you don’t confide in, someone who doesn’t confide in you. The extent of your relationship with this person is on the surface. Many of our online connections are acquaintances. Most of our professional and personal relationships are acquaintances. We could not have room in our lives for them all to be friends!
According to dictionary.reference.com, a friend is “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard,” or “a person who gives assistance; patron; support.” I believe that a friend is even more. You could have feelings of affection for an acquaintance, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a friend.
Friends require a different level of intimacy. You confide in a friend, your friend confides in you. Your friend is someone who you call to share exciting news, devastating news, everyday news. A friend is someone that sometimes even shares these events with you. A friend is there when you need help.
Although, just because someone isn’t there when you need help doesn’t mean they aren’t your friend. Maybe it does mean they are more of an acquaintance than a friend. Or maybe it just means they can’t help you in that particular situation because of their own circumstances. Or maybe it means you need a “sister/brother” rather than a friend because your situation is too demanding for simply a “friend.”
This brings me to consider the difference between a friend and a sister/brother. According to dictionary.reference.com, a “sister or brother” is someone who shares a biological link through one of the parents. Another definition is “having a close relationship with another because of shared interests, problems, or the like.”
That second definition sounds like we could consider quite a large number of people to be our sisters or our brothers. Again, I think it is determined by the level of intimacy that is wanted or needed between the two people.
The conversation I had with my friend on this topic started because of a story that she related about helping someone who was terminally ill. My friend helped to care for her friend, washing her hair, bathing her when necessary, cleaning her house, generally doing whatever it took to care for her friend. When my friend explained to an acquaintance of hers why she needed time off work, her acquaintance commented that the person was not just a friend, but was a sister.
So this brings me back to my original question: at what point does a friend become a sister or brother?
If they need us, or we need them, to perform intimate acts of kindness – such as washing hair, bathing, feeding – then I believe that moves the relationship to that more of a sister or brother than a friend. We all know that for our close friends, we would do that if needed. So, why wouldn’t we be calling these close friends “sisters” or “brothers”?
This question would involve a much longer post and this one is already long enough. So I think I’ll contemplate that question and write up another blog addressing it.
For more musings on “friendships,” see my blog titled “There’s always a silver lining.”