Have you ever wondered how someone crosses the line from being an acquaintance to a friend? Or more importantly, if you want to convert an acquaintance into a friend, what could you do that wouldn't come off as stalking?

I think you can define a friend with two criteria, both of which must be met. A friend is. . .

1. Someone you have told a secret.

2. Someone who has accepted a favor from you.

Notice that I have cleverly defined a friend in terms of things you give and not things you receive. If you are evaluating your potential friends in terms of what they can give you, or how they can entertain you, you probably don't have many friends.

I read somewhere that telling a secret makes the recipient of the secret automatically bond to you. It puts the giver of the secret in a vulnerable position and it changes the receiver into a protector. That's halfway to being friends.

The second rule is simple but powerful. We accept favors from strangers all the time, without any expectation of becoming friends. But we don't also share secrets with those strangers. It is the combination of the secret and the favor that nudges an acquaintance into a friend.

Most people are wired to reciprocate. So if you go first with your secret and your favor, the recipient will be primed to do the same. It is the willingness to reciprocate that matters.

Obviously you don't want to give a dangerous or important secret to an acquaintance in hopes it will lead to friendship. You want to hold back the good stuff and start with something small. For example, lets say you are both at a dinner party and your host served duck. At the dinner table you told the host the food was wonderful, but later and privately to your would-be friend you jokingly confess that you hate duck. That's a secret, but a tiny one. You don't want to start out with your deepest secrets. Work into that over time.

Likewise with the favors, keep them tiny at first. You might have some special knowledge to share that costs you nothing but a few minutes of your time. Or perhaps you had a conversation about a vacation spot and you forwarded an e-mail with a link that your potential friend might find useful. It's a tiny favor and will be accepted. You don't want to start right off offering to drive someone to the airport at 4 AM.

This partly explains why people who work together, or play sports together, naturally become friends. You have lots of opportunities to share small secrets and perform minor favors. And of course you have lots of things to talk about. That helps.

The secret and the favor are necessary but not sufficient for making a friend. You still need some basic chemistry and common interests. But chemistry and common interests aren't things you can easily change. So if you find a candidate for a friend with whom you have some chemistry and common interests, work on the secret and the favor. Those you can control.

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-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2009
Maybe it's different with women. We share secrets with the stranger in a public bathroom, with the person next to us in Traffic School... And when said stranger borrows your pen, it doesn't mean you have any intention of seeing them again.

Great post, though. Been sitting here, smiling, thinking about my friends for 10 minutes. That in itself is a gift.
Jan 9, 2009
I see friendship as a "role" kind of thing, and it's not necessarily 2-way.

For example, if I like someone and I'm generous or kind to them and try to maintain lines of communication with them, I am their friend; I am being their friend.

Similarly, if someone likes me, is generous or kind to me and tries to maintain some level of positive relations with me, they are my friend; they are being my friend.

Mutual friendship is naturally the best kind, but it doesn't always work out that way. There have been many people who were good to me, wanted me to spend time with them, gave me contact information, sent me messages for awhile and so on. But I already have a fulfilling personal, professional and social life, and a busy schedule, so I never get back to them. Oftentimes, if I ever get back to them, they're still very happy to hear from me and willing to spend time with me if possible.

In other words, I HAVE alot of friends, but I can only BE a friend to so many other individuals or groups. Sometimes I feel bad, sometimes I just have to accept it, sometimes I wish I could clone myself or have the power to control time, so I can maintain more friendships.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 9, 2009
1) I NEVER share any of my secrets with anyone :)
2) Favors .. hmm .. lots .. both ways .. no pun here.

So I have no friends?

This is how I differentiate between friends and acquaintances:

Friend: When someone calls me, I pick up the phone, even when I have no minutes left.
Acquaintance: When someone calls me, I hit the silence button on my Nokia, see if they leave a voice message, hear the message, wonder if there is any secret, then THINK about calling back.

Jan 9, 2009
Have shared many secrets with others. Have done tons of favors too. But still do not have a lot of friends. Must be that some people will not like you no matter what you share or do for them. Getting older makes it difficult to find those with a common interest. Am not unhappy and go about my business being a gentleman and a good citizen. Friendship is another joy and challenge in life that make up the milieu and fabric of character. Maybe I am shunned because I use words like milieu?
Jan 9, 2009
I have "friends". And I have "people that I know".

Friends will call (or e-mail) me, and I will call them.
People that I know never (initiate) call me - they only reply to calls or reply to e-mails.
Jan 9, 2009
Persay? Persay???
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 9, 2009
A wise man once said, "Beware the advice of successful people; they do not seek company."
Jan 9, 2009
To The Dude: I don't think being comfortable enough to pass gas in front of someone qualifies them as a friend, because if it does, I made about 8 friends on my elevator ride this morning, and I don't even know their names.

Scott: My Dad always said that a friend is someone you would be willing to lend money to. In comparison, that would probably count as a favor.

However, by your logic, you would remain friends with people forever, and that really isn't the case, people and interests change, and people move. I had one really good friend all through high school, and several years afterwards, but when I got married and had kids, my priorities and focus changed, and he couldn't understand that my kids were important to me. We eventually drifted apart. We met last Christmas, he is married with one kid, and he seems to understand now, but we weren't able to rekindle the friendship, I think we've both moved on.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 9, 2009
I don't have enough secrets for your criteria to work.

My two:

1) You are willing to spend time with the person without being required to or expecting a tangible material benefit for your time.

2) That willingness is mutual and for the same reasons.

Seems like it works for me.
Jan 9, 2009
I disagree slightly. I don't think it's necessarily secrets persay that make one a friend or not, I think it's being able to let your guard down around them and truly be yourself. For instance if you allow yourself to burp or audibly pass gas in front of someone I would say that they are probably a friend of yours but until you are willing to do that they really aren't a friend.
Jan 9, 2009
Or my personal favourite. "Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies."

Interesting post Scott.
Jan 9, 2009
Or, as the old saying goes, "You'll always be my friend - you know too much"? - borninblighty - http://tinyurl.com/8oyzq3
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 9, 2009
dlindsey, I think I might have the name of a good therapist that could help you.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 9, 2009
Interesting observation. Studies have shown that performing favors increase your liking of the person who asked for the favors. i.e. If someone ask you for a ride, you give him the ride and your brain would think, "I must like this person, that's why I'm giving him a ride." While the person gotten the ride often have no change of opinions about you. (This must be why nice guys are pushed aside!) So if you want someone to like you, ask for favors.
Jan 9, 2009
your point being ???
Jan 9, 2009
Yes, but why? Who wants friends? Sure, people _say_ they want friends. But deep down, does anyone want some other person cluttering up their life with their 'charming' idiosyncrasies and foibles? Coming over, eating your food, watching your TV ... When all along you know that they can't stand you and just keep up the pretenses for social reasons, or because they like your food and you have a bigger TV and they can't stand their family and have to get out of the house? And speaking of family, since when did an accident of birth mean that ... , well, that's another topic.
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