As a neuroscientist, I am fascinated by mental health, consciousness and perception, as well as the psychology behind human relationships.
How to Tell if Someone Is a Friend or Acquaintance
Sometimes it can be hard to read the line between friendship and acquaintance. Obviously, not everyone we met and socialize with will truly want to be our friend, but how do we determine this accurately? This article will teach you how to read the following 5 subtle signs that someone wants to be your acquaintance:
- An acquaintance won't show vulnerability or share much with you
- They act differently with their other friends
- They don't remember much of what you tell them
- They're uninterested in meeting/befriending your other friends
- Something about the friendship feels "off"
1. An Acquaintance Won't Show Vulnerability or Share Much With You
If you are a compassionate person, the chances are that the majority of your friends will feel comfortable talking to you about a wide range of topics. After all, you being an important figure in their lives is conducive to them feeling liberated and open around you.
It is rare for people to divulge their secrets in the early stages of a friendship, but if you've known this person for over 6 months and they still seem to resist having an in-depth conversation about anything sensitive or personal, the chances are that they only consider you an acquaintance.
What has this person shared with you (not in the workplace or the lab, but away from impersonal, professional environments)?
If you've had dinner with them or been somewhere away from school/college/work, you'd expect the conversation to turn away from cheerful daily banter and towards a more substantial topic. Have they ever shown vulnerability at all? Of course, confidence and the desire to share things fall on a spectrum and some people choose to never address dark or upsetting topics with friends. But, if you've never heard them open up and show some raw emotion with you, whether it be telling you about their 16th birthday party or saying "you know, I was friends with such a difficult person last year...", they probably don't trust you and would feel awkward having a deep chat with you.
2. They Act Differently With Their Other Friends
It is normal to live a compartmentalized life to a certain extent, acting slightly differently within separate circles. We tend to share a heightened sense of familiarity with our childhood friends, which often can't be rivalled by our newer friendships. Don't lose hope if you see someone acting a lot more confidently with their long-term friends; this is to be expected and doesn't mean that they aren't excited about fostering a close relationship with you too.
Nevertheless, you can judge how they act with other people that you both share an environment with. For instance, if you are both in college, witness how they act with their classmates and other friends.
Even if you've had a nice day with this person, notice how they act when their other friends arrive. If their pals meet them after class and they run over to hug them, appearing delighted to see them while ignoring you and making no effort to introduce you to them, the chances are that they have found their friends, and you're not one of them.
You can use extend this example to assess your own scenario. Does this person send long Facebook messages to other people at your workplace, never seeming to treat you with the same enthusiasm? Do they seem relaxed, radiantly happy and just "more themselves" with other people? Are you often left wondering what's wrong with you, and why you can't kindle the same level of childlike glee in them?
If such questions make you ponder, it's likely you've got yourself a situational acquaintance and nothing more.
3. They Don't Remember Much of What You Tell Them
I am about to share a major psychological phenomenon seen in people who don't really care about you/want to be close friends with you: they fail to remember things that you say. If someone doesn't remember many details about you, either they are a). pretending to not remember details, so that they don't seem weird/overly interested or b). everything you tell them goes over their head because they don't find you captivating.
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Now, if a). is true, there are two possibilities. Either, this person is pretending to not remember your birthday or your summer plans because they have a keen memory but have no interest in befriending you properly, and hence don't want to give mixed signals. They're thinking "if I reveal that I remember her birthday, she'll think that means something and that we're closer than we are," so they choose to appear distant and cold.
They might say "oh remind me, when's your birthday again?" despite knowing the date, purposefully seeming detached so that they can avoid future friendship scenarios with you. Through this behaviour, they are almost begging you to consider them an acquaintance; they clearly don't want to deepen the connection.
The second possibility is that they are in awe of you and really do want to become closer friends; maybe they don't want to appear odd and needy by hanging onto your every last word, so they pretend to not remember all that you tell them. This is less likely than the first option, though, and you'd typically only see this type of behaviour in extremely shy people with low self-esteem.
It's a harsh truth, realizing that someone might be pretending to remember little about you just to keep their distance. It is easy to be tricked into thinking someone considers you a friend if they laugh a lot with you and appear happy, but these are often just normal signs of an elated, gregarious mood. Disillusioning as this is, someone could genuinely enjoy being around you without actually deeming you worthy of a platonic relationship with them. I mean, we're all guilty of this and we all have led someone on before, even if while totally unaware.
4. They're Uninterested in Meeting/Befriending Your Other Friends
Now, for many of us, meeting a friend's friends is a stressful chore; it can feel like a job interview that you can't prepare for. However, if this friend/acquaintance doesn't seem to 1) remember any of the names of your friends, 2) ever want to meet them or 3) seem interested in letting their friends meet your friends, you two are probably not very close. They are subconsciously keeping your worlds completely separate (often while totally unaware), which is not a recipe for a future platonic friendship.
Some people dislike socially networking, but past teenage years, most of us realize that it's inevitable that we'll have to meet our friend's other social circles at some point (birthday events, parties etc.). Hence, it's common for people to exaggerate interest in their friend's other friends when the friendship is new and forming. If someone is doing the opposite and never asking you things like "how's it going with that friend you mentioned, Rebecca?" or "did your best friend pass her exam," it might be that they don't care about your life.
5. Something About The Friendship Feels "Off"
I'm ending this article with what is possibly the most telling indication that your "friend" is actually just an acquaintance: something simply feeling wrong, making you question where you stand with this individual. If their efforts are lacking and they are inclined to "lie low", e.g. they are hard to pin down over summer and never follow through with plans, it is more than likely that they don't really like you.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! We all choose our friends once we hit our late teens, and it's an uncomfortable fact of life that not everybody will click with you or want you to be part of their life journey.
Unless you have a history of being insecure in friendships, you need to start trusting your intuition, within reason. Are you constantly finding yourself feeling like you're the one messaging them? If your coffee catch-ups always start with you excitedly telling them about a new café that has opened, have you ever considered why this is?
Now, you might be thinking "my friend is just lazy – we'd never meet up if I didn't initiate it, and they never remember much about me, but they do enjoy my friendship."
To put it bluntly, that is nonsense: this person might like you, but they are failing to step and are avoiding incorporating you into their life. They are neither making time for you nor really bothering to get to know you, and you are best off letting them go.
After all, there are many people that we tolerate but would not actively want to be friends with. Don't let yourself be "that person" in any of your new friendships. If they aren't developing naturally and you're putting in all the effort, step back and see if this person chooses to reach out to you. You'll have your answer if you hear nothing from them!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Lucy
David on November 24, 2019:
About people or a friend for getting things I don't beleave I have issue remember things name some time but my strong point is remembering stories . That's my best. If I was to my have or excect a person as my friend no one as to prove anything to me . I had a so called friend that would get mad because I could not help him every weekend at the flea maket . Note I had family I attended his needs not my home .Anyone who has a loved one understand. Thank you .
Jack Lampin on August 01, 2019:
I agree I thought I had a friend who’s name was Bryce but he told me he was gonna try to hang out with me this summer and he never did, and when I asked him why he didn’t do it he said because he had a job and I was like you don’t have a job you literally babysit your cousins and he literally hangs out with the other kids he met I’m starting to agree that this isn’t a true friendship. But if it isn’t then that means I don’t have any friends.
Lucy (author) from Leeds, UK on April 07, 2019:
I agree! It's important to distinguish who you're associating with because of the situation/environment you're both in, and who is genuinely interested in connecting. Once you learn the tricks, you can see right through people and their intentions.
Don't want to sit with you anyways on April 07, 2019:
There are a few people, ones I've known since elementary school and ones I just met these last couple years. We are all in the same direct sales company, which you'd think oh how cool is that right! Yeah well.... I'm going through an incredibly hard time in my personal life and because it's affecting where i am in the business.... These people have dropped me. The ones i just met I could care less about, its the ones I've known the longest that upset me. But after reading this article i now know where they stand. #ByeFelicia #KeepYourCliques
Nothing on March 26, 2019:
Ive known this amazing person for about 8 months, at first she felt like we were actual friends.... she later got creeped out by me cause of rumors (alot of people at school don't like me) now we are still friends however i really wanna hang out with her but she tells me she is busy, she never shares anything with me, she is so happy when other people are around her, but she gets so dull when she is near me or talking to me...what should i do? i don't wanna forget about her she is a strong person, i just wanna know what's wrong :'(
Lauren on March 25, 2019:
I'm pretty sure I don't have any of those it might be best that way you know unless they work at gym I go to or a store I'm shopping at other then that nope
Lauren on March 06, 2019:
That's all Dominic wanted to be but it didn't turn out that way it's not that hard to walk away from someone like that anyway especially if you decide it's not what you wanted never settle for anything that's not making you happy
Rashid on February 01, 2019: