Making Friends: Insights on Friendship from the World’s Leading Experts - Pt. 6A, Dr.Jan Yager

08/22/2016 07:29 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2017
Photo: Wilkernet, CC0 Public Domain
Photo: Wilkernet, CC0 Public Domain

Learning About Friendship

This is the sixth post in a series designed to explore the act of friendship. By interviewing experts in a wide range of fields, we uncover insights related to all kinds of themes: empathy, men’s friendship, unhealthy connections, first impressions, and the significance of friendship.Today, we’re pleased to be talking with Dr. Jan Yager.

Meet Jan Yager

Dr. Jan Yager is a sociologist and award-winning author of more than 40 books including five about friendship:

  • 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
  • 365 Daily Affirmations for Friendship
  • Friendship: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography
  • Who’s That Sitting at My Desk? Workship, Friendship, or Foe?

Dr.Yager has shared her friendship research on the Today Show, Good Morning America, The View, CBS This Morning, CBS Sunday Morning, The O’Reilly Factor, CNN, NPR, and various other online and print publications.

How Friendship Changes

Sarah: We all, of course, have different types of friendship―casual, close, best, and so on. Your book Friendshifts addresses this by describing “The Great Friend” and “The Modern Friend.” Can you summarize for readers what these are?

Dr.Yager: As I discuss in greater detail in Friendshifts, the Great Friend Approach (which goes back as far as ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, and was later discussed by such esteemed essayists as Sir Francis Bacon, Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thoreau) says friendship is:

  • idealized and romanticized
  • usually a dyad (twosome) or friendship pair since there can only be one Great Friend
  • between those of the same sex
  • based upon an appreciation of each other’s “essence”
  • reciprocal
  • in competition with marriage and the family
  • only adult men are considered capable of it

By contrast, the Modern Friend Approach, which was first advanced by the sociologist Simmel, is in direct opposition to the Great Friend Approach. The Modern Friend Approach is an outgrowth of the shift in marriage from based mainly on property rights and procreation to romantic love, with the goal of having a spouse who is a friend as well as a legal partner. That shift in marriage also changed friendship so that according to the Modern Friend Approach, friendship is:

  • viewed realistically
  • between the same or opposite sexes
  • as possible for women as for men
  • not just between two individuals, but even among three, four, or more
  • not necessarily an equal exchange
  • not threatening to other intimate relationships
  • differentiated, meaning it is based on only one aspect of a person’s personality or self

In Friendshifts, I also distinguish among best, close, and casual friends. Best refers to someone who is the premiere friend. Although in practice women and men report to me that they have 1 or 2 (or more) best friends, in theory, you can only have one best friend. The key components of a best friendship are shared values, honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, maintaining of confidences.

A close friend has all the characteristics of a best friend ― ― but you can have multiple close friends without feeling like you’re favoring one over the other since exclusivity is not assumed in the same way it is expected with a best friendship. Casual friends still have the same expectations as best or close friends however there is less self-disclosure, so fewer, if any, secrets to maintain. There is little or no intimacy but there is still a bond, that raises the relationship to a higher emotional standard than an acquaintance. Casual friends may exchange more information is the key way the friendship is maintained in contrast to the emotional support that is the cornerstone of close and best friendships. However, close and best friendships share information as well.

Sarah: Wow. Thanks for such a thorough answer. I have a feeling readers just learned a lot about friendship from that summary, especially considering that often times, we aren’t formally taught much about friendship. With that in mind, what are the things you’d suggest a person do if they wanted to try to deepen the relationship they have with a friend? Dr.Yager: I discuss this in all of my books on friendship, including Friendshifts; When Friendship Hurts; Who’s That Sitting at My Desk? Workship, friendship, or Foe? as well as my forthcoming book, Friendgevity: Friendship in the Age of Social Media. This is a key issue that needs to be addressed. As times and ways of communicating have been changing, this concern has to be discussed again, in light of these developments.

But, in essence, the fundamentals that will help to deepen the relationship someone has with a friend are:

1. Listening, really listening. Not just “hearing” what your friends say, but connecting with what they are saying. Not thinking about what YOU want to say next, but being totally absorbed in your friends’ comments.

2. Making the time to get together in person. Yes, social media, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, among others, are quick and easy. You can share with your friends at 2 in the morning and you can also share from around the world. But it tends to be one-way and also, if you’re sharing with lots of friends all at once, you’re denying your close or best friends that exclusivity that makes your friendship so special. Also, as has been said before, by me and others, you can’t “hug” an e-mail or a Facebook post. Yes, you’re busy, but find a way to get together in person.

3. Talking on the phone. Second to getting together in person, is talking on the phone, whether it’s through a regular phone, through your smartphone, especially if you can add the visual of FaceTime on your iPhone, or through Skype or any of the free communication apps, especially if it offers the ability to see each other.

4. Cutting your friends some slack. Be understanding. Don’t be so quick to judge, criticize, and pull away.

5. Being realistic about disagreements. Realize that even the most wonderful friendships may have some disagreements from time to time. It’s how you deal with those disagreements, or conflicts, that will determine if your friendship has staying power.

6. Remembering the fun factor in friendship. Since friendship is a voluntary role, even though emotional support is a key component to friendship, you turn to your friends for fun. So don’t forget that part of friendship or you may find your phone calls being ignored, and your social calendar getting a lot emptier.

We’ll continue this interview with Dr.Yager next week, as she helps us explore how friendships change and what to do when friendship hurts.

In the meantime, keep a look out for Dr.Yager’s next book, Friendgevity: Friendship in the Age of Social Media, which is scheduled to be published on November 23rd, 2016.

Also, if you’re enjoying this content, interested readers may also choose to complete her confidential friendship survey here.

Special thanks to Dr.Yager for taking the time to share her insights with Huffington Post readers this week. Check back soon for Part B of this interview in our next installment of the Making Friends series.

Read the next post in this series on friendship here. Or check out Truth or Dare: The Podcast That Boosts Your Social Health.

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