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The 5 Kinds of Friends Every Adult Needs

Even time with "sour" people can benefit you.

They say there are five tastes in cooking, and every meal should hit the notes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. It turns out that your "kitchen cabinet" should also hit all those notes.

What is a kitchen cabinet? The term refers to any group of trusted friends and associates and derives from the presidential practice of maintaining a group of close unofficial advisers—as opposed to the official Cabinet advisers confirmed by Congress.

The key to building an effective group of friends is having a collection of people who provide different strengths and types of support. That group should include people who are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Sweet. While it seems obvious that having someone kind and agreeable in our lives is helpful, research suggests that it goes beyond just being around someone who says nice things.

Particularly when we are teenagers, research (Knack et al., 2013) has found that agreeable friends can shield us from other negative elements in the environment. For example, agreeable teen boys with agreeable friends were less likely to experience victimization and less likely to blame difficulties on external factors.

Agreeable teen girls with agreeable friends were less likely to internalize problems and had higher prosocial skills. In addition, research has found that for adults, friendships with agreeable people are more likely to be high in trust (Stavrova, 2022).

Salty. Do we really need sharp-edged people in our lives? It turns out that we do need folks in our lives who are low in agreeability. These friends can bring a healthy skepticism to understanding the motives and actions of others. They can also help us keep looking out for our self-interests. Women tend to be more trusting, as found by Maddux and Brewer in 2005. That can be to their detriment. Sometimes, people really do have negative intent and are bad actors. Salty friends aren't afraid to rip off the blinders.

Sour. A sour person is unfriendly or focuses on the negative. Negative moods happen to all of us. A friend who can validate those negative moods and feel empathy for them is essential. As Kim and Kim found in 2013, validation of negative emotions can increase self-esteem and lower negative moods and aggression toward the harm doers. A sour friend can share your misery, and that can help you move on.

Bitter. A friend who is the salt in your kitchen cabinet is a person who makes you feel a little bitter or envious. Psychologically, the feeling might be labeled envy. My research (Johnson, 2012) has found that feeling envy can be motivating. Being outperformed, particularly when there is an opportunity to perform well in a different arena, can drive people to work harder and persist on difficult tasks. So being around people who make you feel not so good can help you strive and achieve more.

Umami. Umami is a sense of "savory"–like in grilled meat or tasty soups. In the context of friendships, the umami friend is one who keeps you grounded. Such friends are often old friends—the people who "knew you when." Piotorwski (2018) found that midlife friendships address early needs, and long-term friends who bear witness to shared experiences over time help to organize a coherent narrative of one's experiences. Continuity is a key aspect of these friendships as people continue and develop their sense of self (and changing sense of self) throughout their lifespans.

In short, just as we need a variety of flavors to tickle our tongues, we need a variety of friends to push us, soothe us, and keep us honest.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: DC Studio/Shutterstock

References

Knack, J.M., Jacquot, C., Jensen-Campbell, L.A. and Malcolm, K.T. (2013), Importance of having agreeable friends. J Appl Soc Psychol, 43: 2401-2413. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12188

Stavrova, O., Evans, A. M., & van Beest, I. (2022). The Effects of Partner Extraversion and Agreeableness on Trust. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672221086768

Maddux, W. W., & Brewer, M. B. (2005). Gender Differences in the Relational and Collective Bases for Trust. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 8(2), 159–171. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430205051065

Kim, E., & Kim, C. (2013). Comparative effects of empathic verbal responses: Reflection versus validation. Journal of counseling psychology, 60(3), 439.

Piotrowski, M. (2018). Selfobject experience in long-term friendships of midlife women. Psychoanalytic Social Work, 25(1), 17-41.

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