True friendship

Why do only a few friends become BFF’s? Once self-disclosure &reciprocity have been established, the glue that binds is sharing an intimacy.

We posted before that self-disclosure and reciprocity are essential to the formation of a true friendship. However, there is more to strengthening that bond with your super best friend, namely sharing intimacy. As this excerpt from Psychology Today points out the research backs this up.

According to the research of University of Winnipeg sociologist Beverley Fehr, author of Friendship Processes, people in successful same-sex friendships seem to possess a well-developed, intuitive understanding of the give and take of intimacy. “Those who know what to say in response to another person’s self-disclosure are more likely to develop satisfying friendships,” she says. Hefty helpings of emotional expressiveness and unconditional support are ingredients here, followed by acceptance, loyalty, and trust. Our friends are there for us through thick and thin, but rarely cross the line: A friend with too many opinions about our wardrobe, our partner, or our taste in movies and art may not be a friend for long.

When someone embodies the rules—instinctually—their friendships are abundant indeed. Kathy is one of my oldest friends; we were roommates in graduate school and have been through cross-country moves, divorces, deaths, and births together. Her ability to be a friend shines during a lousy breakup. She knows when to listen and make sympathetic sounds, when to act good and outraged at your ex’s bad behaviour, when to give you a hug, and when to tell you to stop obsessing and enjoy a glass of wine. She knows when to offer you her couch. It’s this responsiveness that accounts for her having more friends than anyone I know—certainly more than the five our mothers told us we were lucky to be able to count on one hand over the course of a lifetime.

Compared to these emotional gifts, a friend’s utility paled, Fehr found in her study. Study participants judged as peripheral the ability of a friend to offer practical help in the form of, say, lending 20 bucks or allowing use of a car. This fact often turns up as a truism in movies, where the obnoxious, lonely rich kid can’t understand why always picking up the tab never makes him popular. Money really can’t buy love.

If anything, it’s giving and not receiving that makes us value a friend more. It was the American statesman and inventor Ben Franklin who first observed the paradox, now called the Ben Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” In a nutshell, while material favours don’t even come close to the emotional talents of our friends, we still want to validate our personal judgment by investing special qualities in those we select to help.

In one classic study, participants won “contest money” from a researcher. Later the researcher approached some of them and explained he’d actually used his own money and had little left; could he have the money back? Most agreed. Later, the researchers found, those asked to do the favour rated the researcher more favourably than those not approached. Psychologists concur that the phenomenon stems from a desire to reconcile feeling and action, and to view our instincts and investments as correct: “Why am I going out of my way to help this guy? Well, he must be pretty nice.” The fondness we feel toward our yoga class buddy will continue to grow if one day she asks for a ride home and we go out of our way to give it to her….via Friendship: The Laws of Attraction | Psychology Today

While the Ben Franklin Effect is believed by Psychologists to stem from a desire to reconcile feeling and action, it can also be that when someone shows vulnerability we are more likely to trust them or think well of them as a person. The researcher shows his vulnerability by professing a lack of cash due to using his own money in the experiment. I like him already. The yoga buddy who needs a ride, again vulnerability. Wherever it comes from, if you have true friendship appreciate it immensely. As this quote from Jean de La Fontaine points out “Rare as is true love, true friendship is rarer.”

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