Friendships are voluntary interpersonal relationships between two people who are usually equals and who mutually influence one another.
Friendships are distinct from romantic relationships, family relationships, and acquaintances and are often described as more vulnerable relationships than others due to their voluntary nature, the availability of other friends, and the fact that they lack the social and institutional support of other relationships. Though, the lack of official support for friendships is not universal. In rural parts of Thailand, for example, special friendships are recognized by a ceremony in which both parties swear devotion and loyalty to each other.
Even though we don’t have a formal friendship ritual in the United States, research shows that people have three main expectations for close friendships. A friend is someone you can:
- Talk to
- Depend on for help and emotional support
- Participate in activities and have fun with
Although friendships vary across the life span, three types of friendships are common in adulthood: reciprocal, associative, and receptive.
Solid interpersonal relationships between people who are equals with a shared sense of loyalty and commitment. These friendships are likely to develop over time and can withstand external changes such as geographic separation or fluctuations in other commitments such as work and childcare. These are the friendships most people would consider the ideal for best friends.
Mutually pleasurable relationships between acquaintances or associates that, although positive, lack the commitment of reciprocal friendships. These friendships are likely to be maintained out of convenience or to meet specific goals.
For example, a friendship may develop between two people who work out at the same gym. They may spend time with each other in this setting a few days a week for months or years, but their friendship might end if the gym closes or one person’s schedule changes.
These relationships have a status differential that makes the relationship asymmetrical, more like that of a supervisor-subordinate or clergy-parishioner. In some cases, like a mentoring relationship, both parties can benefit from the relationship. In other cases, the relationship could quickly sour if the person with more authority begins to abuse it.
Adapted from Communication in the Real World