What does a “close friend” mean to you?

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Close friend bannerIf you check some definitions, the term “close friend” can be understood as somebody who you can talk to about everything, who makes you feel comfortable without fear of judgement. A “close friend” can also be someone who is always there for you, who cares about your well-being.

The concept of “friendship” holds a special significance in most societies around the world and most people probably have a person they consider to be their ‘best friend’. The term “friendship” has received academic attention from various fields, including sociology, social psychology, anthropology and philosophy. It describes a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people. In fact, one of the most interesting conclusions obtained from studies on happiness is that people with “close friendships” tend to be happier.

But… does “close friendship” have the same meaning for everybody, in every country, language, and culture? The term exists in many languages and cultures, but it is not always used with the same meaning. Why is that? There are different ways of understanding the term “friend”, determined by different customs, priorities, and lifestyles.

Broadly, being or having a “close friend” or “best friend” has a stronger implication in places such as Europe, India, China, Canada or Mexico. Friendship tends to hold the following meanings for people in these places: (1) “a trusted person you treat like family”, (2) “somebody you can be open with and relate to on personal issues”, and (3) “someone you don’t need to invite home because he or she is at any time allowed into your house”. These definitions show that in these cultures, the concept of friendship is held in high respect and experienced intensively.

The term: friendship describes a “relationship of mutual affection between two or more people”.

By contrast, people with different priorities and cultural standards can have very different perceptions of what it means to be “friends” or “close friends” with someone. For example, in some parts of the United States, the concept of friendship can be particularly shallow, with some relationships and friendships exclusively being established on social media platforms such as Facebook. It is on these platforms where people talk to each other and share comments and experiences. In addition, people who live busy lifestyles and who have full agendas may only meet in meetings to discuss professional issues. Hence, for these people some “friendships” may exist exclusively within certain spaces and environments.

The term “friendship” has also received different understandings over time based on cultural variations. Here are some examples: In Central Asia, “male friendships tend to be reserved and respectful in nature”. Germans typically have “relatively few friends, although their friendships typically last a lifetime, as loyalty is held in high regard”. In Islam, friendship is also known as companionship or ashab. The concept is taken seriously and a worthwhile friend has come to be associated with having numerous important attributes, such as the notion of righteousness (or saalih). Additionally, it is believed that in some parts of the Middle East (or Near East) friendship describes a more demanding mutual relationship than in some other cultures.

The term “friendship” has received different understandings over time based on cultural variations.

So, what does a “close friend” mean? The answer is that although you can have friends everywhere in the world, the relationship will probably not be understood in the same way everywhere. A “close friend” has different meanings and implications depending on different social and cultural environments.

The kind of friendship that we establish is directly connected to our lifestyle and expectations. However, although there are many different understandings of friendship, certain characteristics seem to be present in many of these, including sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding and compassion, and trust.

Finally, while there are many different ways of making friends and there are no practical limits on what types of people can form a friendship, friends generally tend to share common backgrounds, occupations, interests, and socio-cultural backgrounds.

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Written by Lidia Capitan Zamora. Journalist, web editor and social media expert. Communication Trainee at TermCoord.

Edited by Olga Jeczmyk and Janna Mack, Communication Trainees at TermCoord.