Monday, February 3, 2014

"I just want to be friends."

What does this mean? 

I hated hearing this from guys. Because... 

Seriously, what does that even mean? Friends? What kind of friends? How do you define friendship? What is friendship when sex is involved? 

Hmmm... Confusing. Or, at least I used to think so. 

I feel a lot more clear about this phrase because for once, I understand what this means based on research. Also, I do just want to be friends.

"I just want to be friends." My theory is that where people often go wrong in saying this is that they forget one detail... friendships are intimate relationships. In order to have intimate relationships you need the following:

1. Trust
2. Communication
3. Empathy
4. Affection
5. Commitment 

I won't settle for friends of any kind (those I happen to be attracted to or not), with whom these qualities do not exist.

Two years ago I was asked to write a paper on Friends Vs. Lovers. This was so ironic... I was in a relationship where I was trying to figure out what this meant. After lots of research, these are my findings:

“Human intimacy is a complex combination of passion, commitment, friendship, and love in which two individuals experience a compelling desire for ongoing close interaction with each other. Such interactions typically span the full range of human activity. Intimate relationships are social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. They support work, leisure, and learning.” - Howe, 2009

Friendships are one of the most beautiful connections human beings have to one another. The Webster Dictionary defines a friend as a favored companion with whom one has mutual affection. Affection is defined as a moderate feeling or emotion. The definition states that friendship is usually exclusive of sexual or romantic involvement. A lover is defined as having a sexual or romantic relationship with another person. Romance is defined as a feeling of excitement or mystery, relating to love.

Humans are social beings who seek deep, intimate relationships. We develop friendships, usually organically, in an effort to share our feelings, accomplishments, our distress, and our perspectives with someone who is in turn willing to be understanding, and supportive. From the beginning of our lives, we seek to become attached (Shaver, Mikulincer, and Feeney, 2009). We make eye contact with our parents, we coo, we smile, we cry- all in an effort to create a connection and get our needs met. These are behaviors aimed at fostering attachments to others. The behaviors look different as we grow up, but the motivation behind attachment forming behaviors do not change.  Howe (2002, p.15-17) states that we seek deep intimate relationships because we want continuous, and meaningful interactions with others in order to acquire mutual support and mutual fulfillment. We call to share our feelings with friends, to receive support, and expect that it is mutual. As these interactions continue, the people involved in these consistently supportive interactions, begin to fulfill each other’s lives.

Intimacy occurs as more and more self-disclosure occurs (communication). Berndt (2002, p.7) states that quality friendships enhance social development. Howe (2002, p.16) states that this is yet another reason why we seek friendships. We want our friends to stick up for us, we want them to be there for us. We want someone there who understands where we are coming from. We need to trust them. In order to acquire this, we must be able to self-disclose. The more we share information with others, the more they are likely to understand where we are coming from, the more likely they will be willing to be there for us, and the more likely the company is mutually supportive and fulfilling. Friends have empathy for one another. 

Quality friendships enhance the lives of those involved in the relationship. According to Berndt (2002, p.8), friendships foster the development of a positive self-esteem, friendships improve social adjustment, and enable people to deal with stress more effectively. That makes sense, given that friends are the people we run to when things happen and we want to share. They are people who have similar interests therefore validate who we are as individuals- enhancing self-esteem. They are also people to whom we bring our troubles. Friends listen, they empathize, and support and or validate what it is we are communicating- therefore we are better able to deal with stress. Because friendships provide the safe context in which we can practice the skills of listening and communicating effectively, individuals are more prepared to enter into social situations.

Yet another reason why we develop intimate relationships with others is because we have a need to be attached. (Phillip R. Shaver, Mario Mikulincer, and Brooke C. Feeney, 2009) Our human need to be attached motivates our intentions and our behaviors. We smile at the person sitting next to us. We laugh when someone says something funny. We initiate conversations with those with whom we feel we have things in common with. All in efforts to create an attachment. Maintaining these attachments to people becomes important to us.

According to Howe (2002, p.18) we maintain those friendships through our ability to manage the conflict. Olson, Defrain, and Skogrand (2011) state that the more intimate a relationship, the more likely conflicts are. Communication is important, understanding is important, and care is important. All facets of friendship, but also facets of conflict resolution. In order to solve problems with our friends we must care about them, we must empathize with their feelings and we must communicate effectively. Howe (2002, p.19-20) identifies why friendships fail. He states the following lead to the dissolution of relationships: 1) failure to clearly communicate expectations or needs, 2) failure to legitimatize expectations or needs, and 3) failure to meet the others’ expectations or needs. We can conclude that conflicts are healthy when we learn to deal with them effectively. Conflicts must be met with an openness to genuinely communicate and understand another person’s perspective consistently.  These skills that people learn through friendships become life competencies. Not only do they become life competencies with other people we might develop friendships with, they also become competencies with which we enter into romantic relationships.

Olson, Defrain, and Skogrand (2011, p.252) state that friendship and love have a lot in common but one is more intense than the other. They talk about the qualities of friendship being: enjoyment, mutual assistance, respect, spontaneity, acceptance, trust, understanding, and confiding.

The qualities of love being broken up into two separate clusters: 

1) passion comprised of fascination, sexual desire, and exclusiveness

2) the caring cluster comprised of advocacy and giving the utmost 

When does friendship become love? Does friendship become a love relationship when the two individuals become sexually involved? Research by Furman and Shaffer (2011, p. 560) show that sexually involved individuals do not necessarily need to be in a romantic relationship. The sexual behavior of people in romantic relationships and people in a friend relationship was looked at. Although more sexual behaviors occur with two individuals that were romantically involved, sexual behaviors also occur with two individuals who are not romantically involved.  Therefore we can conclude that although intimate romantic relationships are more likely to include sexual behaviors, it does not solely differentiate them from a friendship relationship.

What then constituted a romantic relationship?

According to Eastwink and Finkel (2011) relationships become romantic when there is a match in partner ideals. They argue that one person can have a friendship relationship with someone very attractive and not have romantic feelings for them because that person does not match their overall ideals as a partner in life. Eastwink and Finkel (2011) found that after meeting someone whom the participants thought of as attractive, their willingness to become romantically involved decreased after a face-to-face interaction. They also found that the following factors contributed to the development of a romantic relationship: Physically Attractive, Good Earning Prospects, Warm, and Exciting. Reeder (2005, p.344) found that sexual or physical attraction initially supersedes romantic attraction. Further proving that personal disclosure is important when choosing to become romantically involved with someone. Disclosing information not only aids in the development of intimacy, but also helps people make informed decisions about one another, because romantic relationships are usually long-term.

Our desire to seek romantic relationships is universal. Pillsworth and Haselton (2005, p.100) argue that humans look for cooperative romantic relationships for evolutionary purposes, as well as for long-term sexual and emotional exclusivity. Their study also found that the characteristics of partners for long-term committed relationships are similar across cultures. They found that physical attractiveness and love are two of the most defining factors followed by other characteristics.

However, what is love? 

Berner and Hegi (2010) found that love in romantic relationships involves an investment in the well-being of another person above enjoyment, and commitment.

Pillsworth and Haselton also looked at romantic relationships as perhaps being the most important social unit and found that that is not so. One relationship cannot collapse all the social needs of a human being. Romantic partners can and are for the most part a best friend, a companion, a source of comfort, a caregiver, most exclusively emotionally and physically involved- however it is not necessary to be all of these at the same time.  However, socially, Helm (2009, p. 41) states that at some point in a relationship, the two individuals involved in a romantic relationship, however, do become a “we”. The two units combine, and they become as one social unit. 

As Hammock and Richardson (2011, p.610) have found, friendship is one of the most valued characteristics of a love relationship. Friendships seem to last longer than love relationships. Eastwink and Finkel (2011) state that the level to which a person has the ideal traits a partner is looking for and the level to which they have those traits are defining factors in the longevity and sustainability of the relationship.  

Friendships also involve commitment, therefore Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2011, p. 543-544) identified specific aspects of commitment as a defining factor on whether couples stay romantically involved or not. They found that the amount of investment one has made is a defining factor about the longevity of the relationship, just as Hammock and Richardson identified that this was also a defining factor as to whether someone would chose someone as a romantic partner- knowing whether or not they were committed to a long term relationship. Rhodes, Stanley, and Markman (2011, p. 544) also found that there are moral and structural commitments made in a romantic relationship. Furthermore, Hammock and Richardson (2011, p.611) stress that it is also the type of love that keep relationships together or apart. They argue that at different stages in the development of romantic relationships, different types of love exist and those differences in how the two individuals reciprocate that love is what maintains the relationship.

Satisfaction in the relationship is important. Having needs met emotionally and physically is important. Helm (2009, p. 45) argues that if someone loves someone, they acknowledge the benefits of a relationship with that person because of that person’s characteristics and virtues. The persons in love sees the relationship as mutually beneficial and want to be with that person to meet his or her needs because they see that person as a worthwhile investment of time and care. That to satisfy the needs of the other individual is the ultimate goal and not as a means to an end. 

Satisfaction also encompasses a person’s physical needs. Berner and Hegi (2010) also found that one of the top predictors of relationship longevity was sexual exclusiveness. Also supported by Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2011) who state that as part of a moral commitment that is important for romantic relationships. Sexual satisfaction requires, yet again, self-disclosure. One must be willing to be open to and understanding of a partner’s sexual needs (Gatzeva and Paik, 2011, p. 30). However, Gatzeva and Paik looked at sexual exclusivity comparing married couples and non-married couples, their level of understanding what sexual exclusivity meant to each other, and how that effected the sexual and emotional component of the relationships.

Mattingly, Oswalk, and Clark (2011) studied individual differences that contributed to pro-social behaviors in intimate personal relationships. They found that people who had positive feelings about themselves were more willing to make positive sacrifices for their important relationships and therefore were more likely to be more pro-social within their relationships. This is important to note because making sacrifices for others is important, but it should be done in the context of feeling good about ourselves. The idea of loving yourself first comes into play. It is important to acknowledge ourselves as individuals with strengths that one has to offer in a relationship, when becoming involved in one.

Muldoon (2009) argues that this is why friendship is important when love is concerned. He believes that the foundation for all love relationships is enhanced when friendship is what it is built upon. He states that the key to a real friendship is living a “virtuous life”. To “understand goodness and delight in someone else’s company” (2009, p.26).  He states that the acts one performs for our friends when there is a lack of attraction and a lack of yearning, because those fade, are what should be the foundation from which we perform those acts for those we are romantically committed to.

Clearly in order to love someone in a healthy way, one must love one’s self first. When we feel like valuable members of the human race, we can be more proactive about our relationship conflicts, because the more intimate they are the more likely conflicts are to occur. We can begin to make positive and harmless sacrifices in order to accommodate and develop a relationship with another individual. We must learn to communicate effectively. We must learn to clearly state what we need. We must empathize, and support the people with whom we are in a relationship with. This can either be a friendship or a love relationship. 

Love is the component of the relationship that should develop over time, with continued self-disclosure in order to make an informed decision about whom you are making a long-term commitment to.  This love component of a relationship that develops later does not mean that the relationship is a romantic one. It means that that person’s well-being is important to you. However, it becomes romantic when that person’s well-being becomes your ultimate goal after having invested time, care, and self-disclosure in an effort to make an informed decision. Romantic, love relationships also have a sexual and passion component. They are emotionally and sexually exclusive. There are levels of commitment that differ between a friendship and a love relationship. We are morally, structurally, and personally committed to someone when we have a romantic, love relationship with said person. It is important to have the foundation of friendship, because yearning and attraction do fade and our commitments to that person should be based on the person’s virtues that attracted us to them as friends in the first place.