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"Marriage is relatively easy to define, but what does it mean to be someone's friend?"
-Jan Yager, PhD.

The Power of Friendship

I'm made up of the people I know and the friends I keep. I'd be nothing without them. --20-year-old Penn State male freshman

One Sunday afternoon about a year ago, I called my close friend Joyce just to say hello, but she was not home. A few hours later, Joyce returned my call. She started our conversation by sharing with me that she had a job interview the next day. It seemed she was up against 90 others. She was feeling depressed, anxious, and scared. Then she gave me the highest compliment a friend could give to another friend: "Just hearing your voice makes me feel better."

Without even trying, I had helped lower Joyce's stress level. It is just that ability of friends to reduce the stress related to life's tougher events that has led researchers to confirm that friends extend our lives as well as improve the quality of our lives.

Joyce and I find comfort in talking to each other because of our ongoing close friendship as well as our shared history, which began the summer of 1969, when we first met in geology class at Temple University in Philadelphia. From the very start of our relationship, Joyce always laughed at my jokes, bringing out a whimsical side in me that too few others see behind my intense, driven, and studious facade. I shared in Joyce's grief when her mother died too young; I witnessed Joyce's joyful wedding, as she did mine. I was at the surprise shower many years later for her newborn daughter, a blessed event that much sweeter since this pregnancy had not ended in a miscarriage at five months as so many others had.


Although we lived in the same city for just three years-- I moved back to New York, then to Connecticut-Joyce and I have kept up our close friendship. Friendshifts® is a word I have coined for the way our friendships change as we go from one stage in our life to another, or even relocate from one school, job, neighborhood, or community to another. It is a variation on the old adage "Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver, but the other's gold." Whether the need to form new friends is caused by a change in interests, a move to another city, a promotion to another level or into another profession, or the death of old friends or even of a spouse, shifting to new friendships that serve current needs makes it possible to feel connected even if old friends are seen less frequently, if at all.

The variety of roles that we must play throughout our life--as student, worker, spouse, or parent--changes, as does the place that friendship holds in our life. But we still need friends, ranging from casual to close or best friends, and of both sexes. Friendship plays a continual role, although at different stages it will be less or more important to our emotional stability, depending upon the other primary attachments in our life.

When I gave the eulogy for my 83-year-old dearly beloved grandmother, I was saddened to look out at the small cluster of family members in the funeral parlor chapel. I did not see even one of the friends my widowed grandmother had cared about for most of her life, since they had already died or moved far away. But my grandmother also failed to develop new friends, and consequently she was lonelier in her last years than she had to be. She needed to understand the concept of friendshifts so her later years could have been fuller; her family was too busy with their own lives, unable to give her the daily intimacy she so desperately needed.


Even if you are lucky enough to be raised in a very responsive and loving family, it is inevitable that you will someday leave home. But friends-old friends whom you have cultivated over the years or newer ones whom you develop in your new communities-will always be available to you for affirmation and companionship.

Friends can be a source of self-esteem, affection, and good times. In times of despair, friends offer hope: a class of youngsters in California in 1993 shaved their heads so their friend and classmate, who was undergoing treatments for cancer, would not feel self-conscious about his bald appearance. His dozen friends kept their heads shaved until they learned their friend's cancer was in remission.

It's something many people take for granted. They are unaware how powerful and positive friendship can be, or they would take it more seriously. The right friends can help you feel worthwhile. The right friends can even help get you elected president. School, work, parenting, and even old age are better and more fun when shared with friends.

I asked 46 college students at St. John's University what factors must be present in a close friendship. Almost all agreed that trust and honesty (44 and 43, respectively) were paramount, followed by faithfulness, loyalty, and being a good listener (35, 32, and 3 1), and, finally, having ideas in common and love (28 and 24). Just one wrote that attractiveness counted; only two felt age was a factor; only 10 considered intelligence, and only 8 deemed being a good talker of any significance.

What a glorious relationship friendship proves to be, where trust, honesty, faithfulness, loyalty, being a good listener, having ideas in common, and love are what count. These are all traits or feelings you can acquire. Age, attractiveness, and intelligence, largely a question of birth and luck, are considered unimportant for a close friendship.

Similarly, you are born to a family; you can choose your friends.

You would probably agree that friendship is crucial for schoolage children or for singles who are between romantic relationships. However, friends count for even the happiest couples: friendship affirms and validates in a more distinctive way than even the most positive romantic or blood tie. It is now known that friendship is vital throughout life.

"You quickly find out who your good friends are when you are down or when you need them most," writes a 36-year-old married vice president of sales who lives in Cincinnati. "A good friend won't desert you when you are down," this mother of two preteen daughters continues. "Nor will she turn away in jealousy when you succeed."

Another theme of this book is that friendship, like love, requires an investment of time and effort. Even children need guidance in how to develop and maintain friends. Until they are old enough to make arrangements on their own, they need their parents or caretakers to set up play dates for them with their friends. Playing with the kid next door is fine, but it is not enough. They need to cultivate friendships based on likes and dislikes, not just proximity and convenience. They need to be taught how to keep a friendship going even if a friend moves away, or if they have a disagreement.

If you do have a mate or romantic partner, it is ideal to be best friends with your mate as well as lovers. However, even when you attain that ideal, you need platonic friends where shared income, living arrangements, or the roles of spouse or parent are less likely to complicate the relationship.

Furthermore, even if you are fortunate enough to have the most sympathetic opposite-sex relationships--spouse or friends---certain gender-specific experiences, such as the onset of menses, the physical act of childbearing, becoming a father, or menopause, can only be shared vicariously. Same-sex friends add a commonality of experience that enriches your life.

Friendship can determine where you live and how you live. A survey by the Roper Organization reported by Diane Crispell in The Wall Street Journal discovered that Americans chose friends as saying the most about them (39%)---way ahead of their homes (26%), their jobs (12%), or their clothes (12%)

Consider these additional facts about friendship:

Children with friends do better in school.

Medical researchers found that those with friends are more likely to survive a heart attack or major surgery and less likely to get respiratory infections or cancer.

Friends offer a continuous relationship to singles, according them the high status once given only to family.

A nine-year study of thousands of Californians by Berkman and Syme discovered that those with friends live longer.


There are reasons friendship is more important than ever before, and will continue to grow in significance:

1.The trend toward smaller nuclear families is continuing. I know personally five women and men in their 30s or 40s who have seven to eleven siblings; it is rare for anyone of my generation or Younger to have more than five children of their own. Only children, or two, at the most three, is more the norm.

For the only child, friendship offers an opportunity for intimate peer interaction unavailable in the home. "I would die without my friends," says only child and mother Carol Ann Finkelstein, whose parents died within a year of each other in the late 1970s, when Carol was not even 30. "I couldn't function without my friends, even now that I'm married," she adds.

2. Retirees as well as other nuclear family members are increasingly relocating due to work, educational, or romantic choices. Because of the relocation to another town, state, or country of working and retirement-age relatives, parents, grandparents, and siblings, family members may not be around in adult years for frequent contact. Although you cannot replace members of your family when someone moves, you can always form new friendships.

3. The number of working mothers of school-age children continues to rise. Friendship offers these children an alternative intimate relationship--at school or after-school play-to the maternal one.

4. Friendship offers the elderly opportunities for close relationships. As life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of living a decade or more cut off from the day-to-day interaction offered by a job, or the intimacy provided by a wife or husband who may predecease his or her mate. Friendship may mean feeling wanted and useful in your older years instead of alone and isolated.

5. Friendship offers intimacy to singles. For unattached and unmarried, divorced, or widowed singles, friendship will impact on your mental health until you start a family of your own, or if you remain or become single for much or all of your adult years.

6. Even the best marriages may benefit from the emotional and intellectual stimulation of friendship. For the married man or woman, friends may offer "another self' to those who need to relate intimately to others outside the all-consuming and sometimes one dimensional roles of parent, spouse, or worker.

7. Friends provide each other some of the career continuity once offered by lifetime employers. As companies downsize and few people have the guarantee of lifetime employment, friends offer continuity to a career or even the inside scoop on available jobs.


You probably already know that how you relate to others is based on the early patterns you learned in dealing with your mother, father, and siblings. Knowing that fact, and recognizing those patterns, is a crucial first step in changing your current friendship patterns, if you are displeased with them. It will also help you to be a more compassionate and understanding friend if your friends disappoint you. They may be unwittingly reenacting a pattern from their childhood that has nothing to do with you. For example, a friend who becomes very competitive with you may be doing it because she was always being compared to her two older brothers. You could reject your friend because of her competitiveness, but you would then both lose.

Since the only person you can be assured of changing is yourself, start there. Why does her competitiveness strike such a negative chord in you? Is it really your friend's behavior that is the problem, or your inability to effectively deal with it and with her? Welcome this opportunity to work this conflict out with her and with yourself, or you will find yourself facing the same unresolved conflict over competitiveness with another friend.


Their father hit Kurt and his younger sister several times a week, beginning when Kurt was four. As Kurt explains in the CBS TV special, Break the Silence: Kids Against Child Abuse, "The abuse finally stopped when my sister told some of her friends what had been happening. Her friends told a grown-up who they could trust, who called the child abuse hot line." Kurt and his sister were reunited with their parents after three years in foster care after their father stopped the drinking that precipitated the physical abuse. Both their parents learned how to discipline their children without hitting and causing black eyes or bloody noses.

Whether or not you were born into a nurturing family, your friends could offer what you need. That is one of the themes of this book: that friends are an underused source of help for troubled families, especially neglected or abused children, adolescents, and young adults. Friends can offset the low self-esteem and loneliness caused by abusive or dysfunctional families before, or in addition to, intervention by therapists or family services. As then-president George Bush pleaded with America's youth in September 1989, if they had a friend with a drug problem, "I'm asking you not to look the other way."


I have always been fascinated by human nature, but my formal training began in 1970, when I attended Hahnemann Medical College for a graduate internship in psychiatric art therapy. Over the next decade, I taught college courses, completed a masters degree in criminal justice, and wrote several nonfiction books, including Victims (Scribner's, 1978), The Help Book (Scribner's, 1979), and Single in America (Atheneum, 1980).

My serious interest in friendship began when I was a graduate student and I dated a man who had a very powerful and supportive friendship network with his best friends from high school. Although I have always had girlfriends, it was usually just me and that one other friend. I would usually have numerous unrelated "friendship pairs"; I longed to have a similar female network of "buddies" with whom I too would feel genuinely connected. My only sister's imminent relocation with her husband to Washington, D.C.-for several years, after a decade of living in distant cities, they had been living in an apartment just a block from my Manhattan residence also caused me to take stock of my friendships. My sister and I had developed an especially open and intimate kinship during those years she lived close by; what girlfriends would be there for me now that my sister would again be far away?

In 1980, as I began to study friendship as the topic for my doctoral dissertation for my Ph.D. in sociology (City University of New York, 1983), I was initially fascinated to discover differences between male and female friendships. I also wanted to explore why friendships end; I soon realized that to learn why friendships ended, I had to understand friendship beginnings and maintenance.

My dissertation was an in-depth empirical study of the friendship patterns of 27 young, single women living alone on one randomly selected block on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A nine-month analysis and interpretation of those in-depth interviews dispelled several clichés about female friendships, namely that they often involved rivalry over men, were mostly pairs or one-on-one friendships, and were based mainly on sharing confidences.

By contrast, my research discovered that of the closest friendships of the women I interviewed, less than half (41 %) were between two women or friendship pairs. The rest were part of a three-way friendship (22%) or a network of four or more friends (37%). The majority of friendships were based on sharing activities and emotional support (85%), with only 7% basing their friendship on sharing confidences. Despite the prevailing myths, only two friendships of the women I interviewed had actually ended because of rivalry over a man. (Some of the findings from my dissertation were discussed by Letty Cottin Pogrebin in Among Friends, Eva Margolies in The Best of Friends, The Worst of Enemies, and Linda Wolfe in "Friendship in the City," published in New York magazine.)

Over the years, I have followed up my dissertation with more than 250 extensive in-person or telephone interviews on friendship with a wide range of married, divorced, and widowed men and women as well as children, teens, workers, and executives. I researched and published a scholarly bibliography with 693 entries, Friendship: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography (Garland, 1985), a popular booklet on friendship, and magazine articles for Modern Bride, McCall's, and American Baby. I also surveyed over 500 students, married men and women, and never-married, divorced, or widowed singles from throughout the United States as well as from Canada, Japan, Switzerland, India, and the United Kingdom, including a survey from 1990 to 1992 of 257 randomly-selected members of the Society for Human Resource Management about work and friendship; since 1994, I have been conducting an in-depth study of more than two dozen adult survivors of childhood and adolescent sexual abuse and how those early experiences impacted on their friendship patterns.


No one is born shy or gregarious. There is no such thing as a friendship "gene." Friendship is a skill you can learn; this book will help you enhance your friendships as you learn-

• Sympathetic and empathetic ways to bring your friends closer

• Why some men have twice as many friends at work as do women and why women might want that to change

• The art of self-disclosure-what to reveal, when, and to whom

• How to be for others the kind of friend that you want others to be for you

• How to increase the likelihood of befriending those who share your values (a better predictor of long-lasting friendships than doing things together or being nearby).

I have certainly benefited from all I have learned about friendship. My life is fuller and more rewarding than it has ever been because I put into practice every day the friendship principles I share with you in this book.

Marriage is relatively easy to define, but what does it mean to be someone's friend? As a relationship, friendship itself has been shifting in the last few decades; today there is an eagerness and quickness to call almost anybody a friend. The next chapter explores definitions of friendship that should help give you a better grasp of what you mean when you call someone your friend.

© Copyright 1997, 1999 by Jan Yager, Ph.D. Excerpt with permission from Hannacrox Creek Books, Inc. All rights reserved.


About Dr. Jan Yager

Dr. Yager, who has a Ph.D. in sociology (City University of New York, 1983) is a member of the National Speakers Association, and author of more than twenty highly-acclaimed and award-winning books including:  Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives When Friendship Hurts: How to Deal With Friends Who Betray, Abandon, or Wound You; 125 Ways To Meet The Love Of Your Life and Creative Time Management for the New Millennium: Become More Productive & Still Have Time for Fun

She is regularly quoted in the media (the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Self, Dallas Morning News, USA Today, etc.) as well as interviewed on TV/cable and radio programs including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Good Morning, America, The View, CBS News' Sunday Morning Show, National Public Radio, BBC radio, and others.

Jan is the founder of National Old Friend New Friend Week, an opportunity to celebrate (and reconnect) with old friends and new friends and to remember how vital friends -- casual, close, and best -- are for our emotional and physical well-being. This annual event, started by Dr. Jan Yager in 1997, begins each year on the Sunday after Mother's Day and lasts one week.