Social Skills

What’s the Difference Between a Friend and an Acquaintance?

Friendship is always more profound and more intimate than mere acquaintance.

While many of the people you meet will remain acquaintances, some will eventually become your friends. But how do you know the difference?

Let’s find out:

Erica McCurdy, CMC, YPF, PCC

Erica McCurdy

Family Coach | Founder, McCurdy Solutions Group, LLC

Friends have a relationship with you that is deeper and broader than an acquaintance

Social media and the amount of time we spend at work can sometimes blur the lines, but there are some questions we can ask ourselves that can help us tell the difference:

  • Do you think of your relationship in terms of keeping score? Acquaintances often have an imbalance in the relationship
  • Would you apologize for or be worried about calling them on a weekend or late at night? Our friends are the ones we know we can call anytime when things go wrong and we need help.
  • Do they reach out to you for the same kinds of things you reach out to them for? Acquaintances may be the result of a working relationship, proximity, or need creating an uneven relationship.
  • Do they know the names of your family members, pets, etc.? While you may know a lot about the other person, in a friendship, the relationship is reciprocal and both of you are invested in each other’s lives.
  • Would you be comfortable asking to borrow their car? Friendships are often defined by a willingness to share resources in times of need.

Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D., NCSP, ABPP

Stephanie Mihalas

Licensed Psychologist

A lot of people end up getting their feelings hurt, have major falling outs in interpersonal situations, or even have employment problems because of problems over the difference between a friend and an acquaintance.

Sometimes this actually can be hard because the other party may be giving off mixed signals to you at various times in the relationship and you may not be sure of the status of the relationship.

It is important to gauge the nature of the relationship is based on a few important factors:

Depth of sharing

How much does each person share about their personal lives? Does the relationship remain fairly surface level or does it go deeper and you both share about your families, your childhood, and your feelings?

The other critical point here is that it should go both ways.

If only one person shares, this an unequal relationship, and one person is holding back and likely does not see you as a friend.

Reciprocity

The relationship should be reciprocal. This means that there is a give and take. It may not always be equal. Nothing really is equal, even though we may want it to be.

But there is a degree of balance; such that one friend may treat the other to lunch or dinner and then the other will do so. A friend may surprise a friend with flowers one day and the other friend will do the same.

Whatever it may be, the point here is that no one in the relationship should feel they are being taken for granted.

Time

Friendships take time to develop. There is a saying that friendships are like nice old trees that get watered. They get nurtured over time because friendship is founded upon respect, understanding, and communication.

Friendship does not happen overnight.

Whereas with an acquaintance, usually, you meet them a few times and since the relationship is not that deep, you can call someone an acquaintance fairly quickly and this relationship does not have to be tended to with as much care as a friend.

Related: How to Meet People and Make Friends in a New City

Dr. Chris Norris

Chris Norris

Chartered Physiotherapist | Neurologist |
Founder, Sleep Standards

There is a lot of difference between a friend and an acquaintance.

A friend is your buddy whom you can look up to in the time of difficulty but acquaintance is any person whom you just know or have met but do not know well.

An acquaintance differs from a friend in that the encounters are generally meaningless to one’s life and neither person may feel a sense of mutual affection.

One more important thing to note is that an acquaintance may hold qualities of a true friend but those qualities may not be appreciated by the person who labels them as an acquaintance.

A friend is a person on whom you can confide for almost anything and everything

These are the people with whom you share a strong bond of trust, mutual affection, selfless love, companionship typically one exclusive of family or sexual relations.

Friends often meet, speak to each other, and hang out with each other. They are available in times of crisis and help each other. They may be the people in your friend list on social media, people whom you talk to, and meet with frequently.

An acquaintance is someone who is not a close friend and you do not see him or her much

You do not share any strong bond or mutual affection with an acquaintance. People who are just an acquaintance do not meet, call, or interact frequently. They are not well known and hence are not obliged to help. They may be people at work or school and, friends of your friends

Kristina Perrin

Kristina Perrin

Certified Psychologist | Sleep Coach, Pillow Insider

A friend is someone who’s there with you through thick and thin

A friend would always respect and love you no matter what phase of life you are going through. Friends are sacred.

A friendship is a feeling; it’s a human experience, between two human beings and there is friendship when you both feel it. It’s not a parasocial relationship that celebrities experience, where one party knows more about the other.

An acquaintance is someone you just met through an introduction

An acquaintance doesn’t necessarily care about how you feel. It is just someone who you might have heard, met them, shaken their hand, or had a cup of coffee with. You don’t really have a connection where you can tell how trustworthy they are.

We call a lot of people friends who aren’t really our friends. If you have thousands of friends on Facebook, it doesn’t mean they are actually your friends. They might be nice people, you like them and you clearly share common interests but they are not your friends.

Trust is the number one thing that defines a genuine friendship.

It’s really hard to find good friends like that but when you do, make sure you value the friendship and be there for them whenever they need you.

When both people have the same feeling, then there is a real friendship. It’s gotta be mutual and it’s a feeling. And that’s why it’s hard because it requires two people.

Your friends are the people who will be there for you at the time of need no matter what. These are the people who you can be weak around.

Your friends are people who you can cry around and they won’t think any less of you. Your friends are the people who when they need something, you are always willing to go the extra mile to make sure they get what they want.

Your friends are people who you can trust implicitly with all your secrets, who know everything about you and you’re just fine with that and you don’t need to sign a confidentiality agreement no matter what you tell them, show them or share with them. Those are your friends where the trust is deep and implicit.

Claire Barber

claire barber

Certified Mental Health Consultant | Relationship Expert, Treeological

Friends share a deeper connection

There is a familiarity, comfort, trust, and bond that comes with a friendship that is not expected with an acquaintance.

An acquaintance is one that you may see in a certain context, whether it’s at work or school, and have a friendly rapport with. However, you may not share the intimate details of your life with this person nor socialize with them outside of the particular context.

A friend is one you want to make an effort to see and interact with and to share feelings, activities, and opinions.

There are also different levels of friendships. Some friends you can share your most private thoughts, while others are more superficial. Both can be friendships, as they simply fulfill different needs and roles.

As human beings, we’re designed to be social creatures and we do that through the relationships we create whether they are with friends or acquaintances.

Lauran Hahn, LMHC

Lauran Hahn

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Mindful Living Counseling Services

What is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance?

An acquaintance is someone that you know of

You may share a similar common ground, as you went to the same high school, live in the same neighborhood, or both your kids play on the same soccer team. Some commonality has linked the two of you together and now you know of each other.

What has to change in order for the relationship to level up from acquaintance status to the friend zone?

There needs to be a bit more driving the relationship than the commonality that brought you together. Believe it or not, sparks need to fly. Yes, you heard me right. There needs to be something that sparks a connection and has you interested in getting to know the person a bit more.

This usually happens by realizing additional commonalities whether it is a complementary sense of humor, similar parenting styles, or a shared interest in Italian food, something propels your relationship to the next level.

In order to truly level up from acquaintance to friend, there needs to be a mutual interest in continuing this connection.

The relationship doesn’t really meet the definition of “friends” if one person continues to hold the other person in the acquaintance zone, while the other considers it a friendship. That just makes for an uncomfortable social encounter that has everyone feeling cringy.

Just because a person moves from acquaintance to friends, doesn’t mean it will last. There are a few more ingredients this relationship needs in order for it to be enduring.

Sustainability depends on mutual respect for the relationship which comes in the form of caring for each other.

This is cultivated through leaning on and being leaned upon in the relationship. This leads to trust and a sense of knowing the other will be there.

With continued nurturing, this relationship will likely level up again and move into the best friend zone.

Sam Whittaker

sam whittaker

Relationship Expert | Editor, Mantelligence

We spend our time with the same group of people. We spend time in the same shops, the same places. It would just make sense that everyone we spend every day is considered our friends. But, that is not the case.

Friendships are unique relationships.

Not everybody we spend time with is someone we’re comfortable being around. This is why it’s important to know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance.

A friend and an acquaintance differ from each other when it comes to the following:

Definition

A friend is a person that you may not be related to, but have a strong bond and deep trust with.

A friend is someone you have mutual affection with. An acquaintance, on the other hand, is someone you know. They are not close friends, but you know them. This means you have been introduced to each other in some way.

Depth of interactions

An acquaintance can be someone you spend every day with, but your interactions with them are shallow and superficial. A friend, however, is someone with whom you share a deeper level of communication.

They feel comfortable enough around you to have a deep level of interaction. They may even dare you to different things that acquaintances will not be able to do.

Physical contact

Your friends will be able to hug, or even kiss you. There’s more physical contact between you and your friends. Meanwhile, an acquaintance will act more distantly, physically speaking, because there is not enough comfort between the two of you.

Their behavior around you

This is especially true when they come to your place. When visiting you, an acquaintance will more likely be reserved and composed. They will follow all the “rules” you have set.

On the other hand, a friend will feel right at home with you. They will help themselves to whatever it is they need, but will still respect you as their friend.

It is not that hard to identify a friend from an acquaintance. You just need to look at who you have a more comfortable and deeper connection with.

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls

A friend is someone you genuinely care about, share common interests with, and feel an emotional connection to.

There is a level of trust and familiarity and they have your best interest at heart. Friends want to spend time together and share emotions there is not a sense of obligation. There is physical contact among friends whereas acquaintances usually stay at a distance.

An acquaintance is more of a contextual relationship through work or having been introduced (formally or through mutual contacts).

The attitude is more polite and reserved than between friends who share a common past, bond, and level of intimacy.

Acquaintances can become a friend if you get to know each other better and discover shared interests and friends can become an acquaintance if the relationship sours.

Dale Gerrett

Dale-Gerrett

Founder, Chipper Birds

We meet many people in our daily lives but there is only a handful that we get to choose and call friends.

I know a lot of people from work, school, and community but I only have a few to call as friends. Aside from my family, these people in my small circle are people I trust with my life.

An acquaintance is someone you know, name face and all but has yet to have a meaningful connection with you.

A friend, on the other hand, is someone you’ve shared different experiences with; good, bad, and everything in between. They’re the people you’ve celebrated milestones with and suffered losses with. They have always been there for you and stood by you even if you’ve made mistakes.

Friends are the people who encourage you to live a good life and become the best version of yourself.

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