I care a lot about my friendships. Friendship is a central philosophy of my life. They are the most critical interactions in my life. However, when I say that, I’m thinking of the top 8 friends. Those eight people in my life who make it worth living. These people understand all the elements of me and accept me regardless.
The eight people have been with me for years, some longer than others, but all longer than four years. They held me together in some of the darkest and hardest times of my life. They are my closest advisors, and I am theirs. Our feelings for each other are entirely mutual.
But then I have other friends who support me and who I support in different situations. There are more than eight, but they don’t get the same energy or attention and most don’t expect it either.
Understanding your friendship hierarchy
It reminds me of an article I read last year by Mark Manson titled The 5 Levels of friendship. In the article, Mark laid out the brilliant method of understanding your friendship hierarchy. It made me consider where I held each of my friends in my life and my heart.
Allow me to explain the system. Mark laid out and where my friends fit into it. It is not a definitive system where you categorise every friend, but it does give you a good idea about which friends should get your attention and in what situations that attention is warranted. I do this because time is short and we need to spend it with the people we hold dearest and who can make you stronger.
Not everyone from every level deserves the same length of time, and you may be spending more time on those lower levels thereby distracting you from other essential activities you should be doing. That is especially true if you have a busy work and creative life.
The five levels of friendship
Allow me to explain.
Level one is the random folks you know level. They are the people you recognise vaguely in the street and nod to respectfully. You wouldn’t necessarily stop and talk to them. You just give them a nod, smile or casual ‘hey’. To be honest, you may not even know their names.
Level two is the ‘hey, how are you’ crew. You know them slightly better than Level one, but not by much. You have a basic chit-chat and casual small talk, nothing profound. And you begin to learn names from this point. These folks are merely acquaintances and may be the most significant group of people you can calculate.
Level three is a varied mess with the most prominent level of discrepancy. It is where your friendships start. Level three is based entirely on similar interests and whether you enjoy each other’s company. In my case, I have friends at my local fencing club and the University fencing society. I have friends from both my university courses. These are the friends you don’t have to get too deep with. You share interests, and that’s all. These are my most extensive group of friends on social media who I care about.
Then we hit Level four. It is where more in-depth, personal connections are made. These are the folks who share your interests, values, life experiences and so on. You most definitely enjoy each other’s company.
These are the folks you can be comfortably relaxed with, and it all feels natural. You can spend a whole day with them just laughing, joking, debating and you never feel judged.
Level four is the level when the number shrinks dramatically. I have five friends at this level. Three women and two men. One is from high school. One is from fencing. Another is from my Creative Writing BA degree in Liverpool. One is from my Masters in Journalism. The fifth is someone I connected with while they dated a former friend of mine.
Finally, we have Level 5. This level is for the family. Not blood, but friends who are family. These are the friends who know everything. They’ve seen it all. They know you better than you do. Nothing can break this friendship, and it is the rarest form, with some people never reaching it.
I have three. Each of these friends rivals the love I have for my boyfriend. Truth be told, if I ever had to choose, those three friendships would always come out first. Thankfully, neither side would ever ask me to decide. I have a best friend I grew close to through another. I have my best friend from University. Then I have the best friend I have known for close to fifteen years, and he has helped me through everything.
There is something essential to remember about this hierarchy. It isn’t equal to friendships. I know people who may consider me to be at Level four stage, but to me, they will always be at Level three stage. To enter my Level four, we have to be connected on an intense level, and while with me it is almost instinctual, it does also take years to develop which is why it has taken over four years at least with each of them.
By understanding who fits in your hierarchy, you know who deserves your attention and who you should keep close to you to develop a healthy life. It is an idea that has resulted in me making an important decision. In the coming months and years, I will be policing this more strictly. I am reducing my social media time, thereby not being distracted by instant messenger conversations and wasted time scrolling. That will allow me to work harder, smarter and with more depth to my work by prioritising who gets my attention and whose attention I want.