How long does it take to make friends — for someone you meet who’s a potential friend, to turn into an actual friend? If you’re out of college and not a young adult anymore, you know that it sure feels like it’s a process that takes an awfully long time.
Well my guest has actually crunched the numbers on this question and has the numerical figures to answer it. As well as a whole lot of insight into the dynamics of friendship that are harder to quantify. His name is Jeffrey Hall and he’s a professor of communication studies who counts friendship among the topics of his research. Today on the show, Jeff explains the three levels of friends that make up the sort of friendship hierarchy, how many hours it takes for someone to move from one level to the next, and why it’s hard to accumulate these needed hours as an adult. We also talk about how sheer time isn’t the only factor that’s needed to transform an acquaintance into a close or best friend, and the other factors that need to be in play as well. We then shift into discussing another element that influences the friendship-making process: the expectations each friend has for friendship. We discuss how expectations for friendship differ according to sex and personality, and what happens when two people have differing expectations for what it means to be friends.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- Jeffrey’s study on friendship hours
- Jeffrey’s study on friendship expectations
- Related AoM articles on friendship:
- Related AoM podcasts on friendship:
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. How long does it take to make friends? For someone you meet who’s a potential friend to turn into an actual friend? If you’re out of college and not a young adult anymore, you know that it sure feels like it’s a process that takes an awfully long time. Well, my guest has actually crunched the numbers on this question, has the numerical figures to answer it, as well as a whole lot of insight on the dynamics of friendship that are harder to quantify. His name is Jeffrey Hall, he is a Professor of Communication Studies who counts friendship among the topics of his research. Today on the show Jeff explains the three levels of friends that makeup this sort of friendship hierarchy, how many hours it takes for someone to move from one level to the next, and why it’s hard to accumulate these needed hours as an adult? We all talk about how sheer time isn’t the only factor that’s needed to transform an acquaintance to a closer best friend and the other factors that need to be in play as well.
We then shift in discussing another element that influences the friendship-making process, the expectations each friend has for friendship. We discuss how expectations for friendship differ according to sex and personality, and what happens when two people have different expectations for what it means to be friends. After the show is over, check out our show notes at aom.is/friendshiptime.
Jeffrey Hall, welcome to the show.
Jeffrey Hall: It’s good to be here. Thank you.
Brett McKay: So you are a Professor of Communication Studies who has spent a lot of your career researching and writing about friendship, how did you end up on that track?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, I actually, I kind of remember where I started, long time ago when I was an undergraduate student, I realized that one of the things that was really motivating for me as I was trying to understand big questions, like a lot of undergraduate students do like, what’s the best use of your time? How do you really wanna spend your time on this life? And I remember at that time having some really, really excellent friends, you know, people who I wanted to spend time doing road trips with or exploring Los Angeles with, or just spending hours just talking. And I said to a friend of mine at that time, something to the effect of, you know, I think that the feeling of really having a wonderful conversation with somebody and spending time with them that way is almost as good as sex. And they looked at me like this look on their face like, no way, that’s not even possibly true. But at that point in my life, this feeling of what it meant to really connect with people and feeling like people understood you, became a motivator that’s been with me my whole life.
Brett McKay: And so from there on, you just decided, I’m gonna study friendship?
Jeffrey Hall: Well, that was actually a little bit… Took a little more time to get there. And my very first project that I did in graduate school that was about friendship was actually specifically on men’s friendship. I was in a fraternity, I was actually fraternity president when I was an undergraduate student, and one of the things that I experienced there was that men had these really deep friendships, they spent unbelievable amount of time together doing all manner of different things. And one of the things that was really odd though, is that they were also very concerned with what other men thought that they were gay, they were very cautious about that, and they also used a lot of slang at that time to kind of derogate feminine behaviors. And so, my very first project I did in graduate school about men’s friendship, started looking at this idea of men using those kinda language to defend themselves against intimacy. So as they felt greater intimacy with other men, they also use that to kind of as a shield to say, Look, at least you know I’m not attracted to you, I just really, really like you as a person, and that kind of tension for masculinity with men and how all that came about was really kind of the origin point of my academic work on friendship.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Alright, so you’ve written some papers recently where you’ve studied the amount of time and bandwidth investment it takes to make and maintain friendships. But before we get to that, I think it’d be useful to break down the types of friends that we all have, and I think all of us intuitively understand that not all friends are equal, some friends are closer than others, so how do sociologists break down the hierarchy of friendship?
Jeffrey Hall: That’s right. So they actually look at three different categories of friendship that they have pretty well secured and say, these are definitely ones that we would call friendship. One is that you might reserve for a best friend, close friends or best friends is categories that people use often interchangeably. Really kind of referring to people who you’re very close to emotionally, and also find your preference over all other people that you know. The second kinda category is ones that would be broadly just you know, as friends, right? So these are people who you would definitely call a friend if you are asked. They may be old friends that were once very close to you, but aren’t as close to you now. And then the third category would be casual friends and casual friends are kind of a curious category, and one that I think that people kind of know in the sense that they’re not quite acquaintances, ’cause you kinda know them and you would say that they are a friend, but they’re not necessarily people who you would really kind of be as part of your choice of who you might hang out with if you had a lot of time to spend with people.
So these would be people who would be part of larger organizations you’re at, so teammates or work mates. These would also be people who long ago were closer to you, but not as much anymore, kinda ceremonial friends, is what they’re called. And they’re all this kind of collection of people who you come out in different sort of places in your life and are your friends, but you wouldn’t really spend time with them exclusive necessarily.
Brett McKay: Yeah. So, I think of a casual friend, like the guy you see at the gym all the time, and you might…
Jeffrey Hall: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Talk about something, you’re not really friends… I mean, you’re friends, but you’re not.
Jeffrey Hall: That’s right. And I would say one thing to kinda difference the guy you talk at a gym and all the other people at the gym, is all… The other people at the gym you wouldn’t even call a friend and you wouldn’t even bother talking to them. Similarly with people at work, right? There are people who are my work friends, and then there are people who I work with, and they’re not necessarily the same group of people.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Okay, so in the depth of friendship, whether it’s a casual friend, a friend, close friend, it depends on the time you spend with that person, we’ll talk about that here in a bit, but sheer time isn’t the only factor. I mean, if it was then, like you said, all your co-workers who you see pretty much… You probably spend more time with your co-workers and your family, they would be friends, but like you just said, some of them are friends, but most of them aren’t. So what… Is there a certain type of interaction that needs to happen between people so that you can move from acquaintance to casual friend and then casual friend of friend?
Jeffrey Hall: It’s very interesting is that people tend to judge others really fast. Before I did research on friendships, kind of at the same time I was doing research on what’s called person perception, and it’s the ability that people have to judge a person’s personality or make estimations about characteristics about them with just a small bit of information, just a single conversation. And recent research that I was really impressed by argued that this kind of ability of person perception also guides our friendship choice in a way that we almost immediately have a sense of whether or not this person has potential. So, in the same way that when you’re interested in someone romantically, you have a pretty quick estimation of whether or not you’re interested in them pretty quickly. With friends it’s very similar in the sense that we know how similar they are to us, we know what kind of personality that they have, we know whether they respond well to what we have to say.
And this is something that happens swiftly, and then something clicks. The click that happens is not only… The funny thing is, the click is actually even something people have used to describe the process academically, but it’s basically a process of two people mutually recognizing, liking, right? Two people at the same time, or roughly the same time, realize, I like this person and the other person likes them in return, and we see that verbally and non-verbally in conversation. We see that when people make jokes and other people get our jokes. And we see that when a person says something that’s kinda sly or cynical or even something kinda quirky and you totally get it, you know where they’re coming from. And all of those little clues, we suss up very swiftly, and then we say, this person has a friend potential.
So what’s interesting is is that it seems that our ability to judge whether or not we want to be friends with people happens fast, but the process of developing that relationship takes a lot more time.
Brett McKay: Okay, and so, Okay, you have that first recognition, so let’s say you’re talking to some guy at work and he throws out a joke that’s kinda quirky and you got it, and you’re like, Wow, this is a potential friend here. What sorta thing… Like, how do you… What do you have to do to… Besides time, what do you have to do to move that from acquaintance to casual friend?
Jeffrey Hall: So a lot of people, what they do is they change kinda their routines at work. So if you were somebody at work, you might stop by their office more often. You might see if they wanna have lunch together during work hours. You see whether or not they’re going to the same kinda training or otherwise. You sit by them during a meeting. What’s interesting is we do a lot of behaviors that are simpler than what you might do like in middle school to show, these are the kinda people who I wanna spend time with. So that kind of workplace is the first kind of place in which the people develop that friendship. It usually doesn’t happen that people meet at work and then immediately say, Hey, do you wanna come to my house, or do you wanna have a drink after work, or do you wanna join my softball team? That’s a little unusual. And part of it is, is that we are not normative-ly accustomed to the idea that friendship should be something that develop through a process of invitation, although I would argue that that invitation act is critical in moving a friendship forward.
Another project I did at the University of Kansas with a graduate student, I focused on this idea of turning points, and we need this moment in our friendship to signal that you’re open to having kind of a deeper relationship with another person. So although immediately after clicking with somebody, you start kind of redirecting your behavior to spend more time with them at work, at some point, if you want that friendship to develop into something more significant, you have to actually take some risks. And those risks require spending time outside of work.
Brett McKay: Right. And inviting them to go get drinks, go to a ball game or something like that, whatever.
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, exactly. So I’ve made friends through people who were part of a softball team when I first got to the University of Kansas. I’ve made friends with people who… We had a similar interest in things that were going on around town or wanted to go to a basketball game together. And so there are a lot of possibilities of what you might invite people to, but there’s a lot of social awkwardness that comes along with that invitation as well, which is I think why people are so reticent to try.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s say you’ve made that move, there’s that turning point, you’ve turned an acquaintance to a casual friend, you spend time and you get closer, like, what has to happen, what sort of interaction has to happen to move from, say, friend to best friend or good friend?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, so what’s interesting here is my study that I did on friendship hours basically took three processes into account. One of them is just time and time alone. So this study got really popular because that it provides some sort of estimates that people can think about in terms of what it requires to get there. And I think that those estimates are important, because what they seem to suggest is if you have less than that amount of time, then you probably haven’t spent enough time on that person to call them this type of relationship. So it’s kind of more of the idea of, this is kind of the range of where things start to change. The second thing we looked at is, how do you spend your time together? And what my study found was the more time you spend hanging out with somebody, the greater chance that’s going to develop into a more intimate friendship. But the more time you spend just at work or school, it decreases the likelihood of that developing into a more intimate friendship.
And the third is, how you talk to someone. So there’s a long, long history of doing research on relationship development focused on something that’s called self-disclosure, and self-disclosures come as a huge body of literature that says that if I talk about myself or reveal more intimate details of myself, that this develops liking. Well, I broaden that description quite a bit in my study to say that it doesn’t require self-disclosure necessarily, but it does require doing things like joking around, having catch-up conversations, being like, so what have you been up to? Or, how did that thing go that you went to? Or what’s been going on in your life? And then also meaningful talk, and meaningful talk doesn’t have to necessarily be like, your personal trials and tribulations, although it could. Meaningful talk could also be talking about things that you really care about, you know? Things that you’re concerned about in politics or things that you’re concerned about at work that really matter to you personally, and having another person listen.
So the idea that I’m working with is that there’s kinda like three separate factors that are all going on in that relationship development. In order to develop a really best or a very close friend, you kinda have to have all three.
Brett McKay: Okay, so let’s do a quick recap here. So the time you spend together counts, but it can’t just be time you see someone at school or work, because… I mean, you see people every day at school and work and you don’t become friends with those people. It also matters how you spend your time together and how you talk with someone. And there are three types of interactions that increase your intimacy and can increase your chances of becoming friends with someone, the first one is self-disclosure, then there’s having meaningful conversations, and then there is just catching up on the every day stuff as well, like, what’s going on with work, kids, etcetera? And if you wanna move from friend to best friend or close friend, you wanna have all three of those conversations.
Okay, so even though time isn’t the only factor, I wanna focus on that a little bit, because you’ve done some research as to how long it takes to move up the friendship hierarchy. So let’s talk about that for a bit. Let’s say you meet some guy, you hit it off, you have a lot in common, you get along great, how long is it gonna take to move from acquaintance to a casual friend?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, so according to my study, that range happens somewhere between 40 and 60 hours of time together. So the study that I did actually had two parts to it, one was focused on adults who geographically relocated, and they typically relocated for work or for family. And then the other one was on college freshman, and I caught them three weeks right after they had arrived at the University of Kansas and looked at who they had been spending time with in those three weeks before the start of the semester. And in combination kind of that first estimate of casual friend from acquaintance came from the idea that probably for adults it took… According to my study, it took longer for adults to develop friends, but what’s tricky about that is because there was a retroactive study, it could be that they had already developed a casual friendship and were just spending more and more time afterwards.
Because the one done on students was done prospectively, meaning, we caught them so early on, we were actually able to see changes of different time windows. So that estimate is really the 40 to 60 hours is meant to accommodate the idea that it depends kind of on whether or not more and more hours are accumulating with this person. And you can imagine how that would do that in a school setting or in a work setting. The next kinda level of change happens between 80 and 100 hours of time, and between 80 and 100 hours of time, you kinda go from the casual friend to the friend category, and this happens really sort of in a development of a greater amount of time spending time away from the place that you met, spending time hanging out, spending time playing, you know, whether you play video games or watching TV or going to events together. So it kind of diversifies the kind of ways in which you’re experiencing the other person.
And the third level is over 200 hours it takes to make a close or a best friend. And I actually think that might be a conservative estimate, meaning, I think it might actually take longer than that. And part of the reason that it takes so long to develop that level of intimacy with another person is, you have to get to the point where your guard is dropped, you have to get to the point where you’re feeling comfortable being yourself around this other person, and I think for a lot of people, they don’t get to that level of comfort with another person to allow for a best friendship to develop.
Brett McKay: Okay, so it takes about 200 hours or more to make a closer best friend. So to clarify, do these hours include both times spent at school or work and outside of it, or is that just time spent together outside of the school or work?
Jeffrey Hall: No, both. So that estimate came from time spent in both places.
Brett McKay: Okay. And is there a certain timeframe that you need to accumulate these hours within? Something like in high school or college, when you’re seeing your friends every day, all day, and then you might be spending every weekend together, so you might accumulate those 200 hours within a matter of months. I mean, that’s why when you’re young, it feels like you can meet someone one day and then in a few months later, you guys are best friends, but when you’re an adult and you’ve got a job and you’ve got a family, and you might see a friend just like a few hours every month. So it could take possibly several years to accumulate 200 hours. So do you need to accumulate all those hours within a certain window of time or can it be spread out over several years?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, I think they absolutely can. One thing you’re pointing out that I think is very important is that when you have the luxury of time and you’re open to developing relationships, such as when you’re in school or a young adult, studies actually suggest that people build really strong friendships, usually within the next, about three or four months. And the reason that it’s such a short interval of time is people kind of make a choice because they have so much luxury of time and different people to make friends with, that by the time that four months elapse, you’re kind of where you’re going to be with that person. I think that you’re right, that for adults, there is some evidence to think that this is not only a more gradual process, but remember when we’re talking about 200 hours, we’re talking about someone who becomes your best friend. And I think that that standard is actually quite high.
To develop a brand new best friend is quite a hefty endeavor. It’s not something that you can do simply or it’s not something you can do the process if you’re just really liking someone or spending a little bit of time together. So I think that you’re correct that as an adult to develop a best friend, probably it takes many, many more months, and maybe even years in the process of slowly, gradually accumulating kind of that level of closeness and intimacy, which can be done in a lot of different ways as you kind of progress through that process.
Brett McKay: Okay. So the lesson there is that adults need to be patient with making friends. I mean, if you’re expecting to make a new best friend or a good friend in a matter of months, like you did in high school or college, you’re probably gonna be disappointed.
Jeffrey Hall: Absolutely, I actually would find it hard to believe that there’d be a context in which that you would be able to do so as an adult, unless you found someone who is just in the exact same stage where you’re at, where you’re really open to meeting someone new.
Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s another interesting hard thing about adult friendships is that you’re in different stages with different people, so like, you might be newly married, no kids, you have a lot of time, and then you meet some guy who’s married and has three kids and is coaching football or whatever, you guys… You might have a lot in common, but it might not turn into friendship ’cause you’re out of sync.
Jeffrey Hall: That’s exactly right. Being ready to actually invest time in friendship is, I think that’s something that people imagine that’s only on them, and sometimes they find it really frustrating because they can’t make the other person be available in the way they might like. But it’s probably more common than not that two people are on different pages, and that’s why I think also circumstantial-y, when you are a young adult, it’s so much easier is that many, many people are open to the process of developing friendships and having a longer time to spend together with their friends.
Brett McKay: Okay, so one of the obstacles to making friends as an adult is that not everyone’s at the same stage in life, or some people just aren’t open to friendship at the same time. Besides that, are there any other obstacles to making friends as an adult and accumulating those hours and hours it requires to make a friend?
Jeffrey Hall: There are, I think, three kind of key parts to this, one is that we really value work in the [chuckle] United States. We work more than any industrialized country in the world. We work longer hours, and what’s weird is, is that in other countries as people get more education or they have more access to resources, they actually work less, but the United States, if you make more money, you just keep working harder, and a lot of that is due to a broader cultural value that we put on that, the second I think factor, which I think is really difficult is geographic kind of mobility, we move from place to place to place, so we actually lose out on all of that basis of friendship that we’ve built with another person. We pick up and go to another place.
Now, you don’t lose all of your friends, when you move, but study after study has confirmed that moving is a huge threat to being able to maintain friendship over time, and I think the third probably has less to do with just United States, but if you ask both men and women, people throughout the world having kids and getting married are huge killers to friendship, and both of them is because that they’re a huge amount of emotional time and also physical time with two people, basically all of that time is being invested in your most important relationships, and so you don’t make time with friends.
What’s interesting is in the past, there’s good reason to believe that, due partly to gender segregation, where men and women had different activities, due in part to also kind of a more open culture in the sense that people were more likely to do things like join bowling leagues and be part of the Elks Club and all that kind of thing. They spend a lot more time out of their house with people who are not their family, and so there was more of an understanding that if you left your home during the week to go do things, it wasn’t an insult to the people in your home, it was just kind of how you were in the society that you lived in, but I find that in our culture, those forces of work, the forces of geographic mobility and the forces that have really said people and men particularly, should be spending more time with their kids and with their loved ones at home means that that time that they would spend outside of their home developing friendships has really been very much curtailed and in some ways minimized as a value.
Brett McKay: So it sounds like if you wanna make friends, you have to make it a priority, you to put it on your schedule. Or it’s not gonna happen.
Jeffrey Hall: Bingo. And I feel strongly about that. I’ll just tell anyone out there who’s interested, I actually have it on my list of things to do sometimes, and I’m not even kidding, if I wanna keep in touch with my friends, I put it on my… Make us an appointment, and I have a standing conversation with my best man from my wedding who lives in Los Angeles and I live in Kansas, and we talk once a month, sometimes we only get to talk for 15 minutes, sometimes we talk for longer, but we make it a priority. And so what’s odd as that even someone like myself, who you’d think I’ve cared about friendship along time I study it. It would just come naturally. You really have to make it a priority in life, otherwise it won’t happen.
Brett McKay: Now, I think that’s a good point. I think a lot of people don’t do that because they think, Well, it’s friendship you don’t have to make it like this sort of, it’s not a to do, but you kinda have to make it that way or it’s not gonna happen.
Jeffrey Hall: I think so, you know what’s funny about things about the to do concept is that a lot of people actually think that the process of having to organize something makes it less pleasurable, but then a lot of research suggests also that when you have something to look forward to it’s actually really nice, like being able to anticipate the lunch that you’re gonna have with a friend or being able to anticipate hanging out with the guys or anticipate that phone call, a friend from long ago also has its own rewards. And so people have this kind of interesting characteristic where they call it negative forecasting bias, where they imagine something is in the future, they don’t wanna put on their calendar, ’cause like, God, making friendship into a chore that’s like the worst thing ever? But oddly, by rendering it into something to look forward to and it’s something that you can actually plan for, it actually makes the experience of having it that much more fun.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show. So we’ve talked about how much time you get to spend with someone so they’d become a friend, do we have any research on how long it takes for a friend to descend down the hierarchy of friendship? Right, so for example, if you don’t invest regularly in your best friendship, how long does it take for that best friend to become a casual friend into sort of an acquaintance?
Jeffrey Hall: What’s very funny about that is that there are two thoughts, schools have thought about this, there is pretty consistent information and evidence that says that people in the casual friend realm are turning in and out of that all of the time, different stages of your life from middle school to high school, to college, to young adulthood. To the time with your family. Places you change to go to different places in the country of the world to live, that these people who are your casual friends there will go away, and some of them will maintain through things like social media or Facebook or otherwise, but many of them are just people who will disappear, and interestingly, there’s good evidence to say that those people… The loss of those people isn’t necessarily a bad thing, people don’t feel particularly sad about having lost their casual friends, but what I would say is that having that kind of group of casual friends to reconnect with is a useful thing to have if you move back to the place where you met them. So if I move back to Los Angeles, for example, I would have a whole set of casual friends I’ve kept in touch with a little bit that I might re-enact a friendship with, if I live there.
However, when it comes to best friendship, that’s where the school thought kinda differs. What’s interesting is, is there are these several studies, one that was done in the early 90s that I really like, it was called Just Friends, and this researcher or a sociologist interviewed men and women about their best friendships, and then they would interview the best friend about the friendship as well, and what they found was that there were people who basically said, this person is my best friend, the researcher would reach to the best friend, the best friend would be like, I’m their best friend. I had no idea. That’s fantastic, I haven’t seen them in years.
So you can keep this best friend in your life and your emotional sense of who I am, and even in a relational sense, even if you don’t communicate with them very often, and I think what’s interesting about that to me is that we do have the value of feeling like we’re connected with someone, but if we don’t enact that, then we don’t know about the benefits of it. So what I’m getting at is that there seems to be two different processes going on in my own research looks a lot at this one is the relational process, are there people in my life? And the second is the communication process, which is how often do I talk to them and both contribute to your well-being, so if you wanna have the best possible, best friendship experience, you actually have to do both the communication part and the having part.
Brett McKay: And so, yeah, this means you could still maintain a best friendship, even if that person moves you just like you make it a priority to talk to your best man, at your wedding at least once a week.
Jeffrey Hall: Once a month, yeah. Craig and I talk once a month. And I love it, I look forward to that conversation. We just dive right in. And even if we only get 20 minutes. He’ll be like, Okay, I got 20 minutes. I’m like, Okay, let’s work. Let’s take it. And you gotta make it a priority absolutely.
Brett McKay: And I think it’s interesting too. If you ask a lot of people like, Oh, who’s your best friend? They’ll often mention someone from high school or from college, even though they haven’t seen them in decades, and I’ve noticed that like, Oh, who’s your best friend? I’ll include in that list my best friend from high school. And we haven’t talked in a while, but if we got together, I feel like we would pick up right where we left off.
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, that’s a definitional characteristic of a best friend. The thing that makes best friends or close friends, close friends, is that they are people who we can stop having the relationship with, and then when we see them again, we still get to have that sense of closeness and that sense of camaraderie. I too had an experience like that, or a close friend of mine from college, I saw in New York a couple of years ago, ’cause I was going up there, work, and we just spent a long afternoon evening together, and I had just a fantastic time of catching back up again, but neither one of us do a very good job of keeping intention in the meantime, so I think what’s lovely about these things is that the kind of concern or the worry, Well, if I reconnect with my old friends or otherwise, it may not be as much fun. Typically speaking, if you’re as close to that person as you were, then chances are, it will be a very good experience.
Brett McKay: Another component that influences making and maintaining friendships that you researched are the expectations each person in the friendship has for the friendship. So what are the factors that you found that shape a person’s expectations for friendship?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, when I did that expectations project, and that was where my interest began to go away from just looking at men’s friendships and look at differences between men and women’s friendships. People have a set of expectations for what it means to be a friend, what does it require minimally for someone to become a friend or to be a friend, and those projects really focused on the ideas, how does our concept of what friendship is differ between men and women and other wise. One of the things that about that Friendship of expectations project that I looked at and I find really fascinating still, is that I argued something that I call cultivated complexity, which is essentially the idea that you cultivate a level of expectations and complexity of those expectations with another person, so that for some friends, you can have very simple expectations of what it means for you and them to be together as friends for other people, the friendship list of things you expect from them may be very, very big.
What’s fascinating is that if you expect too much of your friends, you’re often disappointed, but if you expect nothing from your friends, a lot of times they don’t even meet that minimum standard. So there’s just kind of this middle ground, which seems to be the people who are functioning the best in friendship is they’re able to expect enough from their friends to be able to get those relationship factors out, but they’re not expecting so much to be disappointed when their friends aren’t there for them every single time and in every single circumstance, and not so… Expecting nothing, is that basically that relationship goes nowhere. So those kind of expectations really play a role in being able to set the stage for what you want that friendship to look like.
Brett McKay: And so what are some things when we’re looking at, what kind of expectations we have for the friendship, what are we looking for? Is it just a matter of how much you’re gonna invest, interest… What are the factors we look at?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, so the main factor, the one that’s actually the most important in many ways is the one that we… Is kind of a trust, a sense that that person is gonna be there for you when you need them? A sense in which that they value you as a person, the idea that their concern for you is genuine, so these kind of four issues that you can trust them, that they’ll be for you, that they truly like you for who you are, and that you can count on them, or they genuinely believe the things that they are, they’re not fake, or they’re not just kind of fair weather friends, that’s kind of the core expectation of friendship and the most important one. Then other ones we’ve talked about already, one is things like having somebody who’s similar to you is a set of friendship expectation, similar value, similar hobbies, one of them is things around self-disclosure, so self-disclosure expectations, one of them is about having fun with another person, spending time together, the expectation that they’re gonna include you in things and invite you to do things, and then there’s a final set of expectations, which are pretty small, the big picture, but also things like…
It’s nice to have friends who know people or nice to have friends who are well-connected in business, or it’s nice to have friends who are athletic, or it’s nice to have friends who are kinda of socially popular or otherwise. And so these are also things we like to have in our friends, but are ancillary to friendship, but my project on expectations was saying, these are the kinda six sets of expectations we can have for our friends.
Brett McKay: So it sounds like you can have different levels of friendships, and listening to you, it sounds like it tracks really nicely with Aristotle’s idea of having three different levels of friendship, in the first level of friendship, it’s instrumental or utilitarian friendship, and this is where it’s a friendship where you just get some kind of use out of the guy, maybe he can help you with your network. Help you with your business. Maybe the second level of friendship is a friendship of enjoyment, so this is where you just have a good time with this guy, but you wouldn’t expect him to visit you in the hospital if you were there, and then the third level of friendship is a friendship of virtue and this is where you help each other become better people, and where you’re just friends for the sake of friendship, and so as a consequence, you’d expect more from this type of friendship.
Jeffrey Hall: You got it.
Brett McKay: So how do we develop these expectations we have towards friendships?
Jeffrey Hall: So this is actually something that starts very early, research on child development says that the process of being able to develop an understanding of what other people can do for us and who they are to us is something that maps on to a developmental process and children, that starts early on. And this is like in our kindergarten age where kids begin to prefer certain playmates, people that they like to spend time with over others, and then a lot of time, it’s because they can jointly play together, they can actually do things at the same time, and they share nice with each other, so they begin to look at their friends as somebody who is sharing their blocks or their cars or whatever, rather than somebody who’s being selfish, those developed expectations get a little bit farther when their play gets more complicated and kind of get even more complex when the social issues become more complicated. So think like middle school, where it becomes super important that you have a friend who’s genuine, super important to have a friend that you can trust to kinda defend your character if another person is being harsh on you.
A lot of this comes from the idea that adolescents actually go through a period of time where they’re really sensitive to both inclusion signals like, Do people like me and want me to be here? But are also very, very concerned with exclusion signals, so the feeling that if anyone slights them or looks down on them, they get really aroused and upset by that kind of thing, so as a consequence, your friendship expectations come from that developmental process, what I think is really interesting is that the developmental process maps on to the three levels of friendship we talked about earlier, so as you said, at that lowest level of, I like this guy is a good guy. Shares nice he shares his toys, that’s a casual friend, or Aristotelian model of a instrumental friend or a utilitarian one.
And then as you move up from friend to close, or best friend, at the very top of our best friend, that’s also the most emotionally developed relationship and friendship. The one that we would only be able to have when we developed a more secure sense of self and other. And that only happens after 15, 16, 17 years old. So what I find really fascinating is this process that your emotional development as a person maps onto your strength of relationship and these three different categories of friendship.
Brett McKay: How do friendship expectations differ by gender, do men and women generally have different expectations for their friends?
Jeffrey Hall: Men and women do have different expectations based on gender, in the case of women, as you might suppose and guess that women tend to have a higher expectation of emotional intimacy, self-disclosure kind of talk, that’s really based upon a high level of sort of emotional talk and also sharing, men and women both share two similar expectations for different categories, they both want their friends to be someone who they can hang out with and share a laugh and enjoy themselves. The other quality that men and women are quite similar on is this idea of kind of genuineness, like this person really likes me for who I am, and men and women are quite similar on their expectations that their friend should be trustworthy and genuine in that regard, all though women do tend to have slightly higher expectations for that than do men. But the last category where men actually have higher expectations than do women, is this category that’s kind of curious, it has all of the different characteristics of what we might want in a friend that’s not about the relationship. So for example, this category included friends who were intelligent and athletic and successful and had good business connections and were attractive and were people who had access to high-paying jobs, and the idea was, is that men more so than women and even young boys and young men. All evaluated friends who had those characteristics as being more valuable friends than did women.
Brett McKay: So status is an important part in male friendship.
Jeffrey Hall: Exactly. And you can kinda see how that changes, and so for boys, for example, status might be somebody who’s popular and athletic but as a young adult, it might be somebody who has access to jobs or comes from a family with income as you’re young adult, you also might find someone who’s well connected, so the idea of these status indicators actually are motivations for men to maintain same-sex friendships in a way that they’re not for women.
Brett McKay: Does personality play a role in our expectations?
Jeffrey Hall: Absolutely, so probably the one that makes the biggest difference of all personality characteristics has to do with this issue of attachment, so people who have very secure attachment have an easier time being able to evaluate others as being a safe place to develop closeness with. They get less anxious if there are these signals of exclusion or otherwise, however, there… The one that people talk about the most and I get this question the most often is, well, what about introversion and extraversion? And what I find fascinating is that there is good reason to think that introverts and extroverts are different on two key phenomena, one is extroverts are comfortable talking to a whole heck of a lot more people and kinda a lot more people as friends than introverts do, but the other one is, is that introverts also tend to find friends and really dedicate themselves, so they have fewer friends, but really work on developing friends, but introversion and extroversion both value friends in a very similar way, they just define and what it means to be a friend, a little bit differently.
Brett McKay: So if you have an extrovert, and an introvert, being friends, the extrovert might have like, you know, Hey, you know, my expectation for you is that you’re just around whenever, if you can’t make it, no big deal. The introvert would be like, Hey, where were you? You were supposed to be here.
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, those kind of miscommunications could come up, one thing that I’m actually thinking in my own experience too, is that I’m probably a little more extroverted in terms of comfortable, certainly talking to different people and making different types of relationships, and one of my friends from college that is much more introverted, one of the things about having a relationship with her is that she’s really like, These are my people. So what’s need is, is that when we’re able to hang out, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did when were in college, we were actually going to more depth of conversation and all the things that a more introverted friendship looks like, so I was able to enact those in my relationship with her.
And in a way, I wasn’t really necessarily able to do with a lot of my more casual friendships. So what I think is important to keep in mind here is that, yeah, there can be conflict between different kind of personality styles or attachment styles when it comes to friendship, but part of the beauty of friendship is you can have friends for different reasons, right, you can have a friend that you talk to about really important stuff, but you can also have friends that you’re always having a great time ’cause everyone’s laughing about everything, you can have a friend who’s fantastic for being in a softball team together, or someone that you like to go out and have a drink and shoot pool with, but can you have another friend who is somebody who would be more likely to invite to a social gathering or someone who you might like to work with, so what’s neat about friendships is that because they’re not exclusive, we can find different parts of ourselves being developed through these relationships we cultivate with others.
Brett McKay: So what happens when there’s two friends, their expectations of the friendship differ. What typically happens?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah what’s most likely to happen is friends very rarely actually have conflict that leads them to go down different paths, and you might be able to guess what are the types of conflict that really break friends up, and this is things like. You cheating on me with my partner, you really let me down, I expected you to be there and you totally blew it, or you’re just downright mean. What’s weird is that friendships can even recover if people like fight or scream at each other or come to blows even, and some research actually suggest that, that can actually even be bonding because you care enough about that other person to argue with them.
So what’s weird is, is when people have different expectations, they’re much more likely to just sort of back off, they spend less time with the person, they don’t say anything, they ignore their texts, they don’t respond, they prioritize other people, and all of these way of disentangling oneself from that friendship usually happens as a matter of course, rather than a matter of intent, so people aren’t going, I need to break up with this person. Instead they’re like, Man, I’m just not feeling it.
Or, you know what, they’re always expecting me to do this and I don’t really want to. Or they’re just not meeting the other person’s expectations for the frequency of communication or type of communication, so the other person stops inviting them. And I think that that’s one of the things about that kind of tension that plays out is we are generally speaking, not going to talk to our friends about the process of relationship disengagement in the way that we would in romantic partnership, where there’s a clear expectation that if things are falling apart, you try to talk it through.
Brett McKay: So when friends have different expectations for a friendship, they typically don’t discuss it, and then they just disengage and the friendship dissolves, but even if it’s not common to talk about the relationship, the friendship, is it possible to have a successful or fruitful discussion about different expectations for the friendship?
Jeffrey Hall: That is a very, very hard thing to do. I think that friends are actually poorly equipped to figure out even how to broach the topic, usually what happens is, is if there is some sort of disconnect, that disconnect happens more because of the sense of reciprocity, I’m providing a lot more to you than you’re providing to me, I’m having to be the one who reaches out more, I’m having to be the one who carries the work and scheduling time together.
And I think those kind of things on a more fundamental level can be managed quite well in the sense that you can actually say… One person, if you are the person on the receiving end of those invitations but not, are not great, at initiating, be thankful and grateful for what the person offers and make sure that the other person knows I really appreciate you keeping in touch, even though I’m not great at it. We’re gonna be self-deprecating about it, I’m terrible at this, but you’re so great and I really appreciate it. So I think there are ways to smooth those edges over, but research on fundamental disagreements of expectations around trust… Violations of trust or violations of intimacy or violations of sense that the other person just isn’t there for you, those are very hard to repair and generally speaking, we do not have a good cultural dialogue or any kind of sense of how to approach when someone actually does something, that’s pretty off.
Brett McKay: Alright, so people are gonna have a hard time discussing deeper expectations in friendship or for friendships, but it is possible to communicate about the more concrete ways there may be some missed signals going on, for example, I know my experience is that most people are either initiators invitors by nature and some people aren’t, and I think it’s just a personality thing. So the people who are natural initiators, they often just need some reassurance from their friend saying, Hey, you know what, just… ’cause I don’t reach out as much. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you, I’m just not very good at. It’s not my inclination.
Jeffrey Hall: But I think that we can misinterpret a lack of equity and friendship as a lack of desire to be in the relationship, and I have had that happen personally, so many times where in just recently I’m back in touch with a friend of mine from undergraduate at least back in more routine touch with a friend of mine, and I had thought all the times that he didn’t return my text or otherwise was just that he had other priorities, and now that we’re back in touch again, he says, I really appreciate all that time that you spent trying to get me to respond, I just did not have my shit together, I did not have my life organized in a way where I could respond, and I’m sorry I wasn’t a good friend, but I’m really glad we’re back in touch now and that is so deeply reassuring to me, ’cause I did have some anxieties like Why isn’t returning my stuff… I don’t get it.
Brett McKay: Yeah and some people are just are bad texters, they just… They don’t do that, but… They probably appreciate it. I think so. So what do you think the big takeaway is about friendship and adulthood that you think people should take away from or they can get from your research?
Jeffrey Hall: Absolutely, I would say the number one is, do not be a flake. Do not be flake if people invite you to do stuff, show up. If you say, Hey, we should hang out together. Hang out, like follow through is key, and follow through doesn’t have to mean like tomorrow, it doesn’t have to mean be next week, it means that you make it something that you… If someone makes a promise or invitation to you to do things, you help make it happen, and one of the things that I think that in our contemporary culture, you hear a lot is that men will… Or, and women for that matter, we’ll say they met somebody really interesting, they like to be friends, like, Hey, we should hang out and do that thing together some time. And then nothing. Nothing happens. That is to me the biggest key indicator of something that has potential, if another person says I want to spend time with you, take ’em up on it and spend time with them. The second big takeaway that I would say is something we’ve already talked about is be intentional, be intentional about spending time with your friends, keeping in touch with your friends.
And then the third thing that I would take away, is support your partner in doing the same. If you’re in a romantic relationship, recognize that you will be happier if your partner also has better relationships with other people, and that goes both ways for both men and women in a heterosexual relationship, and so I think that the takeaways here is that in order to enjoy the great parts about being friends with people, you actually have to enact it, and so I wanna encourage people as much as I possibly can to take those steps to do so.
Brett McKay: Well, Jeff this has been a great conversation where can people go to learn more about your work?
Jeffrey Hall: Yeah, so at the University of Kansas, we have the relationships and technology lab. I invite everybody to check it out and learn a little more about my work, I do stuff that has to do with social media and how that affects our lives, we do work on friendship, and we do work on kind of all of those issues of this intersection between relationships and technology and friendship is one part of that, so I welcome everybody to kinda learn more about it.
Brett McKay: Well Jeff Hall Thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Jeffrey Hall: It has been my pleasure. Thank you.
Brett McKay: My, I guest here is Jefferey Hall, He’s a Professor of Communication Studies who specializes in friendship, make sure to check out his show notes at aom.is/friendshiptime where you find links to resources where you delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast, make sure to check on our website at artofmanliness.com or you find our podcast archive, as well as thousands articles written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you like to enjoy. Ad free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium, head over to stitcherpremium.com sign up, use code MANLINESS to check out for a free month trial once you signed up, download this to drop on Android iOS, you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you have done it already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you, please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member if you think you got something out of it, as I always thank you for the continued support until next time this is Brett McKay. Reminding you to not only listen to AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.