The Value of Acquaintanceship

I recently read an article in Chicago Magazine about friendship.  Part of that article discussed the difference between a “friend” and an “acquaintance.”  That got me thinking and became the inspiration for this week’s blog.

A friend is someone with whom you have a deep bond.  A friend is a person that you think about often.  You are willing to go to substantial lengths to meet the needs of a friend.  You think of your friends daily and often get together with them to shop, golf, or hang out.  I’ve heard people say that a friend is someone with whom you can share your deepest secrets, without worry that they will expose them to others.  During times of crisis friends are the first people you call for support.  Some say that a friend is someone with whom you can cry.    Using these descriptions of friendship, a person is fortunate to have even one friend.  Having two or three would be outstanding.

Acquaintanceship is much different.  An acquaintance is someone that you see often, speak to regularly, but do not associate with outside of the environment in which you meet.  Your acquaintances may stem from either a work or leisure setting.  Examples of acquaintances are a co-worker, the guy that runs the local newsstand, or the waitress at a local restaurant.  Acquaintances know each other on a first name basis and often have a fair amount of knowledge about each other’s families, jobs, and lifestyles, yet they are not friends.  You could say that the acquaintance relationship is a lot more “shallow” than the relationship you have with a friend, but acquaintances are incredibly important and integral to a happy life.

I think that the value of acquaintance is vastly underestimated.  My acquaintances run close to a hundred people, my friends perhaps one or two.  I really miss my acquaintances on holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving.  Those are family days in which the normal flow of activity is interrupted, so you don’t see the gal at the post office, or the custodian at the workplace.  I miss the friendly conversation, the short joke, or the simple “Hi, how are you doing.”  These greetings and conversations become part of the fabric of my day.

The other reason that people value acquaintanceship is that, unlike friendship, it comes with virtually no burdens or responsibilities.  Friendships, on the other hand, are wonderful but obligatory.  They require a lot of time and must be constantly maintained.  You must think often about what would please your friend and try to do the things that will make him or her happy.  You must be careful not to offend your friend.  If a friend has problems you must be ready to spend the time and effort to help him through difficult times.  In other words, friendships are work!

This isn’t true with acquaintances.  Acquaintances give each other a tiny bit of pleasure each day, but require virtually no maintenance.  If an acquaintance is in the hospital you may visit and bring a card.  You don’t have to make sure his dog is walked and his credit card bill is paid on time.  The busier you are, the more sense acquaintances make.  Friends require time; acquaintances do not.

Acquaintances also give us something else that is refreshing in life, variety.  It is easy to have an acquaintance in a different socio-economic level, with a different sexual orientation, or with a vastly different political view.  Friends tend to be more homogeneous.   There is older fellow in my neighborhood that comes by once in a while on his bicycle, collecting aluminum cans.  I save my cans, just for him.  He isn’t in my socio-economic category and I don’t know anything about his politics but he is friendly and grateful for the cans.  We’ll talk about the weather and other trivial stuff as I help him load the cans on his bicycle.  He says goodbye and peddles down the alley.  It is an enjoyable experience for me and I think also for him.  The alley, the bike, the cans…this is a setting in which we can relate to each other.  There is probably no other venue in which we would enjoy each other’s company.

Many people have a hard time adjusting when they retire from their jobs.  Sometimes they even pass away soon after retiring.  It isn’t their family or friends that they miss when they retire; they miss their acquaintances!  Without really thinking about it, we go through our lives constantly buoyed up by our acquaintances.  Acquaintanceship is extremely important to all of us.  Long live acquaintanceship!

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