sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Different Kinds of Friends and What They Mean to Us

By Ann Richardson November 27, 2022 Lifestyle

Almost everybody has friends. It is part of life to have them. Some of us have loads and some have very few, but we all feel that they are important in our lives.

And we all know who our friends are. They are people who are not our family, not our neighbours, and much more important than acquaintances.

(Of course, some people count some family members as friends and married people often say that their spouse is their ‘best friend’. This is a wrinkle that needn’t worry us here.)

We get together with friends when we can, we talk to them in person or on the phone, and generally view them as a significant addition to our well-being.

But although there is a single word – friends – for all the people in this category, in actual fact they do not all mean the same to us at all. They play very different roles in our lives.

Friends Who Provide Us Company

You probably have some friends who you enjoy doing things with – they provide company, diversion, and a chance to explore new things. They are often people you see in a group.

There are loads of activities which you might undertake with such friends on a regular basis. You could meet to play tennis, to go for walks, to explore the meaning of books, or to sing together in a choir.

There are also all sorts of other meeting places, where you might get together on a regular basis for a drink or a meal ­– depending on the country, a local wine bar or cafe or pub.

These people tend to share your tastes, whether in movies or sports. They are fun to be with.

We see these friends a lot, but we often don’t really know them very well. We chat about day-to-day events, but don’t go any deeper. They might even be in the middle of a divorce and not tell us about it.

Many of the activities we undertake with such friends were not possible – or were severely hampered – by Covid. You might keep in touch with some of them by phone or email, but that would be it.

Friends Who Provide Us Intimacy

In contrast, you probably have other friends who you tell your problems to and listen to theirs. They understand your character and the deeper recesses of your mind – and vice versa.

You tend to see them on a one-to-one basis, at least some of the time, so you can have more intimate discussions.

These friends, whether you do or don’t do things with them, have an importance well beyond the amount of time you spend with them. You may not even see them for years, but the telephone, email and, nowadays, Zoom enable you to keep up to date.

And when you do meet up with them, even after a long break, the connection is so deep that you talk with them as if you had done so yesterday. Uncannily, you pick up where you last left off.

Indeed, you may not bother with the usual niceties (the weather, a minor cold, small irritations), but go straight to the important stuff about what is going on emotionally for you.

It is to these friends that we go when we are worried about something or need to make an important decision. They know us, care about us deeply and always have our best interests in mind.

These friends are often people we knew in school or college and have kept in touch with over the years. They were there for all the ups and downs of early relationships, they knew when you were trying to have a baby, and followed your career choices and dilemmas over time.

But they might equally be people you met through any number of circumstances – perhaps at a dinner or through work or any activity which enabled you to talk comfortably. Somehow, you made a very deep connection and felt there was no need for lots of explanations.

You probably have fewer such friends. Perhaps just one. There is no question of losing touch with them because of the pandemic.

Helping People to Make Friends

These distinctions became very clear to me over 30 years ago. At that time I was doing research on friendships among people with learning difficulties. Many were being released from the hospitals where they had lived most of their lives and much attention was given to fostering their well-being.

There was great enthusiasm for moving them into what was always called ‘the community’. The term is falsely reassuring and makes the new environment sound warm and full of friends.

It was thought that they would then be free to do what they liked, when they liked, just like other people.

But social workers began to notice that, in the course of a day, these people only spoke with shopkeepers and the like. And so, they wanted to help them to find friends of their own.

A popular solution was to arrange discos where they could meet. Their intentions were good, but the effect was limited. How many friends – of either kind – would you make in the loud surroundings of a disco?

A colleague and I wrote a report on the issue, but I am not sure what happened as a result. I would hope that more imaginative ways were found to help this group of people to develop and sustain relationships. It is certainly what I would have wanted if I had a son or daughter in that situation.

The Importance of Friendships

Friendships are important, of whatever kind. Human beings are social animals, a fact that became particularly visible as social activities came under strain during the pandemic.

Our individual needs differ, with some people wanting loads of casual friends to make themselves feel comfortable. Others have less need for activities with other people but feel a real need for one or two close friends.

I hope that you are finding ways to meet new friends and sustain old friendships now that the worst of the pandemic is over.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What sort of friendships are important to you? Do you have a ‘best’ friend? How did you get to know your friends? Did the pandemic affect your friendships? Please join the conversation.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sarah Hendricks

My father had a stroke and I needed to help care for him for several years. After he passed away, my mother developed Alzheimers and needed care for 6 years until she went into a facility. She passed away within a year. During those years, my life was so filled with parental care I didn’t have or make time for friends. When I was free to do things again, my friends had moved on, died, or found other people to do things with. My parents have been gone for 10 years now, and I only have 1 friend. It’s really difficult for me to make friends at my age (72). I meet people I might want to become friends with, but I don’t know how go make the approach to them. My one friend is very judgmental and always complaining, but I keep her as a friend because she’s better than nobody. My best friend since middle school passed away within a month of my mother’s passing. She was the one person I could always talk to, do things with, and rely on. My husband was in the Army, so we moved a lot and left friends behind when we moved to new duty stations. I keep in touch with some of them through Christmas cards, but they’re spread over the country, so I can’t call and say “let’s do lunch”. Several people on the Nextdoor app which hosts people from my neighborhood have said they would love to get together and meet some new friends. I invited them to join me at a local coffee shop and got quite a few people saying they were coming. I went three different times one week apart and NOBODY showed up! Only a couple even let me know they wanted to come, but something else came up. I tried to reschedule for them, but they didn’t seem to have time. Email is not very satisfying. I’m NOT finding ways to meet people and make friends, and I feel very sad about it. Suggestions?


I recently lost my husband and my best friend all in one year. I was lost for a while. I had casual friends but not the closeness I had with my best friend who was a classmate Omani years. I sold my home after my husband died and bought one a little closer to my three daughters
It is in a 55 + community. My neighbors are just wonderful. Most are widows like
Myself. We are all well over 55 but still
Drive and walk together. On Tuesday we all meet for breakfast at a local restaurant
We meet at our clubhouse and a few of us drive those who ca no longer do so. We have a pot luck once a month and our Christmas party is coming up. I belong to a senior citizens group and do ceramics. The key to being happy I think is to stay busy. Women my age are n need of companionship and I think it’s out there if you look for it. Don’t close yourself off there are people who care about you if you
Look for them. Join a group to play cards or get a group together for breakfast once a week it will fill a void and make for a happier life.


I am seeking guidance. My friend list has dwindled over the years. I have been alone for a verylong time as I am widowed since I was 44. I enjoy alone time but i love travel and i want some companions to be adventurous with. Its so much more fun. I believe I have gotten less patient and tolerant. I am looking for joy and real people who love life. Its very hard to find new friends but I will keep seeking.

Last edited 1 year ago by Christy

I was doing some googling about a year ago and discovered that there’s travel groups out there just for singles. They seem to travel by land or air to many different places. This might be ideal for you. Maybe a good travel agent could help you find one nearby that’s reputable.


I have had success joining area Meet-up groups. I don’t know what’s available in your area, but where I live there are dozens. I am part of a “Fab 40” (for women over forty), outdoor yoga,a travel group and a writer’s group. Good luck.

The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

You Might Also Like