Like armor, good friends make us almost invincible, capable of warding off the blows life occasionally deals us. The need for social bonding and friendship is established at birth and evolves from then on. Although it is recognized and learned at a very young age, friendship can have a different meaning for everyone. You may choose your friends based on affection, disclosure, or shared values and interests. Since friendship is so common and natural, the variations and types of friendships as well as the different ways we interact within those friendships, are often over-looked and frequently not paid attention to. Within this paper I will examine the main types of friendships human-beings commonly experience, same-sex friendships and cross-sex friendships. I will also be examining how we interact within these friendships, the similarities and differences between them, and will be providing examples to help you gain a better insight on the topics. Since friendship is such a prevalent part of life, it is important to fully understand why we form the relationships we do and what makes these relationships work for us; because by being aware of how different friendships function may help your relationships be more successful in the future.
Friendship in general has been the focus of a considerable amount of studies; however most of these studies have mainly focused on same-sex friendships. A same-sex friendship is a relationship where both individuals have the same sexual origin. This would constitute male-male and female-female friendships. This is the most common type of friendship women and men will usually experience and there are many similarities and differences discussed between the two types of relationships.
A variety of differences have been investigated within male-male and female-female friendships, but by far the most prominent difference studied would be that women’s friendships tend to be more expressive, emotional, intimate, richer, and include more self-disclosure than men’s; whereas men’s tend to be more instrumental and are task, goal-, and activity-oriented (Wright & Scalon, 1991; Monsour, 1992; Duck & Wright, 1993; Brehm, 1992). Women’s friendships are represented as intimate relationships in which sharing feelings and talking are the most prevalent activities. Men’s friendships are represented as one’s in which sharing activities such as sports or work dominate interaction (Walker, 1994). Women’s friendships are face to face: they talk, cry together, share secrets, and that is what makes their friendship satisfying. Men’s friendships are side by side and almost always revolve around some type of activity. For men, it is the doing, not the talking, that makes a friendship close (Floyd, 2009). The talking that does go on within female-female relationships compared to male-male relationships could not be more different. Women will almost always exchange feelings and talk about problems and men will discuss sports, work, or what is happening in their immediate lives. An important difference between same-sex friendships is that female ones tend to be more oriented towards emotional intimacy than male friendships (Dickens & Perlman, 1981). Men will generally be less physically affectionate with other men (hugging, putting arms around each other, kissing) because they know that this behavior goes against cultural norms. While taking gender roles into consideration, women are technically raised to be more open and nurturing, whereas men are raised to be masculine and competitive.
One example of media that displays how women interact within female friendships is the hit movie Sex and the City, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon. This movie follows four best friends in Manhattan, who share their travels in life and love and their daily discussions of romance and sexuality. In the movie Sarah Jessica Parker plays Carrie Bradshaw, A New York writer who has a column on sex, love, and relationships. She is finally getting married to her on-again off-again boyfriend of years. When he stands her up the day of her wedding, it’s her three girlfriends who are left to console and support her, being there for her every step of the way through a long, dramatic recovery process. With the help of her girlfriends, Carrie’s life eventually returns to normality. As they are sitting discussing their hardships and the importance of friendship, Samantha says, “We made a deal ages ago. Men, babies, doesn’t matter. We’re soul mates!”
Another example of media that displays how men interact within male friendships is the movie Old School, starring Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Luke Wilson plays Mitch, a man with a good job, a house, and a healthy intimate relationship; or so he thinks. Until one day Mitch catches an early flight home to find out his girlfriend has not exactly been faithful over the years. When Mitch addresses his friends, Frank and Beanie, they discuss how they have all come to a crossroads in their lives. They can choose to be responsible adults with wives, families and steady jobs; or they can postpone adulthood in favor of returning to college and start a fraternity with all the fun and none of the education. Instead of the three friends addressing their problems head on or helping each other come to terms with the complications in their lives, they closet their feelings and do not find a proper solution. Now, the majority of their time is consumed in the activity of starting a fraternity together, centered on drinking, women and living a carefree life. As you can see, these movies depict same-sex friendships between females and same-sex friendships between males very differently.
Gender differences that exist between male-male friendships and female-female friendships have clearly been demonstrated in the literature but lately, scholars have questioned its magnitude (Fehr, 2000). Research emphasizes the fact that both men and women look for more or less the same things from their same-sex friendships, they just accomplish getting it in different ways. Male friendships are not inferior to female friendships. Men may not be physically or emotionally expressive, but they also derive great support from their friendships (Zaslow, 2010). The fact that women’s and men’s relationships differ does not mean that friendships are more important to one sex than the other. It is believed that because women share and express feelings more openly with each other, women’s friendships are more satisfying than men’s are. Research has demonstrated that women and men report equal levels of closeness in their same-sex friendships (Floyd, 1995). What do differ between the male-male and female-female relationships are simply the characteristics that make those specific friendships close. For women, the key characteristic is shared conversation; for men, its shared activity (Floyd, 2009).
Two movies that express similar female-female friendships and male-male friendships is The Sandlot and Now and Then. The Sandlot, starring Tom Guiry as Scotty Smalls and Mike Vitar as Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, is about the summer escapades of a group of local baseball buddies. These small town baseball players are young neighborhood friends who grew up together. They also all have one common interest that keeps their friendships thriving, their love of baseball, which is what their summer adventures are mainly focused around. These boys are all very different, and throughout the movie are not physically or emotionally expressive towards one another, but remain friends through the years simply because of the shared activities they enjoy doing with one another. Later on in the movie, after the boys made the transition into adulthood, Benny Rodriguez becomes a professional baseball player and Scotty Smalls is a sports commentator for one of his games. After Benny hits a home run ball to win the game he looks up at Scotty and gives him a wave and Scotty looks back at him smiling and nods with approval. These shows the men are still friends from childhood, and their friendship is still mainly focused around the shared activity and the memories they have playing together many years ago.
The movie Now and Then, starring Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gabby Hoffman and Ashley Aston Moore, is about four inseparable childhood friends who experience one of the most eventful and dramatic summers of their lives together. They are also neighborhood friends who grew up together in the same area. Their summer started out normal with attempting to save up money to buy a tree house and tell-all truth or dare sessions, and then suddenly their not-so-innocent world of childhood adventure was cracked by the reality of divorce and a death in one of their families. Although they are young, they are there for each other in overcoming these tragedies together and giving each other a shoulder to lean on through it all. Experiencing these hardships together makes their bonds stronger than ever and leads them to make a pact one summer day stating that they would always be there for each other, no matter what happened in life, all for one and one for all. They stayed true to their pact later in life, and remained in contact. They met back in their hometown whenever necessary to talk, to cry, or just share laughs and reminisce about old memories when they needed a friend. These girls remained friends later in life not because of the activities they shared together, but mainly because of the emotional bond they developed with one another. These two movies depict similar same-sex relationships because they are both focused on childhood friends in which a strong bond still remains throughout adulthood, but the reasons of why the bonds still remain later in life differ from the female friendships to the male friendships.
A cross-sex friendship is where one individual in the relationship is a man and one individual in the relationship is a woman. Cross-sex friendships are a relatively new concept and have only existed for about 100 years (Swain, 1992). Changes in our society have made the existence of cross-sex friendships possible. These friendships can be difficult to establish, and pose a number of different challenges than same-sex friendships.
Cross-sex friendships can be difficult at times. O’Meara (1989) presented four challenges that occur at some point during a friendship between two individuals
of the opposite sex. First, the individuals need to confront the emotional bond that exists between them. They need to address the bond, and clearly distinguish between each other what it is. The feelings that exist between two cross-sex friends can be confusing and hard to establish between romantic or non-romantic feelings. This is important to address in the beginning of your relationship due to the fact if it goes ignored, it can complicate your relationship in the future. The second challenge is the added concern of sexual attraction (O’Meara 1989). Sexuality becomes an issue in cross-sex friendships. Added sexual dimension in a friendship can cause problems, for this reason many make the decision not to involve sexuality in their friendship in order to preserve the relationship. The third challenge that O’Meara (1989) presents is inequality and power. He states that men are often seen as dominant in our society. This can often pose problems in cross-sex friendships because the two individuals must find a way to feel as though they are equal. The fourth challenge described by O’Meara (1989) is public relationships. He states that cross-sex friends often have to deal with how they are viewed by others, which results in them often having to defend the status of their friendship. Many find it difficult to accept the fact that a man and woman can have a platonic relationship.
A movie that accurately describes some of the problems that arise from cross-sex friendships is My Best Friend’s Wedding, starring Julia Roberts, Dermont Mulroney and Cameron Diaz. In this film Julia Roberts plays Julianne Porter a New York food critic who has a longtime male friend Michael O’Neil (Dermont Mulroney). They have remained friends since college and lead what seemed to be a very normal platonic relationship. They talked often about relationships, family, and enjoyed doing many of the same activities together. That all changed one day when Michael called Julianne to tell her he had recently become engaged. While taking this information in she realizes she loves Michael herself and sets out to sabotage his wedding with only days before the ceremony. Her tactics fail and Julianne finally has to accept she has lost her love and longtime friend to another woman.
There are also reasons that cross-sex friendships are successful and rewarding relationships for both parties, although it is not as common as the problems and challenges that can arise from these friendships. Some researchers have proposed that male individuals initiate cross-sex friendships to have access to sex and females initiate cross-sex friendships for protection (Bleske-Rechek & Buss, 2001). Some cross-sex friends invite sexuality into the friendship. The added sexual dimension in a friendship can be a pleasant aspect within the relationship, but can also cause many problems if you are not careful. Cross-sex relationships are valued because they provide a chance for men to develop friendships with women because they are looking for more emotional and physical closeness. They may want to develop a friendship in search for more self-disclosure and more conversation about personal subjects. Chances are they do not experience this within their male friendships because they assume their male friends will be of little assistance or they fear seeming effeminate. Women, on the other hand, might be looking to form friendships with men in order to have a relationship that requires less intimacy, less personal talk, and more of an activity-based friendship.
Although I am sure examples of successful cross-sex friendships exist in reality, the majority of cross-sex friendships displayed in the media almost always end in a problematic situation. Usually one member of a platonic friendship ends up wanting to be romantically involved with the other. Therefore it was challenging to find a valid example of a successful cross-sex friendship, and I did not succeed in uncovering one.
After discussing the similarities and differences within same-sex friendships, as well as cross-sex friendships and how they can be rewarding or problematic; I hope that you have gained a broader understanding within the complicated subject of friendship. It is inevitable that we all need and strive for friendship, and by looking deeper into a certain area of friendship you may find it can actually answer many commonly asked questions or help resolve a problem you may be having within one of your own personal relationships. This should assist you in constructing your meaning of friendship as well as determining exactly how you are influenced by your friendships and how your friendships are influenced by you.
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