Friends and Acquaintances

There should be a word for the people who fall between friends and acquaintances.

I was talking about this with my hairdresser the other day, and she is a case in point.

I have known her for about six years and she has helped me collect necklaces for the village festivities stall, she has helped recruit Oxfam volunteers from the bored women whose hair she cuts.

(She tells me that she hears lots of stories, confidences and has people telling her stuff they would never tell their friends and she is not their friend.)

Her mum and I dog walk, I know her sister who now and then gives me a pedicure and her other sister who helped the best beloved recuperate from a back operation.

But we never see each other socially.

My fellow Oxfam volunteers are another case in point.

With one or two exceptions, I never see them outside work but I know how their weeks pan out, I know the names of their grandchildren and share recipes, their daughter’s triumph of design for a national trust Christmas extravaganza, cover on the days they want to go up to London to see a show or to Portsmouth for Christmas shopping.

And, the friend/acquaintance thing is a spectrum.

There are those people with whom you share all and everything – well not everything, as sex between consenting adults over a certain age should never be discussed in my view, and neither should be the frequency you check for unwanted facial hair, but you get the general idea.

There are people in your life who you don’t see very often but when you do, it is as if you are just picking up where you left off.

I schlepped over to Lewes this week ( and though in the same county, Lewes is a bit of a schlepp from here) to have lunch with someone who started off as an employee and morphed into a good friend.

We haven’t seen each other for three years ( this was news to me who would have said I saw her a few months ago, but memory works like that ) and it was, as I say, as if we’d seen each other last week.

There are friends who you have known for years and somehow come in and out of each other’s lives and there are a considerable number of those who I currently feel bad about not seeing.

(When I was in Brussels and Paris, I used to make the effort to arrange lunches in London and invite my friends so that I would have chance to keep up with them – sometimes there were three of us who could make it and sometimes there were 15.

Since I have been in Deepest Sussex, I have let that habit lapse and I am ashamed of that.)

At the other end of the spectrum there are people who are barely acquaintances.

Usually I know them from the Oxfam shop and we have a chat when they come in – they are regulars.

I don’t know any of their names.

There is the couple who come in every Friday morning and he looks for books on something he is currently learning – electronics, physics, maths etc and his wife, who I also know because she volunteers for cancer research, looks half-heartedly through the embroidery books.

When I bump into them in town, we always stop and have a chat about the weather or whatnot.

Then there is another customer who comes in looking for all sorts of interesting stuff and I know he goes to the city sometimes in the week. But now, apparently he is going to give it all up for a life in the church.

There is the now retired woman who worked in Waitrose and always talked to my visiting niece and asked when she was visiting what we were going to cook.

There are the women who work in the Boots pharmacy who help me sort out the medicines I collect for a volunteer who has been ‘off work’ for months.

But they are definitely acquaintances or even less than acquaintances – and there is no word for that.

But back to the main issue – what do you call someone who falls between the two stools of friend and acquaintance?

We, as I have mentioned before, have a lunch every now and then called a Lizzie Lunch.

It is because some of those of us who knew and loved her, need to seize the day and not let the business of life stop us getting together – as I failed to do with Lizzie.

There are a couple of women who come who were definitely in Lizzie’s friends category but I don’t know them that well – what would I call them, a friend or acquaintance?

There are people I have done intensive summer schools with over the years but never see in between and if the summer schools no longer happen, will probably never see again – apart from on Facebook.

There are the BB’s old friends from university who I see every now and then but they are not in most cases, my friends.

There are people who I see quite often because I am involved in the Rural Refugee Network and so are they, and we sort out fundraising events and will do the kiss, kiss thing when we meet but I don’t really know them.

The list could go on forever.

So, if anyone knows what you call people who have ( and here comes the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue purple-prose metaphor) slid down the hillside of aquaintanceship and are languishing in the un-named valley, never to climb up the hill of friendship, please let me know.

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