Categorizing friendsI was doing the recycling and noticed the front page of the paper.  It was about the Olympic Ice Skating duo that won the gold.  “After 17 years of training together”.

When I look at the Olympic skating team, you can see that their timing is like that of an old married couple.  Like the opening of When Harry Met Sally…the skaters do physically what the couples in the movie do verbally… finish each others sentences or speak over each other as if they were one person.

Professionally I am a therapist who does a lot of couples and family counseling.  We know that our kids have developmental milestones but so do our relationships.  What we need and want out of each relationship is a “moving target” because we grow and change.  We need human connection and yet it is work.  Sometimes we feel like doing the work and sometimes we don’t.

I have a theory about friends that involves putting people into categories and then accepting them for the limits and benefits of those categories.  My theory has become famous in my house and in my office so I decided to share:

There are four categories of friends:

  1. Breakfast Friends: Someone you know from a daily routine.  The lady that works at the dry cleaner that says hello every week. She knows you have children, and you ask about her children but you really don’t know each other.  You see each other every week so you notice things about each other.  There is something comforting about knowing that she knows how you like your shirts done.
  2. Lunch Friends: Imagine yourself in a high school cafeteria or at work or in a conference or a class.  Somewhere with a large group of people and looking at that group you choose a smaller group to be with.  You are all in in the same place for a period of time and you choose to sit with or talk to (or have lunch with) these people.  But the friendship is confined to that environment.
  3. Dinner Friends: These are people you call up on purpose to get together with.  You make specific plans with them that you do not have to make but you want to be with them.  And your purposeful connection with them serves a purpose in your life. You went to college together or you worked together or you raised your kids together and at some point they got bumped up from a Lunch Friend to a Dinner Friend.
  4. Sleepover Friends: someone you are extremely close with and can share almost anything with.  This can be a spouse, significant other, a friend, a relative but you feel a special bond with them that allows an intimate connection.

The way this theory works is that you need to really evaluate each person, put them in one of the 4 categories and then accept them and enjoy them.  Be ok with the fact that you will have many Breakfast friends, a few less lunch friends, less dinner friends and if you are really lucky one or two sleep over friends.

As a therapist, I developed this theory to help people accept the different relationships in their lives. When people wanted someone to be what they wanted them to be and the person wouldn’t cooperate, it is freeing to accept that a lunch friend will never be a dinner friend but that can be fine.

As a child people think everyone you meet is your best friend.   Little kids develop best friends in an instant.  Remember Art Linkletter?  Preschool kids even pretend to marry each other at times.  But when we become adolescents we believe that peers are oxygen (don’t cut off their oxygen) and we still think that everyone should be a sleepover friend or we will perish. Part of the pain of adolescence is that we realize that few people are Sleepover friends and that is ok. We have to develop a sense of self to understand that it is ok if we are not “popular” or best friends with everyone or even “the cool kids”.

If we survive adolescence we then learn in adulthood that we have to navigate all kinds of relationships.  If we accept the limits of each of the 4 categories we can truly enjoy and appreciate the different kinds of people in our lives.

The part of being over 50 or an empty nester is that you have to reevaluate your wants and needs in the friend department.  Once you hit a certain point in your life you really have to think about your friendships and what you want to spend the energy and time on.  For many of us, we reconnect with old friends because that sense of knowing that person from years ago affords a level of comfort as a starting place.  The really amazing part of my theory is that if you are mindful of what you want then you can challenge yourself to work on those areas of your life that interest you.  Acceptance of others differences, behaviors, style, desires, is a challenge but if you can get to the good stuff its magical and worth the work.  I believe that is what the Olympic committee saw when they watched the American’s skating and awarded the gold.

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