Friend or Acquaintance: How to tell the difference

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In a world bustling with digital connections and social media friendships, sometimes it's tough to know if someone is really a friend or more of an acquaintance. Let's take a look at the difference between these types of social connections and explore why distinguishing between friends and acquaintances is a good exercise.

To understand the difference between friends and acquaintances, I recommend not looking at these labels as entirely rigid; instead like a spectrum, as relationships shift and evolve over time.

Friends: People you have a meaningful connection with and care about. Whether you've known them for a long time, shared a notable life experience, or prioritize spending time with them, friends are important people that you'd genuinely be sad to not have in your life.

Acquaintances: People you know but with whom you aren't close. These are people you see out socially or engage with digitally but don't spend or schedule time with 1-on-1.

The Importance of Knowing the Difference
Understanding the distinction between friends and acquaintances is not just an exercise in semantics; it has tangible benefits for your well-being. Here's why it matters:

  • Emotional Investment: Friends are the people you invest your time, emotions, and trust in. Knowing who these people are ensures you put your energy into relationships that offer genuine care and support.
  • Boundaries: Recognizing acquaintances helps set boundaries in your life. You don't have to invest as much time or divulge your deepest secrets. Reserving intimacy for friends protects your emotional health.
  • Diverse Social Network: Balancing friends and acquaintances enriches your social life. Friends provide depth, while acquaintances offer breadth. Diversification brings different perspectives and opportunities.

The Benefits of Friends and Acquaintances:

Friends and acquaintances serve distinct roles in our lives.


  • Emotional Support: Friends are there when you need a shoulder to cry on or a partner to celebrate with.
  • Lifelong Bonds: Friendships often stand the test of time, becoming lifelong companions.
  • Trust and Reliability: You can count on friends to be there in your darkest hours.


  • Social Engagement: They make events more enjoyable and introduce you to diverse perspectives.
  • Networking Opportunities: Acquaintances can introduce you to new people and opportunities in your field.
  • Low Maintenance: Acquaintances don't require the same level of emotional investment as friends.

How To Tell If They Are Friends or Acquaintances
Distinguishing between friends and acquaintances can sometimes be a subtle art. Here are some questions to help you navigate this terrain:

  • How excited are they to see you? Friends usually exhibit genuine excitement and warmth when they meet you, while acquaintances may be more reserved.
  • How fast do they respond to digital communication? Friends tend to prioritize your messages and respond promptly, reflecting their investment in your connection.
  • What's their tone in communication? Friends often use a more personal, warm, and engaging tone, whereas acquaintances might keep it more formal or distant.
  • How much care do they show? Friends show concern for your well-being, even in mundane situations. Acquaintances may be less emotionally involved.
  • How do they respond to the idea of making one-on-one plans, and do they follow through? Friends are usually enthusiastic about spending quality time together and are reliable in making plans happen.
  • Do you engage in vulnerability and real talk or just surface-level interactions? Friends are open to deep conversations and sharing their vulnerabilities, while acquaintances may stick to safer, surface-level topics.
  • Are they more of a "friend of a friend"? If your primary connection is through someone else, they may lean more toward being an acquaintance

The COVID-19 Pandemic Test
The COVID-19 pandemic served as a unique litmus test for many relationships. Who was there when when life got tough; when everyday social activities seized? Friends stepped up in remarkable ways, offering support, checking in on your well-being, and finding creative ways to stay connected. Acquaintances, on the other hand, may have remained at a distance, their interactions limited to occasional surface-level exchanges, or maybe you didn't see or talk to them for 2 years. Reflecting on who was there for you, and who was not, during this period can provide valuable insights into the nature and quality of your connections.

From Friend to Acquaintance

It's important to note that friendships can evolve over time, especially when touchpoints and shared experiences decrease. Someone who was once a close friend may transition into the realm of acquaintances if your interactions become infrequent and lack depth. This doesn't diminish the value of the connection; it simply reflects the ebb and flow of life.

From Acquaintance to Friend

If you want to turn an acquaintance into a friend, here are some steps to consider:

1. Set the intention: Get clear on who you'd like to build a closer friendship

2. Let them know & make plans: Be brave and boldly take the initiative

3. Lead with openness & giving: Care & vulnerability creates depth, trust, and opportunities for mutual support.

Understanding this tapestry and the threads that bind you to others can empower you to nurture your connections, fostering a fulfilling and balanced social life. So, go ahead, revisit your contacts, and take a moment to reflect on the people in your life. Who's a friend, and who's an acquaintance? As you gain clarity, you'll be better equipped to navigate the intricate world of human connections.  

About the Author

Mark Shapiro has sent over 20,000 personalized appreciation videos and is the founder of LoveBomb. Inspired by his TED Talk - "The Art of Connection in a Digital World," LoveBomb is a connection calendar & social assistant that makes it easy to never miss birthdays and big days in the lives of people you care about.