The 19 kinds of friends

| September/October 2001

For reasons we can never know, fate brings friend to friend, then leaves the rest to human nature. The results are mixed. While a few special friendships last a lifetime, the vast majority prove easier to leave behind. Some take years to fade away; others end spectacularly. Research shows that the quickest way to end a friendship is betrayal; the second-quickest, a canoe trip.

In fact, we have to lose a few friends before we can appreciate their most important gift: the stories we share. In hearing these stories, you may begin to sense a deeper truth, that our friends and friendships are not as unique as we first believed. They’re more like summer movies: the dialogue changes (kind of) but the plots and characters keep recurring. Here’s a catalog of the archetypal friends that over the course of a life you’re likely to encounter again and again.

The Best Friend: The gold standard of friendships. A best friend listens but never judges, helps you out of a jam, tells it to you straight, and often forgives a debt. Best friends resemble invisible friends in that both are most common in childhood (and may not really exist).

The Old Friend: Ideally, a lifelong bond that stirs fond feelings and cherished memories—unless you’re a celebrity or out on parole. In reality, most old friendships are embedded in a complex economy of favors. President Bush rewrote the entire tax code for his old friends.

The Older Friend: Two varieties:
(1) Someone your senior who mentors you with wit and wisdom, as portrayed in the best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie. (2) The client of an escort service, as detailed in the cult classic Wednesdays with Brianna.

The New Friend: Generally speaking, a person who can do no wrong until you’ve had a few more outings together. New friends are more likely to enjoy your stories and show up on time. It’s also easier to be who you are with a new friend, as opposed to who you were—which is what you end up being most of the time with your old friends.

tasheem heath
5/4/2012 12:16:42 AM

you forgot another type of friend, the "Half-Half" Friend (made it up), basically a friend that constantly laughs at you out loud when you do something stupid or wrong.

5/4/2012 12:14:56 AM


jim larson
5/7/2011 10:58:45 AM

Mr Jeremiah Creedon, how interesting that when I look you up, I find you through an article about friends. I just had a hankering to see if I could contact you. You may remember me from Chevy Chase, MN.....Jim Larson, 602-538-0014. I live, reluctantly, in Scottsdale, AZ. Please e-mail me...... your friend, Jim

1/1/2011 2:44:11 PM

i am very particular when it comes to this high-sounding term bestfriend.. for me, this is someone who is like an extension of your life. he/she knows your secrets and clandestines even the scariest ones but assures you that these are kept confidentially deep in an unfathomable depths. he is someone who knows you more than any of whom you call close friends. he is like a must be of the same sex as well otherwise you cant talk things that are quite of the same sex issue.. i am glad i have one.. this is really rare..

kelly mcdonald
12/8/2008 1:02:43 AM

Interesting. I can relate. I have very few very best friends. I was looking for that story about how sometimes you have friends that stay in your life forever. Others are in it for a short time. Others come and go. If you know where I can find it, please let me know. I need to show it to someone to make a point. Thanks.