Caroline Quintanilla, LCSW

In my work with clients, I often come across issues pertaining to insecurities around friendship. People who have one, two, or a small close circle of friends often wish that they had a broader network or a “group” to find solace in. People who have a broader network often yearn for the closeness that having a “best” friend can provide. Perhaps this is just a case of our humanity coming to light in always wanting what we don’t have. Or, perhaps it’s indicative of a closer look at what constitutes a friendship and what we might be missing when we evaluate our friendships. 

One of my favorite writers on this topic, Shasta Nelson, identifies a spectrum of friendships in her “Circles of Connectedness” (22-33) that she created to break down the concept of friendships into two key constructs: intimacy and consistency. Intimacy as increased vulnerability and extending to a wide range of subjects. Consistency as in the amount of time spent together or contacting one another.

Contact Friends – limited intimacy, limited contact 

  • Other parents that you might see at your kids’ biweekly soccer games where the name of their spouse never comes up, but you bond over seeing your kids, or work acquaintances where you maintain a sense of cordiality and friendliness, but no growth or intimacy is seen.

Common Friends – an increase in either intimacy or consistency

  • The local grief support group you attend on a weekly basis, where intimacy is high but there is a clear singular reason that you all are connected, or the friends who band together in a larger group because they share the commonality of being single while others in their lives are married or in long term partnerships.

Confirmed Friends – high intimacy, low consistency 

  • Friends who may at one time in your life have fallen into the “Community” or “Committed” categories, but perhaps due to a move or increased distance, contact has become more limited (maybe 1-2x/year), but you mutually recognize your closeness when you are able to connect.

Community Friends – increased intimacy or consistency

  • The friend that merges outside of the context of the environment where you had something in common, like when you leave a church group, a job, or a six-month yoga class, and your connection is valuable enough that you take these friendships with you when you leave the environment. 

Committed Friends – highest intimacy, high consistency 

  • Friendships who you would plan birthdays around, whose relationship statuses you know intimately, or who you would drop plans to be emotionally available for — there is a clear establishment that you intimately and regularly share your lives with each other; a friendship cannot start out in this category, and must be built to this level (30).

In reading these, the tendency might be to immediately wonder to yourself why you don’t feel like you have a certain Circle of friends, and maybe there are feelings of inadequacy or loneliness that come with this. I urge you to remember that relationships are incredibly fluid, and that these Circles will change and shift throughout your lifespan multiple times, as well as the number of friends in each of these Circles. This model allows us to determine where our current relationships fall in the spectrum, while recognizing that all relationships have equal value, as each of these categories provides its own sense and source of fulfillment. However, perhaps the sense of loneliness that many of us feel in evaluating our friendships can be attributed to a deficit in a certain Circle. It is meant to provide an appreciation for the relationships and growth that we have honed thus far, as well as hope within providing direction in terms of what we might be needing in the future (33). In doing so, we can move forward with gratitude and promise for what we have and what is to come.

If you would like to a therapist, contact Symmetry Counseling to meet with one of our dedicated Chicago counselors.

Nelson, Shasta (2013). Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. Turner Publishing Company.