Dame Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Nicole Kidman hugging
Dame Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Nicole Kidman (Photo: Getty Images)


Different friends perform different functions – that’s why you need a bunch

The curation of a friendship group is unregulated and haphazard but, says Sali Hughes, there are friendship archetypes worth recognising

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By Sali Hughes on

New research conducted by the Post Office into the ultimate “squad goals”, reveals that for Brits, the perfect friendship group consists of 1.37 school friends, 1.5 college or university friends, 1.41 siblings, 1.85 extended family members and 1.38 neighbours (clearly they haven’t met the bongo-playing, guitar noodling members of the posh hippie commune next door). It strikes me that these results entirely miss the point of great friendship. As someone who met one soulmate in the naughty corner, another in a dingy podcast studio, several on Twitter, another when she harassed me for work experience until I grumpily agreed, and yet another when I realised that a terrible boyfriend was actually best-friend material, I know that the curation of a gold-chip friendship squad is an unregulated, haphazard and serendipitous process – and all the better for it. What matters is what someone brings to the party, and what you can offer them in return. Regardless of where you come from and how you met, the best lineup – whether a tiny handful or big enough for a football team – consists of distinct friendship archetypes that serve and enrich every participant…

The Brain Twin

This friend is essentially you in another body (one that’s almost a whole foot taller, in my case). She can finish your sentences, will always understand your cultural references and knows what you’re up to without your having to breathe a word. The joy of the brain twin – apart from being your most compatible companion (awkward silences are impossible) – is that she can always understand and relate to how you’re feeling, only with the benefit of greater clarity and impartiality. And it’s entirely reciprocal – each of you has such a clear vantage point to one another’s perspective, that rows are rare and long term fall-outs are inconceivable – you’d simply bang on their door until your apology was accepted. She’s the physical embodiment of the voice in your head, but instead of keeping you awake at night, she airs it calmly over vodka and crisps.

The Lifesaver

If you needed someone to help you bury a body, provide an alibi, and find you the most shit-hot lawyer in town, who would you use your one permitted call on? Whoever it is, hang on to them. This friend’s quiet can-do loyalty is worth its weight in platinum. Your history is so long, their trust in you so unwavering, that in any situation, they’ll act now, ask questions later. When I was living through the divorce case from hell, one clinical, pragmatic lunch with my old friend J made me feel more instantly better than all the kind, well-meaning cuddles in the world. And entirely guiltless, because we both knew I’d have his back in any comparable crisis.

We went to a bar and stayed there for the next eight hours, talking about family, friendship, sex, relationships, work and mental health

The Keep-It-Light Friend

S/he loves and cares for you as much as the next pal, but at the same time, doesn’t need you to pick over the bones of a recent breakup, or reveal the more painful aspects of your childhood, or discuss the complex emotional dynamics of any of your other friendships. This friend wants to see films, chart all-time best Big Brother contestants and discuss Madonna’s latest Instagram post. She knows her strengths and limitations in the field. When life seems horribly stressful and confusing, this friend applies salve to the soul, reminding you that simple good company and happy, seemingly inconsequential chattering is often the greatest gift a friend can give. More likely to send GIFs and boxsets than a comprehensive trauma-recovery plan, this one is as vital to happiness as any other devoted friend. Undervalue her at your ultimate expense.

The Wise Woman

This friend is sometimes older (by 13 years, in my case), always more experienced, and has weathered more storms than an Orkney trawlerman. She is all-seeing and highly perceptive. She knows that the frustrated jazz trumpeter with the man-crush on Jack Kerouac is to be run from at high speed, that the boss who wants you to accompany him on a business trip isn’t primarily interested in your PowerPoint skills, why that shower-screen bodge-job isn’t going to hold past Tuesday, and how to avoid cystitis. She has been there, learned the lessons and is ready to listen, evaluate and dispense sage advice in almost any situation. She doesn’t suffer fools and may not always bond brilliantly with other friends, but that’s okay. She’s learned that not everyone has to love you and as usual, she’s bang on the money.

The Childhood Friend

Whether a schoolmate like my R, a cousin or a childhood neighbour, the childhood friend knows you inside out, loves you regardless and weighs your feet to the ground like lead boots. You’ve held back one another’s hair while chundering Pernod and black into her parents’ guest loo, listened to one another quack on about who in the lower sixth you’d allow to third base, seen one another’s relationships fail, and children being born. She’s watched other friends come and go, supported your life’s ebbs, flows, peaks and troughs, and remained utterly loyal throughout. In the echo chamber of adult friendships, she reminds you of a different place, time and perspective and ultimately, of who you really are.

The Tearaway

Despite being good, kind and loyal where it matters, this friend is naughty. They encourage you to play hooky, buy the shoes, attend the party, order another drink, never call it a night, and generally have the time of your life. They remind you to let down your hair and forget your troubles for a bit, that there are few things more nourishing and health giving than a nine-hour fit of giggles. Fortunately for me, my tearaway lives in Australia. If he were any closer I’d probably now be in prison.

The New Friend

“The books are closed,” you think. “Sorry, we’re not hiring.” Your friend portfolio is complete and your diary is at capacity – you don’t have enough time to see the old friends, never mind make new ones who could never hope to compete. And then you chance across a new person who inconveniently, seems to be a keeper. This happened to me when I was asked to interview C, a fellow author for a podcast. As soon as the recording ended, we went to a bar and stayed there for the next eight hours, talking about family, friendship, sex, relationships, work and mental health. At the age of 40, I had unwittingly made a new close friend who I can’t imagine not having on my squad, who reminds me that there are an infinite number of great people in the world, who makes me look at it with fresh eyes, and I like it.

The Soulmate

A best friend who cherry picks many of the brilliant, comforting, dependable, kind, trustworthy and life-affirming elements of one’s girl squad, but who you also want to have sex with, and who quite likes having sex with you, and who understands and accepts that aside from your kids, the only thing more important and unbreakable than your relationship, is that with your friends. Know you’ve won the lottery and marry him.


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Dame Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Nicole Kidman (Photo: Getty Images)
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