Friendship is arguably the most unique type of relationship in our lives. Friendships aren’t driven by sexual attraction or by a sense of duty, as in romantic and familial relationships, but instead are entirely freely chosen.
My guest today says that’s part of why friendship is both uniquely wonderful and uniquely challenging. His name is Bill Rawlins, he’s a professor of interpersonal communication, and he’s spent his career studying the dynamics of friendship and authored several books on the subject, including Friendship Matters. Bill and I begin our conversation discussing why friendship is often taken for granted, and what makes friendships unique from other types of relationships. We then explore the four particular tensions that arise in friendship: the tension between independence and dependence, affection and instrumentality, judgement and acceptance, and expressiveness and protectiveness. We also talk about how these tensions manifest in male friendships versus female friendships, and whether it’s true as is commonly said that modern men don’t have good friendships. We then shift into talking about how friendships change across the life cycle, starting with how kids think about friendship differently than adults. We unpack why it is we often think of the friends we made in adolescence as the best friends we ever had, and why many men stop having good friends in adulthood. We end our conversation with Bill’s advice for making friends as a grown-up.
Lots of insights in this show on a relationship that isn’t typically examined or well understood.
- What is it that makes friendships such a unique relationship?
- The gifts that friends bestow on one another
- The tension between affection and instrumentality
- How social media changes the nature of friendship
- The tension between judgment and acceptance
- The tension between expressiveness and protectiveness
- How men and women engage in friendship differently
- What men can learn from women’s friendships
- Why it’s okay for men to not talk all that much
- How friendships first develop in our childhood
- Why adolescent friendships maintain such a strong hold over us
- How adult friendships are different from those of childhood and young adulthood
- How friendships get compartmentalized in adulthood
- How can a man make friends later in life?
- Why small talk is so valuable
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The 3 Types of Friendship
- Understanding Male Friendships
- How Solitude and Friendship Make You a Better Leader
- Making and Keeping Man Friendships
- The History and Nature of Man Friendships
- Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection
- Building Your Band of Brothers
- The Nicomachean Ethics
- 5 Types of Friends Every Man Needs
- How to Not Be Disappointed With Your Friends
- How to Communicate Your Needs
- How Men and Women Socialize Differently
- Lonesome Dove
- On the Importance of Keeping In Touch With Old Friends
- Why You Need to Embrace Small Talk
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Friendship is arguably the most unique type of relationship in our lives. They aren’t driven by sexual attraction like in a romantic relationship or duty as in a familial relationship, but instead, are entirely freely chosen. My guest today says it’s why friendship is both uniquely wonderful and uniquely challenging. That is Bill Rawlins, professor of interpersonal communication, and he spent his career studying the dynamics of friendship and authored several books on the subject, including Friendship Matters.
Bill and I begin our conversation discussing why friendship is often taken for granted and what makes friendship unique from other types of relationships. We then explore the four particular tensions that arise in friendships, the tension between independence and dependence, affection and instrumentality, judgment and acceptance, and expressiveness and protectiveness. We also talk about how these tensions manifest in male friendships versus female friendships and whether it’s true, as is commonly said, that modern men don’t have good friends.
We then shift and talk about how friendships change across the life cycle, starting with how kids think about friendships differently than adults. We unpack why it is we often think the friends we made in adolescence are the best friends we ever had and why many men stop having good friends in adulthood. We end our conversation with Bill’s advice for making friends as a grownup. Lots of insights in this show on a relationship that isn’t particularly examined or well understood. After it’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/friendship.
Bill Rawlins, welcome to the show.
William Rawlins: Thanks, Brett.
Brett McKay: You’re professor of communications at Ohio University and you spent your career researching and writing about friendships and communication within friendships. You’ve also written about the nature of friendships and the joys of friendship and the tensions that exist in friendship in a book you wrote back in 1992 called Friendship Matters. I thought it was interesting in the intro of that book you noted that social scientists, psychologists had pretty much ignored researching friendships. Is that still the case today, almost 30 years later?
William Rawlins: I’m going to have to say yes and no. I’m going to say yes because friendship continues to kind of fall through the cracks when people think about sort of the hierarchy of relationships in their lives. I mean, you have work obligations, you have family obligations. Some people are married and have full-time partners, have children. And friendships are profoundly important but somehow taken for granted in that mix, and we can talk about that a little bit more. I believe that more attention is being given to friendship, but not near as much as you would expect.
Brett McKay: Why do you think it gets overlooked? Why do we take it for granted, do you think?
William Rawlins: Well, I mean it’s kind of like … One of the most distinctive qualities of friendship is that you choose your friends and your friends choose you. I mean, so friendships are voluntary. You can’t make people be friends and you can’t prevent people from becoming friends if they choose to live in friendship with each other. That’s a beautiful thing.
However, when you think about friendship, that contrasts with some of the other relationships that are a really important part of our lives. You look at family, that’s a blood bond. You’re never not someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother or sister. You are always related by blood. You can’t wish that away.
Another type of relationship is work relationships that are contractually sanctioned. You sign a contract. You’re working with someone. You have to breach that contract to end that relationship. You think about marriage. Marriage is both a legal bond and in many cases a religiously sanctioned bond, and people have to be divorced to not be married anymore.
Friendship, in contrast to all those relationships, people choose each other to be friends, and they can also walk away from each other. It’s an edifying potential of friendship, but it’s also something that makes it a very risky relationship.
Brett McKay: Besides the voluntary nature of friendship, what else makes friendship unique from other relationships that we have?
William Rawlins: Well, my opinion, sort of voluntary aspect of friendship is definitive, but there’s some other important qualities of friendship that I think are true across the life course. It’s a personal relationship, and what I mean by that is people are friends with someone else because of the person that they are, not for categorical reasons. They’re friends with someone because of the person that person is.
It also involves affection. We care about our friends. People like their friends a lot, and when they become kind of honest with themselves across the course of a lifetime, they realize they love their friends. Some of us realize that sooner than others, but affection is an important part of friendship.
The other two qualities, Brett, that I find very intriguing are friendships thrive on equality. That doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily equally talented or make the same amount of money or equally attractive or equally good at fixing cars or any things. What it does mean is that there’s some aspect of our relationship that functions as a leveler. We stand as equals in certain aspects of our friendship. Maybe it’s we’re football fans and we just flat out enjoy football together and we speak as equals about that. It could be hobbies that we do together.
Because another thing about friendship that I find really intriguing is, is that friendships are always about something. Many times that common interest, we treat each other as equals with regard to that. My Great Uncle Lester owned a farm machinery business. His best friend drove a cab. And they hunted every October, and, buddy, when Reds came into Uncle Lester’s home, they sat down to the table. You could tell so deeply they were friends. They spoke as equals. Their so-called stations in life didn’t make any difference. That’s also part of why friendship is kind of inherently an ethical relationship, and we can come back to that.
The final thing I would say, I’ve said it’s a voluntary relationship, it’s a personal relationship. It’s a relationship that involves affection. It’s a relationship that finds some way to treat each other as equals. Lastly, it’s a mutual relationship. Friends choose each other. If you choose someone as a friend and they don’t respond to you as a friend, that’s a would-be friendship. A true friendship involves people choosing each other for the person that they are.
Brett McKay: Going back to this idea of voluntariness, I mean the thing that’s interesting as well, social psychologists and sociologists have ignored friendship. Philosophers have been writing about friendship for a long time. Aristotle famously wrote about different types of friendships. And C.S. Lewis had this quote that I came across talking about the voluntary nature of friendship. It says, “I have no duty to be anyone’s friend, and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself. It has no survival value. Rather, is one of those things which give value to survival.”
William Rawlins: You bet. That’s a wonderful quote. C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves writes about friendship extensively, and it’s a terrific treatment of that. And, Brett, you mentioned Aristotle. We’re talking about the fourth century, Before the Common Era, BCE, fourth century. Aristotle writes two books about friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics, and he says that life is not worth living without friendship. And I have talked to people, I mean, I’ve talked to people a hundred years old who’ve said that very same thing. They’ve said, “My life would not have been worth living without my friends.”
I like how he says it’s not necessary like all these incredibly necessary things are, but it is something that we choose, and it’s something that we kind of have to live up to. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I mean it’s part of the genius of friendship. Because we choose each other, because you can’t make people be friends, it’s very flexible. Theoretically, we could make friends with anyone, and that’s a really promising potential of friendship. We could reach across differences. We could reach across all kinds of divides and treat each other as friends.
But this voluntary aspect and the fact that I talked with you about earlier, about there aren’t these external sanctions that preserve friendship, no contracts, no blood. Friendships are susceptible to circumstances. I mean, throughout our lives, our friendships can end because of things outside of the friendship, not because of what’s going on between the two friends. We choose each other, and that gives it a lot of flexibility, but it’s also very susceptible to circumstances.
Brett McKay: Well, that’s what you talk about. It’s the focus of your book Friendship Matters that because of the nature of friendship, that it’s voluntary, it’s equal, there’s a role for affection, and people mutually want to be friends is another, there are these tensions that can arise. That first tension you talk about is the tension between the freedom to be independent and the freedom to be dependent. How does that tension play out in a friendship?
William Rawlins: I appreciate your raising that. I mean, when I first began studying friendships in depth, and this has been my life’s work, Brett. I’ve studied friendship since 1978. One of the first things I realized, and it’s still extremely important in my mind, is that when we become friends … See, the first sentence of my second book, The Compass of Friendship, I say, “Freedom lives at the heart of friendship.”
And by that, I want to get right to the question you’re asking me here. When people become friends, they gift each other two freedoms. Brett, let’s say you and I become friends and you say to me, “Bill, I’m glad we became friends and we’ve really had a great time here in Tulsa, and we’re big fans of all the musicians that play, Leon Russell. We’re good friends, but you know what? This podcast has attracted a lot of attention to me, Bill, and I have a chance to move into a market in San Francisco that I would really like to, I’d really like to go there.” And I say, “Brett, you got to do that. Man, you have got to do that. You have to take advantage of that.”
I’m gifting you the freedom to be independent. But at the same time, I say, “But listen, buddy, if you ever need me, I’m here for you.” Friends gift each other both of those freedoms, the freedom to live your own life, to become the best you can be, but also the freedom to depend on that friend if you need to.
The reason why it can cause tensions in friendships is we might both be in really independent periods in our lives, so there’s hardly any connection between us. But there’s that belief and that understanding that if we needed each other, we could call on each other. But what might happen is, I get more and more independent because of what I’m doing and suddenly, you come up against some health issues or some financial issues or some relational issues and you need to depend on me. What if that’s right at the moment where I need to exercise my independence? That can cause problems. Or we could both really, really be needing each other a lot, to the point that we’re not giving each other enough freedom. These are some of the ways those tensions play out.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I appreciate the allusion to the Tulsa music scene. That was fantastic. But another how that tension can play out is that one friend, he puts a premium on independence, while the other friend puts a premium on dependence, and there could be some conflict there.
William Rawlins: Yes.
Brett McKay: The miscommunication can cause frustration within the relationship.
William Rawlins: I appreciate how carefully you’ve read the book. I’m very honored by that, for sure. I mean, we’re going to talk a bit about across the life course people have different kind of styles. They form sort of habits of friendship, and by and large, when you look at gendered patterns of friendship, by and large, a lot of times, males kind of expect and sort of celebrate independence in their friendships. I went with that example at the beginning. I may be playing out a kind of traditional image of male friendships as very independent.
However, you can have friends where one person really wants to emphasize that kind of gift of the freedom to be independent in the friendship, and the other friend might really be a more dependent friend, really kind of value a lot more contact. That’s got to be reconciled somehow. What you see, I mentioned kind of modal patterns of male friendships. A lot of times, men are really, really comfortable with each other being very independent, and we catch as catch can or we have a pattern that works for us when we spend time together or talk or communicate.
Contrast that with a lot of times what happens with women’s friendships is they synthesize this independence and dependence and they develop pretty interdependent friendships, where their lives are very interwoven. If you’re a guy and you’ve really valued and do value independence in your friendship, you may have to be reconciled to the fact that you made friends with someone that wants more contact, wants more dependence, might even be more emotional dependence.
Again, one of the things that has kept me interested in friendship for four decades, Brett, is the fact that people remain friends to the extent that they fulfill each other’s expectation of the relationship. So, if we’re not living up to each other’s expectations, let’s talk about it. We need to figure it out.
Brett McKay: Well, another tension that rises up because of the nature of friendship is the tension between affection and instrumentality. What do you mean by that?
William Rawlins: That’s a very significant one, in my opinion. The tension between affection and instrumentality is, do you care about this friend as an end in itself or do you care about this friend as a means to an end? Now there are different times in our life where we flat out need each other, and that’s understood. But if someone feels like the primary reason that someone is a friend with them, to advance at work or …
See, because across the life course, let’s look at it like that, this is a real tough tension for adolescents. Adolescents are very insecure a lot of times in friendship. They’ve idealized friendships, and then they want to know that that person cares about them for who they are. If they feel like they’re just being cared about because I’ve got my license or because I’ve got the best platform for video games or because my folks have a swimming pool or something like that, it doesn’t make them feel good as friends. They can be very insecure in that kind of friendship, and that plays out across the life course.
Now, again, when you look at gendered patterns of this, by and large, men are fairly comfortable with the notion of an instrumental basis for friendship. They help each other with this, help each other with that. I help you build your deck. You can help repair my car. And it’s viewed as an expression of affection. Many times as you get more into the role crunch of adult life where people are managing a lot of demands, in arrangements where, for example, women are raising children, working, and involved with a variety of activities, it can create tensions between women because they really need to call on each other a lot. At the same time, that they understand that this person cares about them and that’s why they feel like they can call on them.
Brett McKay: Well, this distinction between this tension of affection and instrumentality, this goes back to Aristotle. He hit on this. He was like, “Sometimes there’s friendships of utility.”
William Rawlins: You’re darn right.
Brett McKay: But then the ideal friendship is the platonic, sort of like you’re friends because you both make each other more virtuous and you just love each other just because they are who they are.
William Rawlins: You’re exactly right. I mean, Aristotle, friendship of utility he wasn’t very proud of. He said, “Such friendships end when the utility is over.” He prefers friendships of pleasure, which is friends who enjoy each other. And I really kind of like that Aristotle celebrates this, because part of what friendship is about is deciding what’s the well-lived life. What does it mean to live well? What does it mean to be a good person? And you alluded to this, Brett. The friendship of pleasure is on the way there because we enjoy each other and we share pleasure in things. That’s an important part of friendship, I would argue, across the life course. It still is.
But where Aristotle, what he really celebrates, is what you might call … He called it true friendship. Some people call it character friendship. And that’s sort of the ideal of friendship that I have in mind. When I’m talking with you about a lot of these characteristics, I’m gravitating towards a notion of true friendship like Aristotle would celebrate, where he calls it mutual well-wishing of each other for their own sake. We’re caring about each other for our own sake, kind of what I call the person-
Brett McKay: I’m curious. You’ve been studying friendship for 40 years. Have you been looking at how social media has affected this tension? Because my hunch is social media promotes for a more instrumental friendship. You use friends to, I don’t know, gain status in the Instagram world or whatever. But I mean it could be used for affection, but I see it can be used primarily for instrumentality.
William Rawlins: I just met a couple of hours ago with a capstone course on friendship with 24 seniors in college, and they’re talking about the very thing you just mentioned there. I mean, one of the points they were making in one of our last sessions of the class is how significant it is to have friends that you can talk with, that you spend time in each other’s presence. They are listening face to face or voice to voice, but in real time. They are present to you and concerned and interested in your stories and what you’re going through. And they talked about, almost as you’ve raised the question, how all the gadgets and all the platforms have thinned that out and, in some ways, kind of button-holed friendship, put friendships in certain categories.
And then across the whole array of platforms, I do think it becomes very instrumental for social status, to literally present the appearance of enjoying life, present the appearance of all these activities, while meanwhile, they’re saying … Students have talked to me. They say even getting together for class reunions doesn’t have the meaning it used to have because everybody knows all these things about each other. Everybody’s already made these assessments about each other, but they haven’t talked with each other.
Brett McKay: Another tension that pops up in friendships is the tension between judgment and acceptance. I thought this was one of the more interesting ones because I’ve seen that in my own friendships. Tell us about that tension.
William Rawlins: This tension, I find it captivating and I’m glad you do. I find it very, very significant. It goes like this. We expect our friends to accept us. One of my favorite descriptions of a friend is someone who sees me in ways that I like to be seen. When we come in the presence of a friend of ours, you can kind of see in how they’re responding to you. It’s just very affirming. It’s a very important part of friendship.
We expect our friends to accept us, but a tension arises because we have judged that person to be worthy of our friendship. We don’t make friends with just anybody. We make friends with people who we respect, people we admire. We like their sense of humor. We like their humanity. We like any number of things we might like about them, and we like their character and so we accept them as our friends and they accept us as their friends, but that’s because we have judged each other to be worthy of our acceptance.
What happens is, and this is why it’s a dialectical tension, it’s both mutually conditioning and mutually opposing. It’s conditioning because we’ve judged each other to be worthy of acceptance, but it’s opposing because we don’t enjoy being judged by our friends. I think there’s a lot of times when friends seek out friends and they ask their opinion on something, and it’s not always clear whether they want to get just supported and have the friend support them, accept them, or if they want the friend’s judgment. This is a tension where I wasn’t asking to be criticized. I wasn’t asking for you to judge me. I just wanted your support. But at another point in time, I may very well flat out want to know what you think. I think this has to be understood and navigated by friends.
The thing that was interesting to me is, is that friends many times will judge their friends because they care. They’re judging because they care, and so it can be an expression of caring, but, again, it has to be negotiated. And what I suggest is to communicate your opinions, your evaluations if you believe they’re being asked for with what I call compassionate objectivity, which is to say, I am giving you the straight story, but I’m giving it to you in a way that respects your feelings and that understands. I’m walking on thin ice here. I got to be careful here. I got to tread carefully.
Brett McKay: Another place where that tension can pop up is, let’s say you’re a friend with somebody and you see them making decisions that you know are going to be a disaster for their life. They’re dating the wrong person. They’re about to take a job that’s nowhere or they have a problem with alcohol or some other substance.
William Rawlins: Yes.
Brett McKay: Do I step in and say something? Some people say, “Well, a true friend would,” but then some people, when that actually happens, are like, “I don’t like that. You’re supposed to be my friend. You’re supposed to support me.” That’s another tension.
William Rawlins: Yeah, it is. It’s a great example. I mean, I think it’s one of the really singular moments in what we might call a true friendship when someone risks delivering that judgment that needs to be delivered. There’s a famous story about Richard Pryor and Jimmy Brown, Jimmy Brown the famous running back for the Cleveland Browns and Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor in the early ’80s, he’s the king of the world. I mean, he is on top of the entertainment industry and he’s also freebasing cocaine and he’s destroying himself.
Jimmy Brown comes to him and he says, “Listen, you’ve got everybody who surrounds you is telling you want to hear, but you are not going to do this anymore. It’s going to stop now, and if no one else is going to tell you, I’m going to tell you.” That’s a dramatic example, but you’re exactly right. It’s like, “What do you think of this person? What do you think of this woman?” And your friend says, “Listen, man, I know you’re enjoying this person, but I’m really troubled about some of the things she’s doing and saying to you, and I think you need to think carefully about this.”
I’ve had many people that I’ve interviewed who’ve said a real defining moment in their friendship is when the other person told them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. That’s part of the courage of friendship, and it’s also back to the notion of … What always intrigues me about friendship is it’s all about what’s the well-lived life.
We have standards in our relationship, and if you are suddenly violating the standards, we say to our friend, “Listen, I can’t believe you’re getting involved in this. You have to stop this.” And they, “Come on, man, lighten up. This is only for a little while. I can come out ahead with this.” And you say, “Look, you continue doing this, I can’t be your friend.” Basically, what’s being said is, “I can’t live in friendship with you if you violate this belief that we share and what it means to be a good person.” It’s that serious. It’s that serious.
Brett McKay: This is a related tension, the final one, is this tension between expressiveness and protectiveness.
William Rawlins: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brett McKay: What’s that? What is that about?
William Rawlins: When I first started studying friendship, it was during an era where open communication was being celebrated. Tell everyone what you’re thinking, disclose yourself, make yourself known to others. And the kind of linear model of relationships that was being offered was you should tell a person who’s close to you everything, no holds barred.
See, I spent a lot of time taking with people who are friends, and they were good friends, some of them for a number of years, and what they were saying was not that. What they were saying I described as a tension between expressiveness and protectiveness, and it goes like this. Yes, we need to be expressive with our friends. We need to tell our friends what we’re going through. We need to tell our friends what we think. We need to tell our friends what we think about what they’re going through. That’s how we get to know each other better.
But there are limits to it, and that’s where protectiveness comes in. There’s some things that I’m not going to tell you because I’m not going to tell anybody. They’re things that make me me. They’re things that I just simply do not want to share, and it’s just to protect part of who I am. There’s certain things that I’m not going to tell you because I want to protect you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.
I know that you’re self-conscious about something. We learn that from being friends. If I keep mentioning that, that’s not a productive thing to do. It can make people feel unwilling to be vulnerable with you. See, because the thing about friendship is also we’ve got to be comfortable with our vulnerabilities with each other, and the way we protect our vulnerabilities is sometimes not going there. And there’s other things that you don’t tell friends because they’re your friends.
Brett McKay: In your research, talking about these tensions, these dialectical tensions, do men have a particular style of friendship that leans towards one end of these tension spectrums?
William Rawlins: That’s an important question. Now I’m going to speak modally, Brett. You can have women that have very masculine style of friendship as I’m speaking of it here. You can have men that tend toward a more feminine style of friendship as I’m speaking of it here. I’m talking about modally, a lot of the research that describes men’s friendships and women’s friendships. I’m going to contrast them for you with regard to these tensions we’re talking about.
I mentioned before, as far as independence and dependence, men are really comfortable with a lot of independence in their friendship. Women tend to synthesize those into interdependent friendships. They weave their lives together, and that’s how they live in friendship. In terms of affection and instrumentality, men are getting better, and this is where, I mean, I think our conversation has to acknowledge this right off the bat, that the closer the friendship that a man has, the more these differences kind of go away. In closer maLe friendships, there is this interdependence. The other things I’m going to talk about, it’s not as much of a contrast.
However, let’s go back to the modal pattern. When you’ve got affection and instrumentality, men are being encouraged more to express affection with other men, but there’s still some kind of cultural imagery that has men not being quite as expressive of their affection with other men. Women are very comfortable expressing affection, and they use each other. In terms of affection and instrumentality, men are really comfortable with a lot of instrumentality in their friendships. Women have both affection and instrumentality, and that can get kind of testy, especially when they work together, when they’re expecting, I thought we were friends and now you’re really laying this work thing on me. Men have kept that affection out of it and basically say, “Okay, I’ve got this.”
In terms of judgment and acceptance, this is where when you look at men and women being friends, let me just talk about the contrast a second. All right? Men don’t spend a lot of time judging each other. It’s sort of like accepting each other. If you want to do it, do it, unless something serious like you and I were talking about a few minutes ago. But by and large, hey, do what you want. Go ahead if you want to do that.
Women will be more judgmental of each other. This is kind of the famous drama of women’s friendships. Because they care, they’re going to judge. Men aren’t quite as worried about being seen as caring, so they’re going to accept a lot of things. And when I talk to women, they say one of the things that they like about being friends with men is men don’t, nothing much bothers them. But when you talk to men, one of the things they really like about being friends with women is women really care and are concerned about what’s happening to them.
Brett McKay: Another sort of this idea you hear is that people say that modern men don’t have good friendships. Do you think that’s true or are we misjudging male friendships based on a standard of female friendships?
William Rawlins: I’m glad you asked me that right there. I would like to just quickly tell you expressiveness and protectiveness, and then I’m going to answer your question. Okay?
Brett McKay: Sure.
William Rawlins: In terms of expressiveness and protectiveness, women are more disclosive and tend to say more what they’re thinking in their friendships. Men are more protective. In other words, they keep their thoughts to themselves, and in some ways, that’s celebrated in our culture.
However, I want to look your question in the eye. There’s a few things I want to say. I do believe that we’re starting to see more and more encouragement from men to be able to care about their friends, openly care about their friends and express affection. I mean, you see the “I love you, man.” Men have this way of hugging each other and patting each other on the back. And that’s okay, but I mean even beyond that, I think especially when you get a little farther along in what I call living life for keeps, all of us come to realize how much we love our friends and I think are more inclined to express that.
What I’m going to say is, first of all, I think that, yes, I think that by and large in my book, when I was really after an understanding of how close friendships are made and sustained across the life course, I felt that there were a lot of things that women do in their friendships that would help men to understand how to do. I think when people say that men’s friendships are lacking in something, I think they are holding them up to a standard that in a lot of ways has been composed by how women conduct their friendships.
Now I say that with all respect. Having said that, I want to say that I think it’s a little bit off the mark. First of all, because men are getting better and feeling called to respond and express affection for their friends in more forthcoming ways. But the other thing I want to say is this. You have to back off a second and realize when we talk about affection and instrumentality and we talk about character and we talk about friendships being about something, that’s a really important aspect, almost architecture, of men’s friendships, and it goes like this. You learn a lot about someone by their actions, by whether they show up when you need them, by whether they keep their mouth shut when they should, by whether they stick up for you in a certain situation, like at work where they could have folded but they don’t. You learn about someone there, and you also learn about what you are to them, even just doing things together.
I’ll give you an example. One of my best friends and I went hunting. I wasn’t raised in a family with guns. My dad was a small-town physician, wonderful doctor, but wasn’t too excited about guns. My friend Ed, started to go duck hunting with him, go out on the marsh, see the sun come up, see the ducks come flying in. Fantastic. The point wasn’t so much shoot the ducks, although I was very proud that I was able to once or twice, and we ate them. But that wasn’t the whole point. The point was to spend time together and have this experience. I’m out on the marsh. We’re walking out and my gun goes off. You know what I’m saying? We’re walking out on the marsh and my gun goes off. You know what Ed said, Brett?
Brett McKay: What did he say?
William Rawlins: Nothing. The gun goes off and I’m mortified. And he goes a couple more steps. He says, “Hey, Bill, let me see your gun, because look, you need to put the safety like this.” He gave it back to me. I’ll never forget that. If the opposite thing had happened, I would have said, “What are you doing?”
Brett McKay: Yeah.
William Rawlins: “What are you thinking?” You know what I’m saying? If his gun had gone off, I probably would have jumped out of that whole swamp. I learned something about him, and I also learned something about how to treat somebody in a situation like that. What I’m trying to say is, is this. In men’s friendships, actions and activities say a lot. There is a lot expressed there. A lot of that closeness and understanding of what matters can be demonstrated without being spoken.
However, having said that, I’m a dialectical guy, Brett, and these things are interlaced. The thing about women is, yeah, you say women talk a lot, but for women, talking is an activity. I mean, it’s something that they really value as an activity, and they also talk when they’re doing things, which men can. That’s another thing. Men can be talking while they’re doing stuff, but not always.
Brett McKay: Have you read Lonesome Dove or seen the miniseries?
William Rawlins: Oh, my gosh. That is the best Western. Period.
Brett McKay: It is.
William Rawlins: That’s my opinion. It’s the best Western ever.
Brett McKay: I agree. I’ve read the book five times.
William Rawlins: Yes.
Brett McKay: I named my kid Gus after Gus McCrae.
William Rawlins: Oh, my gosh, Augustus.
Brett McKay: But as you were talking about how men maybe show affection differently from women, it reminded me of Gus and Woodrow’s relationship in the book. They were friends. You’re kind of like, “Why are they friends? They have so much not in common.” But they knew how, they understood each other, and oftentimes they showed affection by leaving things left unsaid.
William Rawlins: Exactly. I mean, it’s a terrific example to bring up. I mean, I’ve read the book several times myself, Brett, and I think it’s … I mean, I’m a communication professor, and I think the description of their interaction and the description of how they are in each other’s presence and what they say to each other, I think you’re right.
Of course, their friendship was about something. Their friendship was about, first of all, bringing peace to the West, however you want to say it. They were law officers, and they could really depend on each other in that way, we presume, because now they’re friends and what their friendship is about is raising cattle. And then it becomes about Call’s desire to go to Montana. Okay, that’s what we’re doing. And within that frame, I think it’s very interesting that you invoked their friendship. It’s a very classic, but we have to realize that’s a classic kind of traditional male friendship, I think I would say.
Brett McKay: Yeah. No. I would agree. That book’s all about relationships.
William Rawlins: It is. It quite really is.
Brett McKay: I recommend, I tell people if you’re looking for … Guys, if you’re looking for a fiction book to read, start off with Lonesome Dove. It’s long. It’s like 800 pages, but it’s the best, the best novel.
William Rawlins: It’s awesome. It is the best. I mean, in terms of a portrayal of men’s friendships, that is a very, very good one. Very good one.
Brett McKay: We’ve been talking about these different tensions on a general level, but you mentioned earlier that these tensions and the nature of friendship changes as we age and as we enter new circumstances in our lives. You started off talking about friendships in childhood, and I thought it was interesting. I think oftentimes, parents project their idea of friendship on their kids, so when they look at their school-age kids, like, “Does my kid have friends?” I think parents think, do they have friends like I think of friends? But kids don’t think of friends the way adults think of friends.
William Rawlins: Friendship across childhood is very intriguing to observe because starting and learning to develop friendships with others is a very, very important part of childhood because friends are the first people that like you, but they don’t have to like you, see. They’re not relatives. They’re not your family members. They don’t have to like you. So, you have to start figuring out what makes a person the kind of person that people would want to be friends with, and that’s where you see almost immediately how friendship has to do with sharing, getting along, maybe not hurting other people’s feelings, cooperating, finding something that other people like to do and doing it with them.
It starts off as simply as that, but then across childhood, then you start to have people develop a more mature understanding of friendship, which means, wow, friendship isn’t just because we’re on the same team with each other or because we play kick the can at night. Friendship goes beyond that. It has something to do with each other and who we are to each other. It’s fascinating to understand, but that takes a while, and some people, it takes them a long time.
When you look at moral development and issues like that and how it correlates with friendship, you find that you’re 9, 10, 11, 12 years old before you really start to grasp how friendship involves really appreciating the personhood of someone else and who you are in relation to that person. Friendships are part of moral development and developing a moral capacity also enables them to be in friendships.
Hope that wasn’t too abstract.
Brett McKay: No. That makes sense. I guess the idea is early on in childhood, friendships are just basically like, do I play with this guy? He’s my friend.
William Rawlins: Yes.
Brett McKay: But then around nine, kids start developing this idea that you can have a friendship based on personality, your shared values, shared interests.
William Rawlins: Yes.
Brett McKay: And friendship can extend beyond being together. Right?
William Rawlins: Exactly.
Brett McKay: You can still be friends with someone even if you don’t do specific things with them. You can still be friends.
William Rawlins: Absolutely. It’s nicely put. It’s nicely put.
Brett McKay: Moving into adolescence, that’s when you’re really starting to see these tensions that we talked about earlier happen.
William Rawlins: For sure.
Brett McKay: I’m curious about adolescence friendship, because for me, I feel like the friends I made as a teenager, even though we haven’t seen each other in two decades, I still have a strong connection with them. I can pick up where we left off. I feel comfortable with them. I still value those friendships. Why is it those friendships we make as a teenager often is the friend that we still think of as our best or good friends?
William Rawlins: There’s a couple reasons for it and somewhat ironic. First of all, we’re all, most people are very, very self-conscious during adolescence. I mean, adolescents start to understand that who they are is also being observed by others. They’re observing other people and trying to understand other people, and then they realize other people observing them and they get very self-conscious.
What happens during our adolescence, I think to your point, to your question, Brett, is that adolescents really idealize friendship. I mean, it’s really this place where you can kind of figure out who you are. You can figure out your identity. I mean, some people have argued that one of the primary tasks of adolescence is learning friendship, because learning friendship is you’re taking yourself seriously, you’re taking someone else seriously, and you realize that there’s a lot of things, there’s all kinds of evaluation going on in adolescence. There’s cliques, there’s sports, there’s school, there’s dating starting. There’s all of these ways that you can be evaluated, and friendship is kind of a safe space in all that. It’s someone that you can trust to really think with about what you’re going through.
But friendship is really idealized and adolescents are notorious for sometimes breaching that trust. And back to social media, that’s happening now with a vengeance. I mean, adolescents are so concerned about privacy, about what they’re going through, and to have that broadcast to everybody is something that they really deeply, deeply resent and feel betrayed by.
So, back to your question. You do things with friends in adolescence while you’re going through this period of learning about who you are. And the ones that really helped you become who you are and went through some of those challenges and didn’t compromise you or betray you, there’s some strong feelings for them.
Brett McKay: No, that makes sense. In adolescence, your self as an adult is forming. Oftentimes, you think of the formation of the self as an individual project, but it really is, it’s a social project. You have all these different influences, parents, teachers, but as an adolescent, kids are looking at their peers for information. Their friends during that time, they had one of the biggest influences on them as a burgeoning adult.
William Rawlins: Absolutely the case. It’s absolutely the case. I mean, it’s kind of a twin born understanding. You’re coming to understand your identity and you’re also coming to understand what it means to be close to someone. Intimacy and identity are very tightly coupled in adolescence. Many times, it’s the friends who’ve been a key partner for that.
Brett McKay: After adolescence, after high school, you go to college. College is often, the first years are often an extension of high school. You’re with people who are your age peer and you have a lot in common there. At what point do friendships in adulthood start changing or they shift away from that more adolescent type of friendship to a more adult type friendship? I guess what we need to do first is, what is an adult friendship and how is it different from an adolescent friendship?
William Rawlins: Truth to tell, Brett, I mean I believe that the friendships that we make in adolescence are very, very important. I think the ones that we preserve across the decades have very likely been sifted through the challenges of young adulthood. You have to ask yourself if the friends you’re thinking about and thinking about having made them during adolescence, I would argue that they really got refined during young adulthood.
See, I think adolescence is very important, but here’s the difference, and you’re asking for difference here. During adolescence, a lot of times if you want to be friends with someone and they like something but you don’t, adolescents will decide that they like that thing so they can be friends with someone. You know what I mean? It’s a tractable self. It’s like, I’ll maybe play down what I thought was cool if you think this is cool, if I can be your friend.
Sometimes it’s more mutually decided, but I’m arguing that adolescents are more likely to change who they are to become friends with someone. When you get to young adulthood, you can run into someone and it’s, say, a rock band. You find out they like Journey, you’re like, “Journey? Are you kidding me? That’s crap.” And, “Oh, man, Journey’s the stuff.” And you’re like, “Well, man, I don’t think so.” And there might be something else, but if you’re all about music, maybe you gravitate towards someone else that shares your opinions about that. When you’re an adolescent, you might say, “Yeah. Yeah, Journey’s okay.”
What I’m trying to say is this. When we get to young adulthood, people have a clear understanding who they are. A lot of that has been accomplished with friends. That’s why those friends that we made in adolescence might accompany us, but a lot of times, into college and into young adulthood. But, the transition to college, Brett, is one of the loneliest times in the entire life course. People report more loneliness then than any other time in the life course.
And a lot of a reason is, is because all of a sudden, I thought who I knew who I was and I had all these friends that celebrated that, and I’m in a different situation with a lot of really interesting people who don’t see things the same way I do, and I got to decide which of them do I really want to be friends with. I’m not going to change just to be friends with people. And some of our friends from adolescence don’t want to let go of who we were then, and they don’t want to let go of who they were then.
And then there’s some people who when they come into young adulthood, many people are really trying to figure out now what does adulthood hold for me? Across young adulthood, you’re really refining and figuring out what you might want to do for a living, what your sexual identity is and what romance means to you. You might be figuring out hobbies and all these things, and you’re figuring them out in a really unencumbered way because now you’re away from home. And these are people who are privileged enough to go to college, Brett. I’m talking about people who have been gifted the opportunity to go to college. I know there’s other ways this can happen, but I’m speaking about the college setting.
What happens, I think, across young adulthood is kind of bittersweet, is the very people in young adulthood and, again, to be fair to your point about adolescence, some of these people very well may have been friends initially during adolescence. Others we made during young adulthood, when we’re really with a bunch of people who are excited about their possibilities, trying to equip themself for the future, trying to figure out what are the things that they’re really excited about now that they kind of understand who they are.
And these friends help us make these choices like we were talking about earlier. What do you think of this woman? And your friends say, “Listen, man, you were lucky. You’d better take care of her. You are lucky to have her.” Or your friend says, “Hey, hey, man, come on. Watch out. Watch out for her.” Anyway, our friends help us. You say, “Hey, I’ve got an interview with this company. What do you think?” Our friends help us make a lot of decisions. This is this judging together about relationships, about work, about recreation that suddenly, this kind of designs how our life is going to be organized.
By the end of young adulthood, our lives are organized in certain ways, much of which is a function of decisions we’ve made with friends. But the irony is, is then we’re so committed and involved in these other things, we have less time for the friends.
Brett McKay: Yeah, so that brings us to adulthood where making friends is really hard as an adult, I’d say from your 30s. You talk about in the study 30s to 50s, basically, now the kids got out of the house. A lot of adults say they don’t have a lot of friends.
William Rawlins: When I said to you about friendship susceptibility to circumstances, what I would say is, and I’m going to come right directly to adulthood, but once people develop a mature capacity for friendship and start to develop friendships that have the attributes we’ve been talking about, the greatest determinant of what other friendships are going to be preserved or not is what’s going on outside of the friendship. Have you taken a job that now takes you to the other side of the country? Have you married someone who doesn’t like me very much? Have you had children?
In other words, what happens and really starts to, in many ways, specify. That’s a bit too strong of a word, but kind of articulates the conditions for friendship is how your life is organized. I mean, when I say friendships are susceptible to circumstances, I am saying that many times whether we can be friends with people as adulthood really starts to unfold depends on how our lives are organized. That’s why you might find people with young children who are very different ages, but they’re all about their young children and so they’re able to kind of coordinate their friendship and enjoy each other as friends around that activity.
Other people who are all about work, that’s the thing that we realized some years ago. It’s like if you’re working all the time, you better hope that you have some people there you might be able to be friends with because there’s not going to be time otherwise to have friends.
That’s what I’m talking about here.
Brett McKay: It seems like friendship gets compartmentalized in a lot of ways in adulthood. You have maybe church friends or you have a work friend or you have a neighbor friend, and you might talk to each other if you have friendship based on your neighborliness, but it might not go beyond that. Might just stay there.
William Rawlins: You know what? I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s something I wanted to say early on because it broadens the discussion of friendship in an important way. You asked me what makes friendship distinctive. There’s one other thing I would want to say here just adamantly, and that is this. Friendship can be a freestanding relationship. In other words, we are friends, and that’s kind of how we’ve been talking about it, because then all of a sudden, there’s all these other responsibilities and roles that might compete with our opportunity to just flat out hang out together.
All right, so you’ve got freestanding friends. We are friends. But the other aspect about friendship is friendship can be a dimension of other relationships. We can become friends with our spouse. We can become friends with co-workers. We can become friends with people that we maybe are in some kind of club or civic association with. We can become friends with them. It can become a dimension of other relationships, and that’s part of the genius of friendship is at the same time that it’s susceptible to how our lives are organized, it also can be a dimension of other relationships.
Across the life course, a lot of times children at a certain point might choose to be friends with their parents. They’re not going to see their parents because they have to. They’re going to see their parents because they like them or love them, because they want to spend time with them. And they found a way to interact more as equals. Why? Because we like doing this together. Because the parent realizes that the son knows a lot more about this than the parent does, so they stand. They found a dimension of their relationship to interact as equals, to interact as friends.
We can become friends with co-workers. Now the risk, as you kind of implied, the risk of some of these friendships later on in life is that they start to be primarily matters of convenience, and it is a dimension of the relationship, but the relationship’s still primarily driven by work or some other role responsibility, so then the susceptibility returns, friendship susceptibility.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I thought an interesting point, you talk about friendship as an adult that I see my own life is childhood and adolescence, early adulthood, most of your friends are about your same age. In adulthood, that’s sort of this whole, you don’t really care how old your friends are. They can’t be too old and they can’t be too young, but you might have friends who are seven years older than you, seven years younger than you, and you’re okay with that. And that wouldn’t be the case when you’re an adolescent.
William Rawlins: Absolutely. Again, I think that the reason for that is, is because we have something in common that’s more important than age. Early on in life, we’ve got really limited understanding. And that brings up an irony that I’m going to mention in a second. But, yes, I think during adulthood, I mean, the primary obstacle to friendship in adulthood is time. The deepest chasm between anybody in adulthood is time.
And sometimes I talk about the notion of functional proximity. You might live in a neighborhood where you don’t even get to know this person two doors down on the left because their life is organized very differently from yours, and you might wave to them when they’re going to the bus stop or whatever. But you might have someone, who knows? I mean, you’re working a lot of stuff that’s mediated, but I mean your lives, there’s functional proximity. I mean, this person lives two towns away, but we show up at the studio and we work together, so our lives are more interwoven than someone who lives 500 feet from me.
The issue I’m trying to mention is in terms of the age difference. I think what matters is how are our lives organized and how does the organization of our lives allow us to share things we care about?
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about how friendship changes and how these tensions of friendship can apply at work when you’re trying to make friends at work. For most people, you said most people don’t have time to make friends outside work, so they look to work to find friends. But friendship in work is fraught with a lot of problems because friendship is voluntary. It’s equal. It’s effective and sort of relaxed. Work is against all of that. There are hierarchies in work. Work is about instrumentality. So, how do people manage to make friends at work and what tensions do they have to navigate with friendships at work?
William Rawlins: Quite so. One thing I would say is, is that the culture of the workplace is a very significant issue. There are certain types of work that are just absolutely permeated with competition. I mean, the thing is set up to put people in very, very stark competition with each other. We might have sales territories that even overlap and what we accomplish is presented to us, unfortunately, as a zero-sum game. That’s inimical to friendship. It’s difficult to accomplish very much friendship in a work culture that … There are work cultures that just emphasize competition so much, it’s very hard to be friends.
But within that, as you are pointing out, let’s just say a more garden variety work setting where, of course, there’s a certain amount of competition, but there’s also a lot of cooperation. You’ve already mentioned some of them. There’s hierarchies at work and so it’s difficult to kind of suss out the appropriateness of being friends with people in different levels in the organization. Now it can happen, but if you’re a boss, you have to watch out for perceptions of favoritism. If you’re someone subordinate, you don’t want to be perceived as just trying to kiss up to the boss, so to speak.
What I recommend in pursuing friendships in a work setting is, first of all, is to try to preserve some clear definitions of the relationship. For example, I’ve been friends with people at work and very good friends. What we’ve been able to do is if there’s an important issue, we literally say, “Let’s talk about this as friends,” or, “Let’s talk about this flat out as co-workers.” Or we’ll say, “Let’s do it both ways and then decide what we want to do.” I mean, I literally had an opportunity to assume a really important office in my discipline, and I went to my director of the school I was in, and he was a good friend of mine, and I said, “Should I run for this office?” And he said, “Do you want me to answer as your friend or as your boss?” And I said, “Both.”
And he said, “As your boss, I’d say of course go for it. It gives us all kinds of visibility. It’s the most important office in the discipline, and I think you could get elected.” I said, “Wow.” I said, “What about as my friend?” He said, “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.” He said, “Your time won’t be your own. You’ll have to go to every conference in the field, and I don’t recommend you do it.”
That’s an example of how I think you have to clearly define what’s the nature of the conversation we’re having. The other thing is if you’re friends with people you work with, it’s nice. I think one of the really signal events of what I call moves to friendship or people trying to become friends is to spend time together in situations where they are not required to be together. Because what that does is it really keys up the fact that we are choosing to spend time together. We’re not doing this because we have to. I think both of those are important strategies at work, in my opinion, to be clear about what relationship is foregrounded right now in terms of this issue and also to find time to be friends when we don’t have to be in each other’s presence. We choose to be.
In terms of men who are married, when you look across adulthood, I’ve interviewed men and women, and you ask a man, “Who’s your best friend?” If he’s married he’ll typically say his wife. You ask a woman who’s her best friend, she’ll say, “Well, I really care about Mike when he’s a good guy, but Sheila is my best friend.” Then you say, “Why?” “Well, because she listens to me.” And you ask a guy, “Why is your wife your best friend?” “Because I can talk to her. Because I can trust her with anything.”
When you spend your day in and day out hustling or punching or processing information or trying to convince people to do things, a lot of times when people aren’t doing that, they just retreat. They’ll retreat and they’ll find comfort, if they have a spouse, in their spouse. All right? I think it’s important for men to get involved in a variety of activities. I really do.
I think it’s important to try to get involved with doing different things than work because, as you said, if all you’ve done is focus on work and raising your children, when your children leave and when you’re not as excited about doing everything you possibly can for work and are starting to think about other things in life, you’re going to need to figure out how to connect with people that might share interests that you have. That can be a challenge.
Brett McKay: If a man reaches a point in his life when his kids leave or even long before that, when he just realizes that there’s a lack in his life from not having friends, what can he do to overcome that challenge and make friends?
William Rawlins: You can form habits of how you go about living in friendship. There’s three types I could mention. One would be independents, and these are people that make friends wherever they go. And you could say perhaps these aren’t the deepest friendships, but you can’t decide that. I mean, what happens between people, you can’t decide. And I’ve already said that if we deeply, deeply enjoy this activity and we do it together for 25 years, we’re probably going to have learned a lot about each other, be a lot closer than people are giving us credit for and maybe we’re even giving ourselves credit for. All right?
But independents make friends wherever they go. If they move, they make new friends. I talked to one guy, he said, “Look, I’ve made friends wherever I go all my life, and when I go into the nursing home, I’ll make friends there.” There’s people that will put in the effort, get out there and socialize.
Then there’s friends that people that you might call discerning, where they made that one friend maybe during adolescence, maybe during college or two of them. And man, oh man, that is what friendship is to them, and across the life course, that person … And it could be one’s spouse or it could be someone else besides one’s spouse. But that’s how they’ve lived in friendship. That can have a real core strength to it and really that person can really kind of curate your life story and even co-author your life story with you. But you lose that friend, that’s a really significant blow and really creates a really big hole in someone’s life.
And then there’s folks that you might call acquisitive that both try to preserve and remain tight and connected with people that they’ve really cared about throughout their lives, and to continue to make new friends.
Brett McKay: It sounds like it’s great to maintain your tight-knit friendships in the past throughout your life, but to also remain open to making new friendships. And that might mean opening up and broadening what you might consider a friend and being okay with just having a gym buddy or whatever, because that person could become one of your close friends eventually.
William Rawlins: Exactly. I mean, if I was to make some recommendations, I would say a few things. Try some activities. Think about what you like doing and see if there’s folks around who are doing that. I know I’m speaking generally there, but if you like playing music, find out who around town is playing music. If you like Fantasy Football, instead of doing it online, nose around and find some folks that might be interested in doing that. In other words, take some risks and try to find some activities that you like to do that other people might like to do.
Second thing I’d say is this, and you just hinted at this, but I’m really adamant about it. Small talk is fine because small talk can lead to other talk. It can lead to big talk. I think we’re back to expressiveness and protectiveness. Some people think we have to get really deep quick or we have to really show signs that we’re going to be real friends and kind of rush the process. I don’t recommend that. I recommend talking about whatever comes up.
And this leads to a third thing I would suggest. Listen. I mean, people enjoy talking about themselves, and so if you’re someone who listens, then they enjoy talking with you. And after you’ve listened to them a bit, they well may listen to you. So, small talk about whatever it is. Don’t go political too soon. In these highly divisive times, that’s not a good choice. And don’t go too personal too quick. Just talk about what’s in front of us. Small talk, it can lead to other talk, and you can sense what might be good talk. And listen.
Try some activities, talk about what’s right there, practice listening, and take the risk. And then, take the risk. You might find someone that you end up pairing off with a lot or feel comfortable with. And then you might say, “Hey, you want to catch a cup of coffee?” Or, “Hey, you want to catch the game this Friday at the sports bar or something?” I mean, it’s a risk. It’s a risk to try to make a friendship, but it’s a risk I think should be taken.
Brett McKay: And I think also from our conversation and from your insights in the book that can help people with friendship is understanding because of the nature of friendship, because it’s voluntary, because it’s equal, there’s going to be tensions there that you’ll have to navigate, and that’s okay. That’s just part of the game of friendship, and successful friendship requires you navigating those tensions.
William Rawlins: Brett, again, I appreciate the care you’ve taken with Friendship Matters. When I talked earlier on about open communication is some kind of a linear model and when I started talking about expressiveness, protectiveness, what I’m saying is there’s going to be tensions. It’s like you just said, I mean people think friendship, first of all, they think it really doesn’t take effort. It’ll happen naturally, and once it happens, everything will be fine. And if you assume that friendship doesn’t require effort, I think that’s a very naïve outlook and what I want to try to say, which is what you just said is and it’s what I’ve kind of tried to articulate for a long time as a scholar of friendship is that there are inherent tensions involved in friendship. They’re inherent.
When I talk about independence and dependence, judgment and acceptance, affection and instrumentality, expressiveness and protectiveness, these are inherent tensions. All friendships experience them to greater or lesser degrees. If you’re in a friendship and you start to notice this tension, try to talk about it and even before that, realize that it’s not that unusual. Friends go through tough patches. And friendships are highly susceptible to circumstances, so it’s good to be aware of that. And it’s good to feel like you’re not unusual because you’re feeling these tensions in your friendship. Most people, if not a lot of people, feel them.
Brett McKay: Well, Bill, this has been a great conversation. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
William Rawlins: I’m happy to talk with you, Brett. I’ve appreciated your questions.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Bill Rawlins. He’s the author of the book Friendship Matters as well as other books on friendship. They’re all available on Amazon.com. You can also check out our show notes at aom.is/friendship where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
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