We Have So Many (Types of) Friends

by Liz Colville

Susan Orlean’s four-item list of the different types of modern friendship, over at her New Yorker blog, is pretty spot-on. She does list two familiar types of friends on the list — “friend” and “acquaintance” — but in the era of social media, things have gotten hairy even for them.

As for the third and fourth types, she refers to them both as “friend or friend-like entities.” Indeed. Here’s number three:

3. The friend, or friend-like entity, whom you met initially via Facebook or Twitter or Goodreads or, heaven help us, Myspace. You met — online, that is — because… well, who remembers now, anyway? Maybe through some friend of a friend of a friend, or because some algorithm on Facebook “suggested” that you should be friends. In any case, you now interact with this person/stranger frequently — in fact, maybe many times a day — and, as a result, she enters your conversation the way anyone would with whom you exchange chitchat several times a day. When a real flesh-based friend asks you who this person is, you describe her as a friend, for lack of a better word. It’s an awkward description because you have a) never met in real life b) might not actually know this person’s full name or profession or background. Yet you look forward to interacting with this person, and if/when she mentions experiencing a sad event, a birthday, a job loss, a cute baby experience, or a car accident, you have a strong, actual reaction (this sort of friendship formerly had no name at all, since the only kind of liaison that even comes close to this in the history of human relations is that of pen pals)