I went out to lunch the other day with my friend Rob Rolfingsmeyer (because constant phone calls and IM conversations aren’t enough – we’re not going to be happy until we’re hetero life partners) and we were discussing the nature of friendship. It struck us as funny how some relationships seem to click immediately, how some folks can know each other for a long time and yet be little more than acquaintances; but others we can know for a short time and those people feel like they’ve always been a part of our lives.

I firmly believe that we’re too quick to call some people friends. We call folks we’ve met a few times friends; we call people we’ve shared message board space friends; we call business associates friends. I suspect that part of this might stem from an idea that it would be rude to not call someone we know a friend (I once corrected someone who called me a friend by saying that we were actually acquaintances. You would think that I took their family pet and used it for piñata practice. Awkward lesson learned: sometimes it’s easier to just go with the popular definition of a word).

The reality is that we have spheres of friendship which are defined by levels of intimacy. We have those folks in closest orbit to us (the smallest circle of friends) and as we move away in levels of intimacy, those spheres include more and more people. I have folks in my life who I am close to and I have folks in my life who assume they are closer to me than they are. It doesn’t make us any less friends.

Friendships are forged through defining moments and history. Have you noticed that some friendships can miss weeks, months, or years between contact, but pick up right where they left off? The key ingredient is intimacy (or else you are left with an acquaintance you’ve known a long time). And intimacy takes time, a reciprocal process of revealing and sharing with one another, as trust and love are established.

We can all stand to be better friends, to learn how to peer out of our spheres of self-involvement and self-focus. Good friendships rare enough and should be treasured when you find them.