For those who are inexperienced and not good at dealing with interpersonal relationship, especially intimacy relationship, sorting different people around them into groups of different intimacy in an unambiguous way can be difficult and struggling. I thereby proposed an information sharing-based classification model to help sort people into groups of different intimacy under clear standards, the application of which can reduce the entropy of one’s social circle and keep it clean and neat. In this model, interpersonal relationships are classified into 7 levels in rising intimacy order depending on the information that is shared or can be shared interpersonally without hesitation and uncomfortableness: Strangers, Acquaintances, Friends, Good Friends, Close Friends, Best Friends, Zhiji. This classification may sound familiar and trivial to you, but what really matters is not the classification itself but a clear, practical, simple and well-motivated standard that can be put into use, which will be discussed in details in this paper.
There are many standards that can be used in the classification of interpersonal relationship, and I by no means think mine is unique. However, out of all plausible standards, there obviously exist better ones and worse ones. If you believe the quality and quantity of information exchange does have a strong positive correlation with the quality of interpersonal relationship, then a model with the amount and the quality of information exchange as an interpersonal relationship indicator can be naturally established. This is particularly the case for closer relationships, where people tend to have significantly more interaction with accompanied information exchange. Note that here we are not discussing the motivation, dynamics, reason or theory of interpersonal relationship, but merely a classification model. As far as issues regarding human interaction are concerned, there is no correct classification model or wrong one, but a good or bad one.
Now, the question comes, as why information is considered a good factor and its exchange can be used as a good indicator to evaluate the intimacy of interpersonal relationship. There are three reasons:
1) As long as there is interpersonal interaction, there must exist information exchange, from the superficial level such as body language, ways of speaking (e.g. tones, speed of speaking, intervals between words and sentences, etc.), attitude towards each other presented and perceived, social tags, etc. to the common level such as daily conversation, small talks, consult, etc. and the deeper level such as direct exchange of ideas, shares of secrets, discussion on sensitive topics, argument over disagreed topics, etc.
2) The categories, amount and depth of information that is exchanged or can be exchanged comfortably reflects the level of trust, sense of security and compatibility of the people in their interpersonal relationships. In general, the formers and the laters enjoy a positive correlation under complex dynamics which is either yet to be further studied or have been studied. There are two reasons:
a) The more the information is exchanged, the more people expose themselves. This exposure can be direct such as exchange of ideas and also indirect such as discussion of non-personal questions. In the latter cases, people can more or less infer the personal information of the one they are talking with. On the other hand, people also develop familiarity and knowledge of that person regardless of the type of the information exchanged, which will eventually turn into trusts and sense of security towards that person, at least in the specific topics where they had information exchanged.
b)The more the people feel comfortable with someone, the more they are willing to expose themselves. This comes as the nature of humankind, since exposing too much of oneself can make him or her vulnerable from all aspects, including emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially, interpersonally, etc. An implication of this nature of humankind is that people who are smart enough to realize this fact—which I assume is more than obvious—will only expose the information they feel comfortable to expose, and hence share the information they feel comfortable to share when it comes to a specific person they are interacting with.
By measuring the categories, amount and depth of information that is exchanged or can be exchanged comfortably one can estimate the intimacy of his or her relationship with someone.
3) The other factors, including, but not limited to, duration, time spend with each other, past non-(significant)information-exchange experiences of an interpersonal relationship all have to face bad exceptions that will make them unreliable indicators of the intimacy of interpersonal relationship. For instance, there can easily be people who have known and spent time with each other for long but are still in a shallow relationship or an irrelationship where both feel insecured and untrusted.
Definition and Clarification
Information: In this paper, the information we are discussing bears at least three properties: categorizablity, amount and depth. By categorizablity, I mean that information can be put into different sets, such as music, sports, science, video games, etc. There are subsets under sets, and the same set or subset share common properties that are usually easy to identify. By amount, I mean that the information shared can be a lot or a little given a fixed set and depth of information. By depth, I mean that the information shared have different accessibility and can expose different level of personal information given fixed category and amount. In general, the deeper the information, the harder it is to obtain the information elsewhere and the more it exposes one’s thoughts. In the sense of my definition of information, it is safe to say sharing of information inevitably results in giving personal information away, which is equivalent to exposing oneself. To make things more straightforward, for example, if I talk about Op.67 and Op.125 by Beethoven and share some of my deep personal analysis or opinions of Op. 67 but only roughly discuss about Op.125, then I would say that the information I shared has the category of “the music by Beethoven” and that the information is deeper for Op. 67 but shallower for Op. 125. If I start to talk about Op.55, which is also Beethoven’s work, I would say I increase the amount of information I share.
Strangers: Who you shared or are willing to share no or little information with; who you never met or met for once or twice, had surface conversations with and most likely will never meet again; who you constantly met but never had any form of information exchange with;
Acquaintances: Who you shared or are willing to share very limited information with; who you met multiple times and had surface conversations or small talks with; who you know no more than social-tags level; who you prefer to not greet but avoid when meeting if you are an introvert or have social anxiety;
Friends: Who you shared or are willing to share some usually unimportant information with; who you will not share secrets or only very few secrets with; who you know no secrets or only a few secrets of; who you met or have been meeting constantly and had quite a lot conversation and information exchange with; who you have hung out with exclusively or in a group; who you can turn to, cooperate with and play with on limited kinds of occasions;
Good Friends: Who you shared or are willing to share some important or exclusive information with. More specifically, if someone is your good friend, there exists at least one and can be as many as a few categories of information that you have been sharing, can share, or are willing to share with him or her without hesitation, discomfort, awkwardness and sense of insecurity. Note that you do not necessarily need to have the action of sharing, but just willingness will be satisfied. You and your good friends generally shares some secrets of each other, though these secrets may not be very sensitive or private, which depends on you and your good friends’ personalities.
Close Friends: Who you shared or are willing to share a lot of exclusive information with, which usually contains a lot secrets, personal preferences, miscellaneous daily incidents and decisions that you will not otherwise share. More specifically, if someone is your close friend, there are a great lot of categories of information with significant amount and depth that you have been sharing, can share, or are willing to share with him or her without hesitation, discomfort, awkwardness and sense of insecurity. He or she is usually the first one you think of when you have something to share (though not necessarily will share), and you will only turn to your good friends when your close friends cannot meet your needs. People generally are not concerned with losing their close friends even if without contacts for long, the length of which depends on the personalities of them and their close friends. This is not the case for good friends.
Best Friends: Who you shared or are willing to share almost anything with, covering almost all categories of information with amount as large as it could be and contents as deep as people are able to reach. Naively speaking, your close friends generally undertake a small amount of role of your best friends, or in other words your best friend plays the roles of your multiple close friends at the same time. However, this is a 1+1<2 story, as multiple close friends put together generally cannot outperform a single best friend. A reason is the lack of communication of your close friends, which is like several armies fighting without communication and thereby inefficient. It’s worth noting that one can usually have only one, if any, best friend at the same time as the word “best” literally implies. In rare cases one may have two, but I strongly doubt anyone who claims to have three or more best friends. A straightforward argument is that as far as best friends sound, they usually cost a large amount of one’s daily energy and time, which simply is unaffordable when the number comes to as large as three. This argument also applies to close friends, i.e., one cannot have too many close friends simultaneously, as one’s social time and energy are limited.
Zhiji: Who is your best friend and can almost understand any of your thoughts, actions, emotions, decisions, etc. Note that the word I am using here is “can” but not “is willing to”. This implies zhiji is not someone that one can become by hard working but is more like a status decided by your natural compatibility between one and one’s best friend. This word comes from the romanization of Chinese word 知己, which literally means “(someone who) understands me”. The vast majority of people will never find their zhijis in their short lives.
Claims and Hypotheses
1) In general, one’s interpersonal relationship with someone will degenerate by up to two levels over time, except for extreme cases such as breakup, violation of fundamental personal principles, unreconciled issues that jeopardize one’s fundamental interests, etc. For instance, one’s close friend can degenerate at most to a friend.
2) All friends and above interpersonal relationship levels can at most degenerate to acquaintances, if not enemies, over time. However, an acquaintance can degenerate to strangers if he or she has never been one’s friend or above.
3) By rising intimacy order from strangers to zhiji, the number in each level decreases. Almost all the people on the Earth are one’s strangers, and for those lucky ones who are not, the vast majority of them are his or her acquaintances. Out of the rest survivors, most of them are friends, a few of them are good friends, and only a couple of them are close friends. There can be no best friend, let alone zhiji, since a greater friendship usually requires greater luck to meet and greater amount of time to develop. Personally, by my examination, I had 0 zhiji, 0 best friend, 3 close friends, 10 good friends and a lot more friends as of mid-Augest, 2017. It’s interesting to mention that the close friends and good friends I had distributed evenly by time (when I knew them) and space (where I knew them), which seems to imply the inevitable restriction exerted by time and space on the number of closer friends one can have.
4) The number of closer friends, i.e. good friends and above, are strictly restricted by time and space. One cannot make too many closer friends over a short period of time or in an unchanged location. This can be partially supported by statistics, since a) the number of people who have the potential to become one’s closer friends is limited in a limited time and space; b) these people distribute evenly in space, statistically; c) one’s time and energy is limited and can only meet a limited number of people in a given time and space; d) of the people one meet and make acquaintance with, only a few are said people who have the potential for greater friendship, which restricts the number of closer friends one can have in a given time and space theoretically; e) to discern those people among a much larger number of strangers or acquaintances, one need a great amount of energy and time. That is to say, even if there are some people having super potential for greater friendship with one, it will still take him or her a long time before they can become closer friends, since the information needed to discern who is suitable for a closer friend can take years to obtain.
It sounds natural if someone applies this classification model on friendship, but it’s worth noting that things can be more than that. In fact, this model can work for most, if not all, interpersonal relationships, including, but not limited to, romantic relationship and family affection. The thing is that people bear different social roles at the same time, and if you examine interpersonal relationship from the information exchange point of view, you can put many that you will not expect into the model. For instance, you can put your parents into the model and think of which level they are to you, good friends or close friends or else? How about your significant other, is him or her your close friend or best friend or else?