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How do we develop friendships?

As social animals, we require love and support from others to fully function. Family initially provides this, but as we get older, our need for identity and independence leads us to seek this support in others separate from family. During childhood, if we are fortunate, most of our time is spent at the park playing with other children or at the nursery or school socialising with others. This close and regularly occurring proximity with other children presents the initial opportunity for close friendships to develop. However, it is clear that children will not form close friendships with all the people they interact with. So how do we transform mere acquaintances into deep and close friendships?

Theorists argue that this transition is determined by similarity (1). The argument is that we are more likely to become friends with people of similar age, race, sex or interests. During childhood similarity will usually arise from the kind of play we engage in. Therefore, young boys who play football together are more likely to call their team-mates ‘friends’. As we get older, our desire for similarity becomes more complex.

This alteration begins during adolescence. Our quest for identity and independence during this stage means that we tend to befriend those with similar attitudes and aspirations.  The trust that we later establish with friends is achieved through mutual ‘self disclosure’. This process is gradual, meaning that people begin by revealing general and trivial information and slowly advance to more personal and intimate details. This leads to closer and deeper bonds.

Generally speaking, close and deep friendships are characterised by many different attributes, which can summarised in three main features namely mutual caring, shared activities and intimacy (2).

Mutual caring means that you strive to act in your friends’ best interests and well-being. Caring is particularly important because it overcomes any shortcomings that friends may have. Once initiated, mutual caring in friendships ensures that participants are sympathetic to each other.

Intimacy on the other hand arises from reciprocal self-disclosure. Disclosing details about oneself is a way of informing others that you trust them. It exposes our social masks to reveal true identities.

Last in this list is shared activity. This is important because it usually presents an opportunity for friends to socialise.  Communal effort can make unpleasant chores such as moving or cleaning more pleasant, quicker and easier.  

References
(1). Breckler, J. S., Olson, J. M., & Wiggins, C, E. (2006). Social Psychology Alive. Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc.

(2). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2009). Retrieve 2009-07-15 from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/#2.1

 
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