Friendship Reboot

The Joy Of The B-List Friend

Not everyone needs to be your bestie.

Originally Published: 
Casual friendships can actually make you happier and healthier.

I’m unbelievably close with my best friends. We tell each other updates both large (discussions of our mothers) and small (bought a new skirt; it was 20% off, but sadly, I had to pay for shipping). We plan vacations and outfits together. I know their coffee orders; I can recite their childhood home phone numbers. We tell each other roughly 82% of the thoughts that pop into our heads.

And yet. There’s a pleasure to having people in your life you love seeing without feeling like you need to text every day or remember their boss’s name or know that their therapy appointments are Thursdays at 11 a.m. In the famous words of Mindy Lahiri, “Best friend isn’t a person, Danny. It’s a tier.” But what about the tier under the apex of the pyramid?

Enter: the B-list friend. This is the person you gravitate toward at your mutual friend’s birthday dinner every year. It’s the co-worker you always plan to do happy hour with but haven’t gotten around to yet, your kickball teammate who shares your love of opera but with whom you rarely hang out one-on-one. You like their Instagrams but wouldn’t go to them for emotional support. If you still had a MySpace Top 8, these folks wouldn’t make the cut. That’s fine.

We are at a historic low point when it comes to the quality and quantity of our friendships, which is unfortunate because studies are pretty clear that wide social networks — and putting in time and effort to make and keep friends — make people happier. The pandemic dealt a major blow to people’s social circles, forcing them to cut interactions with all but those to whom they were the closest. As a result, 47% of Americans lost touch with multiple friends, according to a 2021 study by the Survey Center on American Life, and that phenomenon was most acute among young women. Group chats and quarantine pods likely kept some of your nearest and dearest friendships active — but I bet your B-list suffered.

And that’s a real loss. Studies have shown that casual interactions with these people really do make you happier and help you live longer. The people on the “outskirts” of our social circles might play a wider role in our lives than we imagine: The happiness of our friends’ friends can actually affect our own, and these connections enrich your life more than you probably realize.

It takes about 50 hours to make a friend and 200 to make a close friend.

Take my boyfriend, who loves throwing parties and inviting friends we typically only see a couple of times a year. It’s a genuine delight to spend an evening catching up with people from various eras and parts of our lives whom I rarely see otherwise. It’s fascinating to see who comes and who doesn’t. Sometimes we make a gesture toward taking these friendships further — “We have to go to that bar!” / “We should get coffee!” / “Let’s hang out!”

But often, there’s a mutual understanding that the plans will never materialize, and that’s OK. Like being on a crowded dance floor, there’s something nice about simply having a low-stakes good time around people you enjoy.

This doesn’t signal a lack of interest or care. Casual friends of mine have gotten me jobs — which studies show is much more likely than close friends doing so — and I’ve found apartments for others. I've babysat last-minute when a friend’s pet had an emergency, and another sent me flowers after surgery. Maybe, in another life, if we had infinite free time, we’d be closer. But our current situation is great, too.

Time really is the key to making friends — and, to a large extent, what level they’re on. One study showed that it takes about 50 hours to make a friend and 200 to make a close friend. Often life gets in the way of growing and maintaining these tight bonds. Ruby, 28, does community theater and says, “There’s this phenomenon where your castmates are your very best friends for a month and then afterward, they become B-list friends for forever, basically.”

But even B-list friendships can suffer with a lack of time. After working at a theater for seven years after college, I found moving on incredibly sad — despite my new job being much better careerwise — because I knew I simply wouldn’t see my co-workers anymore, people I did consider friends. We spent 40 hours a week together! But sadly we hadn’t built up a social rapport outside of the office. What was I going to do? Stop by on a Wednesday at noon to complain about the faulty watercooler and difficult customers? I still like those people (and their social media posts), and we text every once in a while, but we’ve all drifted apart.

Sometimes, though, a casual friend ends up floating toward your inner circle. Joe, 48, says that he’s become closer and closer to nearby, peripheral friends over the years as others have relocated. “I’ve been appreciating a very happy experience of newly becoming close with people who had been in the outer circles of friendships from years ago,” he says. For Joe, strengthening these connections has been the surprising flipside to the narrative of friends moving away. “As other people started leaving Los Angeles,” he says, “I took notice of who was still here and started to reach out to people.”

While promotions to the A-list do happen, that doesn’t have to be the goal. A friend doesn’t have to be your closest confidant to play an important and distinct role in our lives. Sometimes you just need someone who knows Bridgerton inside and out like you do or who is down to go diving with whale sharks when the rest of your friends want to stay on shore. The idea isn’t quantity over quality, but rather filling your life with good people, even if you aren’t close enough to learn their shoe size or their pet’s allergies. You don’t have to know everything about a person to know you want them in your life.

This article was originally published on