“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” –Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Everyone that you interact with falls somewhere within six levels of what is known as the friendship hierarchy. Understanding these levels helps in knowing what normal interactions will be with people in your life and to set appropriate expectations for the depth of the friendship.
Level 6: Strangers
These are people who are basically strangers to you. You don’t know their name and they don’t know yours. If you’ve ever crossed paths, it’s only in passing with virtually no conversation or interaction. From a depth of friendship perspective, people you dislike could fall in this category even if familiarity is greater.
Level 5: Acquaintances
In level 5, the person is an acquaintance but the depth of the friendship is primarily surface level. You both recognize each other and may or may not know each other's name. At social or professional events if you see each other you may talk but it will probably be very generally without delving into many details. If there are level 4 or higher people at the event, it’s more likely that you would seek them out.
Level 4: Casual Friends
A level 4 friend is someone that you know a bit beyond the surface. You may know details about their work, family, hobbies, interests, or other activities they’re involved in. Most co-workers will not move above this level though a few may be at level 3 or higher. At a social or professional event you would likely seek out their company to catch up on the latest in their life or work. It’s unlikely though that the two of you set up time with each other or connect outside of common events or activities.
Level 3: Good Friends
At level 3, things go deeper and as trust develops you may share more personal details with the friend whether that be dreams, goals, hopes, challenges, struggles, fears, doubts, etc. This is also a friend that you intentionally try to connect with. It could be via phone calls, text messages, emails, setting up lunch or dinner, playing sports together, doing hobbies, Bible study, or anything where you’re purposefully spending time with them. In the dating world, this would be a common level for someone that you’ve been going out with for a little while. People at this level and above are the most likely to pray for you especially if you specifically ask for prayer.
The desire to know and be known is inherent. Consequently, someone who lacks friends at level 3 and above will normally desire deeper community and connection in their life.
Level 2: Close Friends
Level 2 is similar to level 3 but these people have greater access to your life and know you at a fairly deep level. They know you well enough to give advice on major life decisions and will call you out if needed. When you need help or someone to have your back, these are the people that show up. If they’re not family by blood, they’re at a minimum the people that you do life with and may be even closer than some family members. More than likely you’ll be friends with them for a number of years.
Level 1: Intimate Friends
Level 1 in the friendship hierarchy is the most intimate level. This person knows you inside and out. The good, bad, and ugly. They’ve seen you at your best and worst and have stuck with you through it all. You call them first when major life events occur whether to celebrate in successes or to provide support in difficulty. Most people will have no more than two or three level 1 people in their life. It could be a spouse, a parent, sibling, or a best friend. They will be trusted confidants for many years.
People will naturally move through the friendship hierarchy during your life and someone who’s currently a level 4 friend might move up the hierarchy if one or both of you intentionally seek the other out and pursue opportunities to spend time with each other. Likewise, a level 2 or 3 friend could move back to a lower level. This doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on the friendship; life has natural ebbs and flows that result in spending more or less time with people.
Understanding these levels allows you to evaluate if there are people you want to be more or less involved in your life and intentionally take steps toward that goal. It may be a professional relationship you’d like to grow, possibly an acquaintance you connected with and want to grow into something deeper, or even seeking out mentoring relationships whether being mentored or mentoring someone else.
Pray about people in your life and see if God wants you to pursue deeper levels of friendship with some or to set boundaries and limit access with others. On a spiritual level, intentionally pursue a deep relationship with Jesus. If you’ll let him, He’ll be your most intimate friend.
In pursuit of His best,