BFFs—best friends forever. Whether you consider yourself to have a BFF or not, I’m sure you’ve encountered this abbreviation early on in life, beginning from friendships in childhood where daily occurrences of the ‘friending’ and ‘unfriending’ binary play out. Everyone who isn’t a stranger seems to be a friend during that time—unless they become an enemy, of course. But over time, we add “acquaintances” into our vocabulary, in a more complex spectrum between “friend” and “stranger”, as we navigate the nuances of friendships.
Types of friendship styles
In my attempt to understand friendships better, I found a study that classifies friendship styles according to 4 categories.
Some individuals might have an independent friendship style, making new friends and acquaintances in new situations, such as a new school, a new club, or a new workplace. While such people might have a moderate number of connections at any one time, these relationships tend to be more of friendly acquaintanceships than deep friendships.
Others with a discerning friendship style might have a small but selective number of friends, remaining closer to these same handful of people over the years. This means that there is deeper investment in each relationship, and the loss of one of those pillars of support would be irreplaceable and felt more greatly than with other friendship styles.
Those with a selectively acquisitive friendship style actively seek new friendships throughout the course of life, but are more particular on the friendships retained. They have the longest average friendship durations but the largest variation in friendship durations.
People who have an unconditionally acquisitive friendship style have the largest number of friends, but a higher proportion of emotionally distant friends. Their connections can range from distant acquaintances to close confidants, with friendships originating at different stages of life.
Based on these categorisations, I realised that my friendship style might be classified as discerning, or shifting towards selectively acquisitive. While I have remained close to a fixed group of people from different stages of my childhood and adolescence, the inevitable drift has led me to seek new friendships to fulfil my socioemotional needs. The journey of understanding myself and my beliefs over the years has also led to my desire for friendships that can similarly facilitate this self-growth, leading me to realise that I prioritise people with whom deeper conversations flow, beyond circumstantial friendships.
From childhood to adulthood
In school, circumstantial friendships are common. We make friends with our classmates and CCA mates, after spending time daily or weekly, sharing many hours and experiencing a good chunk of life together. By virtue of breathing the same humid air on a hot sweaty Thursday afternoon, our childhood friendships form. Friendships were simple and uncomplicated; you’d spend many more Thursday afternoons together, unconscious of the beauty in the banality of such everyday interactions.
Yet, as we grow older and discover ourselves, what we look for in friendships change. Perhaps it is on the cusp of young adulthood that we might find friends who click harder to come by. As old friends drift, the limen between close friends and regular friends, or friends and acquaintances, seem to mash into a blur. The clique of friends whom you were close to for a period of time—perhaps as you met through a module one semester or a club activity one year—drift away as circumstances change and life gets in the way. Friendships that were once based on shared living transition into ones based on storytelling, as we live separate lives.
Experiencing the difficulty of making friends amidst COVID, coupled with university life (or perhaps especially because of my Arts major) where classmates differ from class to class, there came a point where my introverted self felt like giving up on looking for new friends, because the labour expended to meet new people often drained me more than any satisfaction reaped from the interaction. As someone who enjoys spending quality time alone as much as spending quality time with others, I was tired of the risk-to-reward ratio of seeking new socialising opportunities that never got past superficial small talk, paling in comparison to simply enjoying that time alone where at least I could get guaranteed contentment for my time. What’s the point of making acquaintances I won’t be sustaining lifelong friendships with? However, going on student exchange for a semester helped me change that mentality.
Freed of family obligations and living the ultimate bachelor(ette) life alone, the routine I established gave me actual respite from people and effectively recharged me. It seemed that acquiring that conducive environment for true downtime had made me less burnt out and jaded from meeting new people. In addition, in an environment where I was exposed to people from much more diverse backgrounds, I found that being out of my social bubble gave rise to more interesting connections. A key takeaway I got was that friendships are ever-changing, and having that connection with someone, even if only for the short-term, could be meaningful in its own way.
The satisfaction of different types of friendships
Admittedly, while all friendships begin based on some level of shared circumstances, I believe that it is a similar attitude towards growth in life that has catalysed the mutual learning and appreciation that I value. Reflecting on certain topics while influenced by our varied life experiences allows me to view my life from new perspectives.
Related to the discerning style of friendship, I have always valued strong emotional ties over weaker hi-bye relations. Arguments for The Strength of Weak Ties have never resonated with me, especially since the emphasis on how people tend to find jobs from their circle of acquaintanceships occurred to me as a transactional way of evaluating connections based on some bar of usefulness or benefit derived monetarily.
However, I realised that this is due to the multiple roles friends play in different people’s lives. My priorities for socioemotional support functions meant that emotional closeness is a factor I foreground in what I perceive as worthwhile friendships, while instrumental functions of friendships take a backseat. In general, friendship is positively correlated to life satisfaction, in terms of the intensity (frequency of meeting) and quality (satisfaction gained) of friendship. In fact, according to socio-emotional selectivity theory, toward the end of life, people prioritise experiences that derive positive emotions like happiness, including spending time with close friends and family.
Social capital can be broadly differentiated into bridging versus bonding capital. Bonding social capital refers to the strengthening of existing ties within a social group, between friends and family who might engage in the same activities together. On the other hand, bridging social capital refers to the connections in between social groups, and how our network expands as we form weak ties with people outside our communities of practice, such as friends of friends, increasing our links to distant connections and widening our social circle.
How to socialise?
In this age where technology facilitates a significant part of our daily interpersonal interaction, the media multiplexity theory suggests that the more platforms through which we communicate with our friends—Zoom calls, Instagram DMs, and Telegram texting, and meeting each other in person—the stronger the friendship will be. However, while I could almost classify myself an Instagram addict, I have friends who stay off social media altogether—so it’s not a necessity to maximise your use of platforms in order to socialise with friends constantly either.
To me, what is important is finding that balance between burning out from too much socialising and isolating myself too much. For a long time, I struggled to find enjoyment in conventional social settings as an introvert, since they often involve large group gatherings or medium-group outings that leave my social battery drained for days after. I realised that it’s not socialising I hate, but rather the group setting that socialising tends to come in.
Over the exam season, in dire need of accountability, I scheduled almost-daily study dates on top of the existing non-self-study activities I was having (that also inevitably involved human interaction). To my surprise, my social battery went strong for three weeks, possibly because of the low-intensity type of socialising I was doing. I realised I prefer hanging with one friend at a time, where I don’t have to keep track of multiple speakers in a conversation. I also enjoy parallel play—a term first used to describe kids playing independently beside each other—but encapsulates how I like productivity dates where we sit in silence and study, with the occasional check-in and a short chat over our lunch break. (Sounds boring for some maybe? Haha.)
Most of all, I’m thankful that in-person activities are back (even if it means I can no longer save time by watching recorded classes at twice the speed…) because circumstantial friendships are still the easiest to make. Having regular classmates and CCA mates I see weekly has been the highlight of my semester post-COVID! Inevitably, not all these friendships will last a lifetime, but that’s okay, we had fun for a season and that’s reason enough to be thankful to have crossed paths with them.