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Friendship vs. Acquaintance

My sponsor actually told me I needed to write about this topic. But like all things she tells me to do, I procrastinate. Like somehow the assignment she gives is more laborious and takes more time to get done. It doesn’t. But she is adept at bringing up topics that I would rather not think about and then making a writing assignment out of them...this is case in point.

She told me to write about this because I have a hard time knowing the difference. The whole of my life I have called acquaintances friends to my own detriment. According to her, I still do.

I don’t argue with her about these things, I know she is right. I have long confused friendship with a passing person. Someone who I think is going to show up and be there for me, and they are clearly not. I have made similar mistakes with dating. You can bet she points that out a lot.

So I thought I would do some remedial work here and revisit my definitions...

Friendship for me is defined as a state of mutual trust, support and commitment between persons. This can be a long standing relationship or more temporary. The key element is that it is mutual. There is a commitment going from one to the other and the other to one to give and receive the same things. It is a two way street.

Acquaintance - a person one knows slightly but not intimately that lacks a mutual commitment to support and trust the other. This is really more of a one way street...

I have gotten this wrong a lot. I have misperceived another’s interest in showing up for the mutuality part of the relationship. Or I have mistaken someone’s intent, thinking that they were really interested in me as a person when all they really wanted was something I had access to, or could provide them.

I have gotten better at knowing the difference over the years. I am more careful who I let in, and more cautious about calling people friends. Today I have a small but important circle of people who care about me, support me, and are worthy of my trust. And I give the same back to these people, well, I try to anyway. I am far from perfect.

I think I really learned this lesson the best (and worse) when I got sober. I mean I had a lot of "friends" back then. A lot. Or so it appeared. I knew a lot of people who were actively engaged in my “life." But when I sobered up and couldn’t engaged any longer with the whole party scene, those people evaporated quickly. I mean like water on a sidewalk on a 100+ summer day. They were just gone. My best friend too. The one that I spent hours and hours and hours with over a three year period, just gone. Like overnight.

It was a painful lesson. All these people I thought cared about me, that I did in fact care about, had no use for me anymore when I no longer could meet them at the bar and participate in our mutual annihilation. No, once I sobered up, they were G O N E.

And today I am grateful for that. I don’t know that I would have been able to get sober and stay sober had these people not vanished from my life. I know today that it is a gift. What I had was drinking buddies, not friends. They were not there for mutual support, trust and commitment. They were there to drink and give lip service to the idea that drinking a shit ton of booze day in and day out was a good substitute for friendship.

I wish I could say that I learned that lesson almost twenty-seven years ago, but I didn’t. It has been something that I have had to continue to work with and on over the years. I seem to miss the motive of others a lot. That someone who comes into my life is there because they actually care and want to show up for me. I have gotten that wrong more than I like to admit. I have forever mistaken an acquaintance for a friend and suffered because of that mistake.

I have gotten better at it over the years for sure. But still seem to gloss over the mutuality aspect of friendship that is lacking or completely missing with acquaintances. I fail to see the motive, the opportunity, or the angle that someone comes to me with...and I suffer because of it.

I have learned over the years that there are degrees of friendship. Some people are friends but they are outer circle friends. Then there are others who are closer to the center. And then there are a few really tight people who are in the inner sanctum. I treasure those people today because I know exactly how valuable they are to me, and I to them.

I still miss the motives of the periphery people. I still fail to see that they just want something, or really are only offering a one way street, but I have gotten better. I no longer call them friends which is progress. And I have a sponsor who has no issue with calling me out when I get it wrong again. She lovingly tells me, “Sweetie, he/she is NOT your friend, stop calling them that.” And she is right every fucking time.

I think as I have worked on valuing myself, I have come to see people better for who and what they are. I can see the ones that will not show up when the ask comes to them. I see that they are only in it for themselves and whatever they are offering me is minimal and paltry. Sometimes I still engage because I want something from them too. But often, I see the trajectory and can now just walk away. Leaving their offer of something to be called friendship that lacks all tenants of the word, for an offer from someone else who can actually follow through.

It has been a painful journey. But I have gotten better at it and the result is that I have less friends but the ones I have are true. And I am no longer mistaken about what they will and won’t do for me. What they can and cannot do. I know where to lean for support, who has made a commitment and where there is mutuality when before I was lost to the concepts.

I have forever called things one thing when all the evidence was there to say that whatever I was calling friendship was not actually friendship. And I have gotten better because of it. I have been able to work on my own commitment, support and trust with others, allowing myself to move closer to people who are a good choice on that two way street and leaving those others that insist on the one way leading only towards them, be. I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but the people I call friends today are much more likely to show up and support me when I need it than ever before. And those acquaintances, those people I used to mistake for friends, I just leave them exactly where I found them, on those one way streets that eventually lead to a dead end.

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