Friends & Acquaintances

By Anna M. A. Stracey

Talking about who is or is not a friend isn’t a comfortable thing. On Facebook the kid we went to middle school with but we haven’t spoken to in 30-plus years is our friend because we can see sweet pictures of their kids and pets and when they went on a nice vacation.

However, in this time of unrest, when people of color are asking for justice in our unjust world, and wearing a face mask has become a political statement instead of a sign of mutual respect for life, many of us are rethinking who we consider friends.

I’ve heard many people say they have cut virtual ties with those who are clearly racist or willfully ignorant: that kid from middle school suddenly posting anti-science memes and that guy you met at the gym calling Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs.” Hitting the “unfriend” button is fairly simple and painless. But it can be harder to do this in our real-life interactions.

I received great advice early in life and have practiced being discerning with my friendships ever since: know the difference between a friendship and an acquaintance. If you didn’t previously know that your “friend” thinks vaccines are a deep state conspiracy or that she believes it’s okay for police to brutalize Black men and women, then I guarantee you have not been discerning enough in choosing your friends; you’ve been collecting acquaintances.

Although I was well liked, I was not a particularly popular girl in school. When I was a high school freshman, my father passed away from cancer. After his memorial service some friends and family gathered at the home of a family friend and former business associate of my father. The hostess, a beautiful Spanish woman named Christina, pulled 15-year-old me aside to talk.

“Anna, do you have many friends?”

“Not really,” I answered sheepishly, “I’m not very popular.”

“Good!” she replied sharply, then continued gently with, “You don’t need many friends. Have a few truly good friends instead of many friends who do not truly care about you. “Then,” she added, “when you’re married, your husband will be your best friend.”

Her words rang with truth and honesty and have stuck with me.

I never became the “popular girl” I secretly wanted to be, but, after her advice, that didn’t bother me one bit. I had a close-knit friend group I depended on for love and support, no matter what stupid or embarrassing things I did or said. I’m still friends with several of them.

When I moved to New York City to attend university, I found it lonely and confusing at first. I initially lived in a dorm, but I quickly knew that the “college kid” bar hopping and partying I was programmed to think was the way to make “college friends” wasn’t for me. Halfway through the year, I met a lovely woman named Marcy while shopping for music at the Union Square Virgin Megastore. We connected instantly; by the end of the day, we’d agreed to become roommates. Marcy introduced me to a group of women who would become my best friends and confidants–then and now.

Now, at nearly 40, I’m getting married. I had the opportunity to marry when I was younger, but I had not yet met my best friend/husband. And so I let those relationships go, just as Christina advised me. Lawrence is lovely and kind and completely accepting of me just as I am. He is, indeed, my best friend.

I’ve accumulated hundreds of acquaintances and casual friendships over the years. It might be easy to fall into the trap of considering everyone I’m around regularly, or check in with on Facebook, or stop to chat with at the grocery store, or am related to my friend. But Christina’s advice to me has allowed me to mentally sort my friendships. Is this person toxic, or are they contributing positively to my life? Do they have my best interest in mind? Do they only take from me, or is the relationship reciprocal? Do I learn from them?

A few good friends, I have found, is better than a gaggle of hangers on and energy suckers.

As a “people pleaser,” it’s sometimes hard for to separate from people who are bad for or toxic to me. But, as I get older and practice more, I’ve given myself permission to release myself from and relationships that bring negativity into my life.

Don’t be afraid to let go of someone who is not benefitting you emotionally, spiritually or physically. You’ll be happier and better off. Remember, this is your life to live and make the best of.

It’s okay to analyze those you bring into your life, and it’s okay to say goodbye to a friendship that is not healthy.

It’s okay tolose touch with temporary friends–people who are in your life for a reason at that moment but, over time, you grow apart from. Send them your love and move along.

You may not always agree with your friends; you may even sometimes fight with your friends. But you should never feel undermined or damaged by your friends. When the fight becomes war, again, send them your love and move along.

I leave you with three simple ways to sort your friends from acquaintances:

  1. You will teach and learn from your friends. If you gain nothing from being around someone or have nothing to give them to nurture their growth, they are furniture, not friends.
  • You will give and take from your friends. If you’re only giving to someone (emotionally, physically, spiritually or monetarily), they are energy suckers, not friends. If you are only taking from someone, you are an energy sucker, not a friend.
  • You will love and be loved by your friends. This one is perhaps most important. If you cannot hear someone when they cry out to you, or if you feel abandoned when you are screaming out in pain, they are a passerby, not a friend.

Anna Stracey is an educator, grant writer and compassionate human being. Born in Toronto, Canada, she received her Master’s degree in Global Sustainability from the University of South Florida and now lives in Florida, where she dedicates her time to caring for her daughter and trying to make the world a better place for all people.

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