Trust Levels

I used to think that trust was like and “on/off” switch – either I trusted someone or I didn’t. But that doesn’t have to be the case. I learned a better way and I hope this post can help someone find a better way for themselves.

There are levels to trust. For example, you can trust most people to not shoot you in line at the grocery store. However, that doesn’t mean you hand them your wallet, keys, and the passcode to your accounts. There are stages you need to put people through as you determine where they fit in your life and level of trust.



The first level is that of “acquaintance.”

This is where most of the people in your world hang out. These are the folks you bump into the grocery store once a week or say “hello” to at your favorite coffee shop as their face has become familiar. They are your coworkers that you pass in the hall each day and greet with a smile or a nod. They are the attendant at your neighborhood gas station, your server at your favorite restaurant, and perhaps most of the people you share a pew with on Sundays.

There is nothing wrong with having many acquaintances. This is actually quite normal. Even at this level, you get to know a great deal about a person. You learn things like their preferences – do they take cream in their coffee. And you learn about their personal hygiene habits just from being in proximity to them. You also learn how they look, how they talk, how they interact with others, and how they present themselves to the world.



The second level is “companion.”

A companion is someone with whom you have a shared interest. For example, you get to talking with someone who orders coffee at the same place and time you do every morning. In these brief conversations, you learn that you both enjoy Michael Crichton books. When the new Jurassic World movie comes out you are both excited to see the film so you decide to go together. You agree on a time to meet at the theatre. It is implied that you each will pay your own way.

Once plans are made, depending on how the other carries out those plans will help you determine at which trust level they should be. If you get to the theatre at the agreed time and they keep you waiting an extra ten minutes, that tells you they are not punctual. It also may mean they may not respect you or your time (depending on cultural variables and circumstance). If they forget their wallet or their card is declined, that can tell you they are poor at managing their money or they rely on the kindness of others to make up for being absent-minded.

Depending on what you learn, you can move them back down to “acquaintance,” keep them as a “companion,” or move them up to a level three.



Level three is “friendship.”

At the friendship level, you spend time with someone for the sake of spending time with that particular person – not because you necessarily enjoy doing the chosen activity. Continuing our example, you have gone on several outings with the person you met at the coffee shop. He or she has shown up on time, always has their wallet, and has even offered to treat you to something at the snack bar. Being that these outings have gone well, you decided to move them into level three – friendship.

So when they call you to vent their frustration at failure figure out how to assemble the bookcase they ordered online, you feel comfortable offering to help. It’s not that you love assembling particle-board furniture. You offer to help because you consider this person to be a friend.

Here, you learn several more things about this person. You learn where they live and in what type of neighborhood they reside.You learn about how tidy (or unkempt) they keep their yard and home. You also get to see how they handle frustration and how well you work together at solving a problem.

If things go poorly and they wind up throwing a screwdriver at you, it would be wise to move them back down to the “acquaintance” level and make efforts to avoid them in the future. However, if things go well and you successfully assemble the bookcase you might consider maintaining and/or nurturing the friendship. And if you so choose, you may even want to move the relationship into more intimate territory – which brings us to level four.


Intimate Friends

Intimate friends are rare and special and to be valued like the treasure they are. These are the people you call when your mother is in the hospital. They are the ones who bring you a casserole, a bottle of wine, and sit with you as you sort through the feelings. You’re not afraid to cry in front of them because you’ve seen them cry too. And you keep very few secrets from one another.

While these friendships greatly enhance one’s quality of life, they can also hurt when they end greatest for a variety of reasons – relocation, career change, illness, or death. These relationships also cary potential for feelings of betrayal, loss, jealousy, and loneliness when they sour. In short, choose your friends wisely and be sure to put them through the trust levels at an appropriate pace.



Level five is the ideal of every marriage, romance, and fairy tale. In “partnership,” two parties trust each other deeply and completely. There is a great deal of understanding between them and it is an ironclad bond that cannot easily be damaged or broken. In short, this is the unicorn of relationships. The stuff of legends, you are fortunate to forge one of these relationships even just once in a lifetime.


Leave a comment


  1. Very interesting.

  2. Reblogged this on Just One Take and commented:

    I’m working on a follow-up to this post, including some personal real-world examples 😉

  1. Trust Levels in the Real World | Just One Take
  2. Trust Levels in the Real World (Part Two) – Shall We Dance? | Just One Take
  3. Trust Levels in the Real World Part Two – Shall We Dance? | Just One Take

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