13 Types Of Friends You'll Have In Your Life, From Best To Toxic
As humans, we all need connection. We're a social species, and we thrive the more we're able to relate to and rely on each other. Research shows the mental and physical health benefits of friendship are plentiful, from lowering the risk of depression and helping us feel more satisfied with our lives1, to improving longevity2, cognitive functioning in our elder years3, and a host of other physical health outcomes4.
There are different types of friends we may have in our lives, each of which plays a distinct role and may benefit our lives in different ways. "We can think about different types of friendships in terms of how much intimacy we want, how much depth we want," explains Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., a psychologist, professor at the University of Maryland, and New York Times bestselling author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—And—Keep Friends. "If we can treat each of these friendships differently, we can harness what's best about them in a way that best works for us and the friendship."
Ahead, we break down eight types of friends that all have their place in a healthy and well-rounded social life—as well as five types of friends to avoid.
The 8 types of friends:
A best friend is someone whose friendship we consider the strongest, most intimate, or most important to us among all our other types of friends. The exact nature of that friendship might vary from person to person—for some, a best friend might be someone you talk with constantly and love spending time with the most out of anyone else, while for some people, a best friend is less about how much time you spend together and more about the way you're able to trust, rely on, and support each other when it matters. Either way, the point is that this friend stands out to you as someone you consider particularly close to and important to you.
A social friend is someone who you spend time with regularly because they're fun to be around. They're someone you go to when you are in the mood to socialize, have a good time, and exercise that extroverted part of your personality. They may not necessarily be someone who you would confide in or look to for emotional support, but you genuinely enjoy their company and friendship. This is the person you know is always down to hang out and go to events with you, the one who is always invited to your parties and gatherings, and your go-to for "going out" and good times.
According to Franco, low-dose friends are the type of friends who we like at "low doses." "We might like them if we only spend once a month with them, whereas for other friends, we want to spend every day with them," she explains. That might be because they have a different lifestyle than yours, or they may have a personality type that you find pleasant only in short bursts. There's nothing wrong with these types of friendships; they just happen to work best when you only see each other every now and then, as opposed to trying to link your lives more intimately.
Group friends are the people who you share a friend group with. You may see and talk to them regularly as part of the friend group, though you might not necessarily spend time with them one-on-one. You might like some of these friends more or less than others, and some you probably wouldn't be friends with if it weren't for the group. Nonetheless, they're key to your social circle, and you're always friendly with each other when together.
"We can have friends that are confined to certain circumstances," says Franco. These context-specific or situational friends are people who we connect with meaningfully in one specific setting or situation, but the friendship doesn't transcend to other parts of your life. This might include your work friends, camp friends, yoga class buddies, gaming friends, and even your neighbors and roommates. "These friendships that are confined to certain circumstances tend to be less intimate than a more general friend who you know across different circumstances, but they do serve a role and serve a purpose such that, when we are in the setting in which we most interact with that friend, it improves our experience."
As Franco notes, work friends can be considered a type of situational friend. But they're particularly unique insofar as almost all of us spend a significant amount of time at our jobs, and the type of camaraderie and support we need when it comes to our careers and work lives is different from what we need from any other type of friend. Work friends are people we co-create with, and there's a uniquely goal-oriented and collaborative dynamic we share with them. They're also some of the few people who really understand the nitty-gritty of what we do day in and day out at our jobs, and they're uniquely poised to help us achieve professional success and fulfillment. "Work friends make us more fulfilled at work, more productive, more innovative, more likely to be retained," Franco explains.
A lifelong friend is someone who we've known for all or most of our lives. They might be a childhood friend or someone we met in high school, and because of the shared experiences as adolescents, you continue to stay connected. You might grow apart, talk less often or only around the holidays, and generally become different people with your own separate social circles, but you still maintain a warm relationship with each other and swap life updates every now and then. There's something unique about a friend who has known you through all the different stages of your life because they can see the way you've grown, changed, and overcome challenges over the years. These lifelong friends serve almost as a touchstone or barometer marking how far we've come as the years go by, and they keep us tied to our roots and our history.
As opposed to lifelong friends, life-stage friends are those people who you connect with over being in similar life stages. Whether you're both recent grads, new parents, or single and trolling the dating apps, these are the friends you feel like you're really able to relate to when it comes to what's currently going on in your life. We all need friends who truly understand where we are in our lives right now at this very moment, who are "going through it" right alongside us. Our childhood friends' and even our best friends' lives might be going at a very different pace than ours, which is why life-stage friends are so important—even if they only make sense for a certain season of our lives.
5 types of friends to avoid:
A one-sided friendship is one where one person does all the initiating, planning, supporting, and tending to the friendship, while the other just sits back and takes. Usually, the giver honestly cares more about the friendship than the other person, who may not reciprocate any of the care or enthusiasm while still accepting the kind gestures and benefits of the friendship. This is definitely a type of friend to avoid because at the end of the day, giving without ever getting anything back will eventually deplete you. Friendships should nourish both people.
According to clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, an ambivalent friendship is one that involves both a high amount of positivity and a high amount of negativity. You might text and hang out a lot, and while sometimes you have a lot of fun with them, you don't always leave your interactions feeling great.
"While people tend to think that clearly toxic relationships are the unhealthiest kinds, ambivalent relationships can actually be even more draining," Neo writes at mbg. "Emotionally, this type of relationship puts a strain on our psyches. We're spending considerable head space, time, and energy on these people who don't quite come through the way they say they will and who don't always bring us real joy."
A codependent friendship is one where two friends become overly reliant on each other for their sense of self-worth and feelings of wholeness in a way that becomes unhealthy for both parties, despite how much they might love and care about one another. Boundaries become nonexistent, and friends become so focused on meeting each other's needs and receiving each other's support and approval that they lose sight of their own individual needs and identities.
While codependent friends can chip away at our well-being, there are ways to overcome codependency and move toward a healthier friendship if both people commit to the change.
A toxic friend is someone whose presence, behavior, and friendship negatively affects you and your well-being. In that sense, any of the types of friends on this list of friends to avoid can be considered toxic friendships. Aside from the qualities mentioned so far, a toxic friend might be someone who tends to stir up a lot of drama, someone who makes you feel bad about yourself (intentionally or unintentionally), or someone who constantly disrespects your boundaries and drains your energy.
A fake friend is someone who calls themselves your friend but doesn't actually behave like a friend toward you. "A quality friendship includes support, loyalty, and closeness—three things you cannot find in a fake friend," licensed marriage and family therapist Tiana Leeds, LMFT, previously told mbg. A fake friend doesn't actually look out for your well-being, isn't there for you when you need them, and generally doesn't make you feel welcomed or like you belong. In fact, they may even actively try to put you down or make you feel bad about yourself. This person is actually not a real friend, despite the fact that you might refer to each other that way.
Why we need different types of friends.
"Friends expand our sense of identity," Franco explains. "According to self-expansion theory, we are always looking to expand our sense of self, and friends are the primary ways that we do this. So we're motivated to have different types of friends to have a different experience of our very selves and our identities."
She adds that different friends expose us to different experiences and cultures, which helps to expand what we're knowledgeable about and comfortable with.
Moreover, it's rare that one person can fulfill all our various social, emotional, and intimacy needs. "I don't think one person can fulfill all the different roles that friendships can provide," she explains. "We can often feel like we're kind of shrinking if we're only interacting with one person, even if that's our very best friend."
Can one person fulfill multiple of these types of friendship?
It's possible that one person can offer multiple types of friendship and friend qualities. For example, your best friend might also be a lifelong friend and your go-to social friend that you go out on the town with. That said, those categories don't have to overlap, and it's rare that one person can fulfill all the friendship needs that a person might have. You might have a best friend that you can really confide in, another friend who is as into astrology as you, and yet another friend who's on the same career path as you and can really talk shop with you about work stuff.
How many best friends does the average person have?
A 2019 Snapchat survey of 10,000 people from around the world found people report having an average of four best friends. In the U.S. specifically, the number goes down to three best friends on average.
How many friends do you need?
There's no one set number of friends that every person needs to have. What's important is that you feel like you have enough people in your community and social circle to rely on and share life with.
Franco recommends asking yourself: Am I fulfilled with these interactions? Do I feel lonely? Are there parts of my identity that I don't feel able to express? "Our answers to that might inform whether we need more connection in our lives," she explains, or if we need a few more types of friends in addition to the ones we already have.
Can people outgrow certain types of friendships?
People can certainly outgrow certain types of friends, especially situational or life-stage friends that are relevant in a specific context or period of your life but whose friendship may not transcend to other parts of your life.
"But I think it's also really important to keep in mind that friendship ebbs and flows, and there'll be times when we feel closer and times when we feel more distant," Franco adds. "If we take that ebb to mean the friendship is over…it'll impede our ability to keep long-term friends. So just make sure the friendship is over and over rather than just an ebb in the ebb and flow of our relationships."
We benefit from having multiple types of friends, each of whom helps us express a different side of ourselves and fulfill different needs in our lives. "Our biology requires that we have an entire community to keep us whole," says Franco.
It's never too late to make new friends as an adult, and there are even a plethora of friend finder apps that make the process easy. So, check in with yourself and consider whether your social network feels full and well rounded or if there are a few more types of friends you could use in your corner.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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