WHY FRIENDSHIP HAS BECOME SO POWERFUL
There are reasons friendship is more important than ever
before, and will continue to grow in significance:
1.The trend toward smaller nuclear families is continuing. I
know personally five women and men in their 30s or 40s who have seven to eleven siblings;
it is rare for anyone of my generation or Younger to have more than five children of their
own. Only children, or two, at the most three, is more the norm.
For the only child, friendship offers an opportunity for intimate peer
interaction unavailable in the home. "I would die without my friends," says only
child and mother Carol Ann Finkelstein, whose parents died within a year of each other in
the late 1970s, when Carol was not even 30. "I couldn't function without my friends,
even now that I'm married," she adds.
2. Retirees as well as other nuclear family members are increasingly
relocating due to work, educational, or romantic choices. Because of the
relocation to another town, state, or country of working and retirement-age relatives,
parents, grandparents, and siblings, family members may not be around in adult years for
frequent contact. Although you cannot replace members of your family when someone moves,
you can always form new friendships.
3. The number of working mothers of school-age children continues
to rise. Friendship offers these children an alternative intimate relationship--at
school or after-school play-to the maternal one.
4. Friendship offers the elderly opportunities for close relationships.
As life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of living a decade or more cut
off from the day-to-day interaction offered by a job, or the intimacy provided by a wife
or husband who may predecease his or her mate. Friendship may mean feeling wanted and
useful in your older years instead of alone and isolated.
5. Friendship offers intimacy to singles. For unattached and
unmarried, divorced, or widowed singles, friendship will impact on your mental health
until you start a family of your own, or if you remain or become single for much or all of
your adult years.
6. Even the best marriages may benefit from the emotional and
intellectual stimulation of friendship. For the married man or woman, friends may
offer "another self' to those who need to relate intimately to others outside the
all-consuming and sometimes one dimensional roles of parent, spouse, or worker.
7. Friends provide each other some of the career continuity once
offered by lifetime employers. As companies downsize and few people have the guarantee
of lifetime employment, friends offer continuity to a career or even the inside scoop on
FRIENDSHIP TRAINING BEGINS AT HOME
You probably already know that how you relate to others is
based on the early patterns you learned in dealing with your mother, father, and siblings.
Knowing that fact, and recognizing those patterns, is a crucial first step in changing
your current friendship patterns, if you are displeased with them. It will also help you
to be a more compassionate and understanding friend if your friends disappoint you. They
may be unwittingly reenacting a pattern from their childhood that has nothing to do
with you. For example, a friend who becomes very competitive with you may be doing
it because she was always being compared to her two older brothers. You could reject your
friend because of her competitiveness, but you would then both lose.
Since the only person you can be assured of changing is yourself, start
there. Why does her competitiveness strike such a negative chord in you? Is it really your
friend's behavior that is the problem, or your inability to effectively deal with it and
with her? Welcome this opportunity to work this conflict out with her and with yourself,
or you will find yourself facing the same unresolved conflict over competitiveness with
FRIENDSHIP OFFERS HELP
TO TROUBLED FAMILIES
Their father hit Kurt and his younger sister several times a
week, beginning when Kurt was four. As Kurt explains in the CBS TV special, Break the
Silence: Kids Against Child Abuse, "The abuse finally stopped when my sister told
some of her friends what had been happening. Her friends told a grown-up who they could
trust, who called the child abuse hot line." Kurt and his sister were reunited with
their parents after three years in foster care after their father stopped the drinking
that precipitated the physical abuse. Both their parents learned how to discipline their
children without hitting and causing black eyes or bloody noses.
Whether or not you were born into a nurturing family, your friends
could offer what you need. That is one of the themes of this book: that friends are
an underused source of help for troubled families, especially neglected or abused
children, adolescents, and young adults. Friends can offset the low self-esteem and
loneliness caused by abusive or dysfunctional families before, or in addition to,
intervention by therapists or family services. As then-president George Bush pleaded with
America's youth in September 1989, if they had a friend with a drug problem, "I'm
asking you not to look the other way."
AND HOW I RESEARCHED THIS BOOK
I have always been fascinated by human nature, but my formal
training began in 1970, when I attended Hahnemann Medical College for a graduate
internship in psychiatric art therapy. Over the next decade, I taught college courses,
completed a masters degree in criminal justice, and wrote several nonfiction books,
including Victims (Scribner's, 1978), The Help Book (Scribner's, 1979), and Single
in America (Atheneum, 1980).
My serious interest in friendship began when I was a graduate student
and I dated a man who had a very powerful and supportive friendship network with his best
friends from high school. Although I have always had girlfriends, it was usually just me
and that one other friend. I would usually have numerous unrelated "friendship
pairs"; I longed to have a similar female network of "buddies" with whom I
too would feel genuinely connected. My only sister's imminent relocation with her husband
to Washington, D.C.-for several years, after a decade of living in distant cities, they
had been living in an apartment just a block from my Manhattan residence also caused me to
take stock of my friendships. My sister and I had developed an especially open and
intimate kinship during those years she lived close by; what girlfriends would be there
for me now that my sister would again be far away?
In 1980, as I began to study friendship as the topic for my doctoral
dissertation for my Ph.D. in sociology (City University of New York, 1983), I was
initially fascinated to discover differences between male and female friendships. I also
wanted to explore why friendships end; I soon realized that to learn why friendships
ended, I had to understand friendship beginnings and maintenance.
My dissertation was an in-depth empirical study of the friendship
patterns of 27 young, single women living alone on one randomly selected block on the
Upper East Side of Manhattan. A nine-month analysis and interpretation of those in-depth
interviews dispelled several clichés about female friendships, namely that they often
involved rivalry over men, were mostly pairs or one-on-one friendships, and were based
mainly on sharing confidences.
By contrast, my research discovered that of the closest friendships of
the women I interviewed, less than half (41 %) were between two women or friendship pairs.
The rest were part of a three-way friendship (22%) or a network of four or more friends
(37%). The majority of friendships were based on sharing activities and emotional support
(85%), with only 7% basing their friendship on sharing confidences. Despite the prevailing
myths, only two friendships of the women I interviewed had actually ended because of
rivalry over a man. (Some of the findings from my dissertation were discussed by Letty
Cottin Pogrebin in Among Friends, Eva Margolies in The Best of Friends, The
Worst of Enemies, and Linda Wolfe in "Friendship in the City," published in New
Over the years, I have followed up my dissertation with more than 250
extensive in-person or telephone interviews on friendship with a wide range of married,
divorced, and widowed men and women as well as children, teens, workers, and executives. I
researched and published a scholarly bibliography with 693 entries, Friendship: A
Selected, Annotated Bibliography (Garland, 1985), a popular booklet on friendship, and
magazine articles for Modern Bride, McCall's, and American Baby. I also surveyed
over 500 students, married men and women, and never-married, divorced, or widowed singles
from throughout the United States as well as from Canada, Japan, Switzerland, India, and
the United Kingdom, including a survey from 1990 to 1992 of 257 randomly-selected members
of the Society for Human Resource Management about work and friendship; since 1994, I have
been conducting an in-depth study of more than two dozen adult survivors of childhood and
adolescent sexual abuse and how those early experiences impacted on their friendship
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN FROM THIS BOOK
No one is born shy or gregarious. There is no such thing as a friendship
"gene." Friendship is a skill you can learn; this book will help you enhance
your friendships as you learn-
Sympathetic and empathetic ways to bring your friends closer
Why some men have twice as many friends at work as do women and why women might
want that to change
The art of self-disclosure-what to reveal, when, and to whom
How to be for others the kind of friend that you want others to be for you
How to increase the likelihood of befriending those who share your values (a
better predictor of long-lasting friendships than doing things together or being nearby).
I have certainly benefited from all I have learned about friendship. My
life is fuller and more rewarding than it has ever been because I put into practice every
day the friendship principles I share with you in this book.
Marriage is relatively easy to define, but what does it mean to
be someone's friend? As a relationship, friendship itself has been shifting in the last
few decades; today there is an eagerness and quickness to call almost anybody a friend.
The next chapter explores definitions of friendship that should help give you a
better grasp of what you mean when you call someone your friend.