Words have meaning. In a perfect world, the same word would have the same meaning to everyone. That alone would reduce the amount of miscommunication and misunderstandings that occur. We don’t live in a perfect world though, and those misthings occur. Just recently there was a conversation held, that was unfortunately (or fortunately?) overhead, and had to be shared for the lesson that was available. The biggest misunderstanding that existed in the conversation was that the two people involved had different outlooks on what the word “friend” means.

One of the things commonly done when a word is misunderstood is that it gets looked up in the dictionary, right? So our online resource, dictionary.com gives the following meaning for the word friend:

  • a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
  • a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter.
  • a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile.

Wait… Even dictionary.com has more than one definition. Is it any surprise then that two people could each use different definitions? Not in the least. But that difference can easily cause the discussion that was overhead.

Person 1: “I’m just looking for a long term friend I can hang out with and do stuff. Someone who isn’t just in my life when it suits them.”

Person 2: “Everyone wants friends like that, but a lot of my friends are too clingy. They want to talk every day or get a text or something.”

Person 1: “Isn’t that what friends do though? If you have close friends, aren’t you supposed to talk with them or text or whatever… aren’t you supposed to want them in your life every day?”

Person 2: “Oh, my close friends, yes. But my regular friends? Nah. I just want them around when the time is right.”

Person 1: “How are they supposed to know when the time is right?”

Person 2: “I reach out to them when I want to talk, hang out, whatever.”

Person 1: “And if you don’t hear from them in the meantime? I mean, do you only talk to them to make arrangements to spend time and the rest of the time you want them to leave you alone?”

Person 2: “You make it sound like being friends carries some type of responsibility or commitment. Geez, I’m just talking about friends.”

Person 1: “Yeah, me too. When I say I want long term friends I mean people who are in my life, maybe not every day, but who I can call on whenever, and we can talk and hang out when schedules permit, but people who value time with me as much as I value time with them.”

Person 2: “Oh, I just meant the kind of friends I can do stuff with when I feel like it but I don’t have to constantly feed the friendship.”

Based on that conversation, it seems like Person 1 wants the kind of friends described in the first definition from dictionary.com – the people attached by feelings or concern. It’s important to not read too much into “feelings” and “concern.” We all have friends we care about and miss when we can’t spend time with them. That doesn’t make them a significant other and we shouldn’t feel stressed about scheduling time with them – or not being able to if life gets too busy.

It also seems like Person 2 just wants friends as described in the third definition: people to just hang out with where everyone gets along but there’s no real personal connection.  There is no particular care or concern for the “friends” and if they aren’t seen on any regular basis – or ever again for that matter – there’s no loss in your day.

To some this entire article may seem to be picking apart trivialities, but in reality this isn’t trivial at all. No matter what generation you belong to, friendship is of value but what kind of friends you are looking for in any given situation has to be understood. We all make new friends. What kind of friends those new friends are or become depends on the outlook of both new friends. After all, if you make a new friend, you are also a new friend, right?

Goals matter. If one person is seeking those long term connections that involve care and concern, they also involve the pleasure of hanging out, doing things together, etc. If one is seeking only a casual “we get along well enough” connections then it’s an entirely different approach and carries next to zero (if not zero) emotional investment. The challenge is if these people meet and have different friendship goals, or they’re just holding a discussion about what friendship is, but have different perspectives on the topic, lots of misunderstanding can occur.

For many people, the term “friend” means someone you have developed a relationship with. It is not romantic in nature but does involve care, concern and trust. It goes beyond the casual.

For other people, the term “friend” is used to mean people that they enjoy being around on occasion and who they are comfortable with. They can laugh, joke, chat, play games, etc. but when the social event is over, so is that friendship – until the next time those people find themselves in the same space.

Expectations matter. If you’re part of a social organization – I’ll use a Jeep owners club as the example – and you want to make new friends within that group of people, you’ll likely attend events hosted or organized by the group. These Meet & Greets allow for people to get together and enjoy their mutual interest in Jeeps. They let you meet new people and have a common topic of interest to discuss. So there you are, talking to someone about their new winch and you’re getting along really well; a new friendship is being forged.

But what if that’s not what they want? What if they just want to talk about all things Jeep related and then they want to go back to their life with no connection to the group beyond the next Meet & Greet? Such segmentation is a common occurrence and should never be taken personally. Celebrate the common interest and enjoy the interaction while it exists, but don’t come to depend on it for any contribution to happiness in your life or emotional support as part of your circle of friends.

Be aware of what YOU mean when you say “friend,” and insure that the people you refer to as your friends understand it as well.  Make sure people understand the value of your friendship and what it means when you offer it or when you refer to someone as your friend. Referring to “casual friends” as acquaintances might help to alleviate some misunderstandings. Most people would agree that you can’t really carry any expectations of behavior, communication or contact from an acquaintance unless there is something they specifically want that will benefit them as a result.

So know the difference between friends and acquaintances and use the terms accurately. Clearly communicate your outlook on friendship as necessary and value those who are truly your friends. Enjoy the people who become acquaintances but don’t invest too much in them beyond the interaction and entertainment of the social event wherein you meet.


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