What's the Deal with Acquaintances?

by Amelia Acosta | 6/28/12 10:00pm

The saying goes that you should make new friends and keep the old. But is the same true for the more casual acquaintance, the kid you just wave to on the steps of Foco? Buddies, pals, teammates, sisters, brothers, arch enemies, floormates, lunch dates, that guy from last night, that girl from last spring. Social circles grow and change, but there's always going to be those people you know by name but would never add to your Market Table birthday dinner guest list those crab cakes are expensive! So where exactly does the line fall?

Friendship has a lot to do with what you're willing to share, according to Kara Hedges '14.

"A friend is someone with whom you don't necessarily have to censor what you're saying," Hedges said. "With an acquaintance, you only sort of know them and what they think about things, so you have to be more careful about what you're saying and how it's going to be received."

So discussions of more-than-PG-13 dreams about your government professor might be off limits, but how are day-to-day interactions different between acquaintances and friends?

"I have days where I can count on one hand the people I actually want to see and don't want to punch in the face, and those are my friends," Elizabeth Lummus '14 said. "Acquaintances are people I don't want to see all the time, the people in Astro 3 that you ignore because you're overwhelmed. Friends are the people you can slander others with in the comfort of your own home."

For some people, the dividing line is even clearer, according to Mackenzie Bronson '14.

"I know when someone's gone from acquaintance to friend when they're in my recent calls," Bronson said.

For those of you who've seen the classic Lifetime movie "Odd Girl Out" (2005) starring Alexa Vega of "Spy Kids" (2001) fame, you know that cliques are bad. People get sad, moms drink wine and tear their hair out in dramatic kitchen scenes as they debate how to handle their child's plummeting social status, bad haircuts ensue and childhood friendships go up in flames.

By the time we get to college, we still define ourselves by the activities we participate in with our closest friends. Spending time with people in these contexts can help us break through the friend-acquaintance barrier, but it can also cause us to question our relationships, according to Bronson.

"At Dartmouth, you have lots of different social circles that kind of overlap because it's such a small campus," Bronson said. "It makes you think your friend group is more diverse than it is, but are they maybe just acquaintances?"

The sheer amount of time that performing groups and athletic teams spend together means that it's much harder to treat your fellow participants as just classmates, according to Jonathan Brady '14, a member of the men's track and field team.

"You're spending hours and hours together and have to talk about problems with them, as well as share highs and lows," Brady said. "You can't just treat them casually."

By now we're all tired of the laments over the D-Plan. My Skype connection isn't clear enough, my long distance relationship won't stand up against the temptation of shirtless Spaniards and there's a stack of blank postcards with pictures of cats eating crepes that I completely forgot to send. But the constant on-and-off cycle can actually prove to be one of the best tests for true friendship, according to Hedges.

"Spending time away shows you the people who make the effort to keep in touch," Hedges said. "When you talk to a friend while you're off, they'll ask about something specific. Acquaintances will just ask about your term out of obligation."

Acquaintances have their pros, too, according to Liz Niehaus '14, who said that Dartmouth's busy schedule gives you lots of people with whom you're only on "waving terms."

"It's a personal confidence booster if you can walk across first floor Berry and see a lot of people you know," she said. "It makes you feel more loved, even if they don't mean much to you."

And we shouldn't be too quick to assume that a conversation with an acquaintance is any less enjoyable than one with a friend, according to Adrian Ferrari '14.

"Because everyone puts on theirbest faces with acquaintances, it can be really easy to have a lot of fun," Ferrari said.

So whether you showered together under waterfalls in Argentina, met through a floormate's teammate or tweeted back and forth during a particularly painful 9L, friends are everywhere. But acquaintances are everywhere too, so chat them up and you never know who might surprise you!

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