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You wouldn’t go months without speaking to or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.Still, survey upon survey upon survey shows how important people’s friends are to their happiness.These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.” The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way more formal relationships aren’t.
In the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom.
Romantic partners, parents, children—all these come first.
And though friendships tend to change as people age, there is some consistency in what people want from them.“I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University.
“Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy.
“Several mentioned, however, that these occasions often were talked about more than they were accomplished.” As they move through life, people make and keep friends in different ways.
Some are independent, they make friends wherever they go, and may have more friendly acquaintances than deep friendships.In a longitudinal study that followed pairs of best friends over 19 years, a team led by Andrew Ledbetter, an associate professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, found that participants had moved an average of 5.8 times during that period.“I think that’s just kind of a part of life in the very mobile and high-level transportation- and communication-technology society that we have,” Ledbetter says.Sometimes it’s a panel, if that.”Friendships are unique relationships because unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them.And unlike other voluntary bonds, like marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure.“And that’s kind of ironic, because at the [wedding], people invite both of their sets of friends, so it’s kind of this last wonderful and dramatic gathering of both people’s friends, but then it drops off.”In a set of interviews he did in 1994 with middle-aged Americans about their friendships, Rawlins wrote that, “an almost tangible irony permeated these adults discussions of close or ‘real’ friendship.” They defined friendship as “being there” for each other, but reported that they rarely had time to spend with their most valued friends, whether because of circumstances, or through the age-old problem of good intentions and bad follow-through: “Friends who lived within striking distance of each other found that…scheduling opportunities to spend or share some time together was essential,” Rawlins writes.The ideal of people’s expectations for friendship is always in tension with the reality of their lives, Rawlins says.“The real bittersweet aspect is young adulthood begins with all this time for friendship, and friendship just having this exuberant, profound importance for figuring out who you are and what’s next,” Rawlins says.“And you find at the end of young adulthood, now you don’t have time for the very people who helped you make all these decisions.”The time is poured, largely, into jobs and families.It makes me sad.* * *As people enter middle age, they tend to have more demands on their time, many of them more pressing than friendship.After all, it’s easier to put off catching up with a friend than it is to skip your kid’s play or an important business trip.