Do You Have These Friends? Must Friends, Trust Friends, Rust Friends, and Just Friends.

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Four types of friends.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key — perhaps the key — to happiness is strong relationships with other people. We need to have intimate, enduring bonds; we need to be able to confide; we need to feel that we belong; we need to be able to get support, and just as important for happiness, to give support.

We need many kinds of relationships; for one thing, we need friends.

Now, the term “friend” is a little loose. People mock the “friending” on social media, and say, “Gosh, no one could have 300 friends!” Well, there are all kinds of friends. Those kinds of “friends,” and work friends, and childhood friends, and dear friends, and neighborhood friends, and we-walk-our-dogs-at-the-same-time friends, etc.

Obviously, such relationships are very different, although they’re all “friends.”

In Geoffrey Greif’s book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, he identifies four categories of friendships:

Must friend: a best friend, a member of your inner circle, a person you count on when something big happens in your life

Trust friend: a friend who shows integrity, someone you feel comfortable with, that you’re always glad to see, but not in your inmost circle; perhaps someone you’d like to be closer to, if you had the time or opportunity

Rust friend: a person you’ve known for a long, long time; you’re probably not going to get any closer to that person, unless something changes, but a part of your life

Just friends: a person you see — at a weekly poker game, at your child’s school — who is enjoyable company, but you have no desire to socialize outside a specific context or to get to know that person better

I think it’s helpful to think about the different types of friends. Even if you wouldn’t invite some people to your wedding, they can still add a sense of warmth and richness to your life.

A friend of mine did an interesting friend-related exercise. She took a big piece of paper and made a chart of her friendships, based on clusters. As she did it, she highlighted the names of the people or institutions that had introduced her to a particular cluster. What she found — and this struck me as so interesting — was that a few people had served as very important connectors. Until she made that chart, she hadn’t realized that these few individuals had made such a difference in her social life.

I keep meaning to do this exercise myself.

What do you think of the four categories: must, trust, rust, and just friends? Are there any kinds of friends that aren’t captured in those four terms?

If you want tips for making new friends, look here, and tips for maintaining friendships, look here. I write about friendship in The Happiness Project, chapter on friendship.

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  • PageChurner

    I would add a 5th category: bust friends. Those are friends who were once friends but something happened that made them an ex-friend-they borrowed money, they gossiped about you & caused you harm, etc. Those former friends serve their own purpose in allowing us to see patterns of faux friendship (and getting out sooner) or in appreciating the true friends in the other categories. Everyone can teach you a lesson, and even if (especially if!) the lesson is a tough one, it can still be important.

    • Stephanie

      I was totally going to say the same thing- and even call them “bust friends” too! I feel like there should be a category for people you have to be friendly too but wouldn’t want to be friends with if the situation didn’t demand it- your boss or a coworker, etc. I would call these people “must friends” and change that category to “best friends.”

  • Molly

    I would like to see more about friendship here, as it is such an important facet of happiness, and yet, I find it really difficult to get a sense of many of my (even closest) friends. I don’t know if it is the nature of social life these days, or the sheer business of life (we aren’t sitting on the porch on hot summer evenings anymore but sitting in the air on facebook), or me (probably somewhat, but I’m truly not patholoogical), but I find even many of those I consider good friends to be very puzzling. I have several friends who I can really connect with and trust with personal confidential information about myself, but then, they kind of disappear and don’t answer their phones or texts, etc. Or again, I have people I will invite to do things, and they seem to enjoy coming to my house or getting together when something is cooking, but they never invite me over or reciprocate with an invitation to do something. My husband thinks that so many people are so scattered that they don’t know what they are doing 5 minutes b/f they do it (a bit of an exaggeration of course).

    Perhaps it is just my expectations, and I admit, while I am a questioner on your chart when it comes to life and goals, more generally, I may just be an upholder in the area of friendships. But I don’t think others are. It would be great to learn more about what we can do to cultivate our friendships, when to set our expectations higher and ditch someone, and when to realize we are setting our own expectations too high.

    Okay, a long response but…on a more scientific note…aside from my interest in happiness studies, I was greatly awed by Howard Friedman’s book on longevity and the connections between habits of longevity (conscientiousness, good relationships, etc.) and happiness. Interestingly, in his study, it seemed equally important to longevity (or maybe even more important) to have relationships in which people depend on you or seek your support than to feel supported. In some ways, I find this to be true. Right now, my son is the person most dependent on me, and I think I get far more from helping him succeed, grow, and flourish (in school and out) than I do out of my own friendships. And I have come to enjoy this role in my students’ lives whereas I used to complain more about their neediness.

    • jowill

      Molly I agree with your discussion, as well as the comments of PageChurner. In the last 18 months we’ve had a close look at some of our friendships and realised that some have been based on habit (so Gretchen, here’s another habit that it’s sometimes important to break!). I tend to be an organiser and gatherer of people, and some have been very happy to turn up, eat our food and drink our wine, but we never get an invitation from them – even to join them for a take-away pizza. We have made a shift recently, and basically excluded these people from our lives. Yes, this sounds harsh, but I would rather invest the time and effort with friends who reciprocate and who are truly ‘there’ for us.
      And we have lots of those which is a great blessing.

  • Carlos

    Think about your Friends. Who is a real friend to you? Who is just a faux friend? I have always been able to recognize true friends, if they are able to: 1.) Bail you out of Jail., 2.) Come visit you in the hospital., 3.) and help you move that heavy couch, when everyone else is busy and bailing.

  • Mouldy

    How about Dust Friends who may not be here anmore but you still remember their advice

    • peninith1

      I agree! I have learned to ‘continue the friendship’ by other means. A friend who died in 1999 is part of my quilting life. I inherited her fabric stash, along with many books and tools. Her fabric still shows up in my quilts and her tools become useful to me as I learn more and more.

  • Allie

    I love this. I have friends in all categories. It’s kind of a variation of friends for all seaosns.

  • peninith1

    I seem to have a circle of close acquaintances everywhere I go, and then when I move to another stage of life, they ‘sort out’ and I wind up having a very few or just one close friend from that era of my life. I have ONE close friend from high school, though I stay in touch with others via email and Facebook; I have ONE close friend from college, whom I have visited often over the years and with whom I exchange email daily; I have ONE really close friend from my years in the Washington D.C. area, whom I visit as much as I do my kids, and several others that I see only occasionally, and where I live now, I have several friendship circles with friends I consider close–neighbors, sewing friends, and work friends. But I have strong links to at least one person from every stage of my life.

  • beverley smith

    Yes i would say i have at least one of each, but i have found that the same friend may change their position becoming something else, e.g Must friend to a Just friend.

  • Jeanne

    I put my friends into two categories: Difficult Friends and Easy Friends. I have tons of fun with my easy friends. I love them and spending time with them. I enjoy life with them, but I don’t learn much about myself from them, mostly because we are so compatible and share a lot of common interests. We support each other and don’t scrape up against each other much. We are dedicated to having a smooth relationship. My difficult friends, on the other hand, teach me a lot about myself. Sometimes I wonder why I still stay friends with a few of my difficult friends, but I truly do love them. The things that annoy me about them really make me take a look at myself and discover my personal limits. Observing their behavior, including their interactions with me, teaches me a lot about the range of human thought and action, right up close and personal. So there is great benefit in having both easy and difficult friends.

  • shannon

    I like this one, because for a long time I saw only my Must friends as my true friends. I had friends in all categories, but the Must friends were the ones I did stuff with, and it made me feel like I didn’t have a whole lot of friends. This problem was compounded by the fact that I tend to be very picky with who makes the cut for my Must friend list – I’ve always been very into the idea that friends are the family you choose, and have therefore tended to be pretty choosy with that particular type of friend.
    I’ve recently come to the realization that I really do have friends in all these categories, and I’ve made efforts to spread myself out more and socialize with all of them, when that is possible. I still think it’s a good idea to be picky with those who make the Must list – I don’t want to let a Just friend in on something big and serious any more than the Just friend wants to be burdened with that kind of responsibility – but it’s nice to realize that my circle is wider than I once thought.

  • TLA

    For a long time, I failed to make the distinction between the different types of friends. It was confusing for both me and them because I assumed everyone had the potential to be a Must or Trust friend, and treated them as such. I placed them in that category long before they earned the spot. And in some cases, they had no desire to have that type of friendship with me so it was confusing when I was very personal with “just friends.”

    Reading up thread…I like having people over and organizing events. For a long time it frustrated me that others didn’t reciprocate. Eventually i realized that a lot of people aren’t comfortable entertaining for themselves. Are they great guests when they come to your house? Do you enjoy their company when they come? I see no reason to drop them from your list of invited friends if that’s the case. They just fall into a different category.

    To the person who was bothered that they “Eat my food, drink my wine” but don’t reciprocate, I’d change the dynamic. Make coming to your house a potluck or, if they don’t bring food, double up on the wine. This turned into a great solution for me. I no longer resent flipping the bill for everything (including those who drink every drop of alcohol in the house) but it also provides my guests who love to cook, an opportunity to share their expertise. Win-win. It spreads out the expense and effort of entertaining, and provides my friends an opportunity to flex their culinary skills.