The 4 Stages of Friendship

The 4 Stages of Friendship


Friendships are like trees.

They grow slowly.

And they have good roots.

And they’re nice to look at.

Fine, maybe only two of those things are true. But the point is this: becoming friends with someone doesn’t happen overnight. And oftentimes, you don’t pick your friends. Thankfully, there are some natural stages of friendship that you can work with.

DTR is a recognizable acronym (and maybe one that brings up a sweaty conversation with your high school crush), but defining the relationship can help you get out of the acquaintance zone and into a place where you can actually be friends.

The Acquaintance Zone

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Good. You?”

“Good, yeah, Did you have a good weekend?”



We’ve all been there. Acquaintance zone is, at best, a bit boring. And yet, the acquaintance zone is also a place where all future friendships begin. Someone that you’re stuck in a small talk circle with may soon become the person with whom you have some of your best conversations.

Don’t lament this part of the friendship process too much. Everyone has to start somewhere. They just don’t have to stay there.

Friends but in a group

We rarely make the jump from acquaintance to friend alone. Usually, though not always, there’s an intermediary friend group that helps bridge the awkward “I don’t really know you” gap to something close to friendship.

At work, this can look like eating lunch in the breakroom together. Suddenly, the person you barely say hello to in the hall is sitting across from you and the group is talking about the latest show everyone is watching. You’re not exactly friends with this person, but the group setting has given you some common ground.

Hanging out in a group removes the conversational pressure that comes from one on one interactions. With other people sharing their thoughts and opinions, you don’t have to quickly resort to boring weekend banter or, even worse, the weather.

It’ll naturally happen that within friend groups some people will begin to get along better than others. Be it similar personalities or shared interests, connecting with individuals in a group of friends is what takes things one step further.

Individual friends

You’ve done small talk. You’ve enjoyed a few conversations at happy hour with the group. But now you realize that you actually enjoy spending time with this one person. But are they your friend yet?

Close. Very close.

All it takes now is a planned activity. Lunch (the friend zone of meals), drinks after work, a sporting event, a weekend hang. Whatever. Once you’re spending time with someone outside of your normal structured setting, you’re friends. Plain and simple.

Taking that leap requires a little risk (what if they say no?), but you can do it. And this is the best part of all. Because once you’re friends, you actually have a chance of becoming real friends.

What makes a real friend?

Are we friends or are we just work friends? Are we friends or do we just happen to be fans of the same sports team? Are we friends or do we only have one overlapping hobby? These are the questions.

To determine if someone is your actual friend, there are a few litmus tests. The first is to determine what meals you’ve shared with this person. Here’s a breakdown of what meals mean for friendships in order of intimacy:

  • Coffee/Drinks - the most casual of hang outs and the one with the fewest rules. People get drinks with anyone.
  • Lunch - despite being the friend zone of meals, lunch still requires at least some level of planning and organization. There’s intentionality to this meal, but also, it’s a short meal.
  • Dinner - the only meal that can be confused for a date, dinner is intimate. Plus, it doesn’t have a clear start and end time. You could get dinner with someone for hours. At least, that’s what friends do…
  • Breakfast - the meal reserved for best friends and lovers, no one else. If you’re waking up early to see someone, watch out—they may be a real friend.

Another test similar to the meal breakdown is to ask yourself what type of trip you’d be willing to plan with this person. Again, there are some clear levels to this:

  • Night out - Dinner and drinks and maybe some entertainment? Multiple activities at once is something that only friends do. Granted, what’s one night? The commitment level here is pretty low.
  • Day trip - If you’re willing to spend a whole day with someone, that’s a friend. Plain and simple.
  • Long weekend - Overnight trips are a big deal. If you let someone see you before you’ve had your morning coffee, that’s friendship material.
  • Full week vacation - Now we’re talking about best friends. No one spends this much time with someone they don’t really get along with. Or worse, they didn’t know how little they got along until halfway through their first trip together…

Lastly, if you really want to know what level of friendship you’re at with someone, ask yourself this: have they been inside your car or your house?

Your car is the lowest level of personal space and one that’s most likely to see visitors, but it’s still your sanctuary. That’s where you drive to and from work. It’s where you go on errands. It’s where you listen to your favorite songs and talk to your mom on the phone. If someone has been inside your car, they’ve seen a part of you that not many have and that means something.

Your house, on the other hand, has a few more layers. Inviting someone over to your house is an official invitation to friendship. There’s no getting around that. But maybe you’re a natural host and plenty of people who have seen your house aren’t actual friends. Ask yourself this: have they seen your house in an unclean state?

If you don’t feel pressure to clean up before someone comes over, that person is an actual friend. And are they the type of person to walk in and go straight to the fridge to grab a drink or a snack? That’s as deep as friendship gets.

Now you know. There are different stages of friendship and different types of friends. So, reach out to someone today and say hey. Maybe it’s time to become more than just acquaintances.