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Friendship is a term used to denote co-operative and supportive behaviour between two or more social entities. This article focuses on the notion specific to interpersonal relationships. In this sense, the term connotes a relationship which involves mutual knowledge, esteem, and affection. Friends will welcome each other's company and exhibit loyalty towards each other, often to the point of altruism. Their tastes will usually be similar and may converge, and they will share enjoyable activities. They will also engage in mutually helping behavior, such as exchange of advice and the sharing of hardship. A friend is someone who may often demonstrate reciprocating and reflective behaviors. Yet for many, friendship is nothing more than the trust that someone or something will not harm them.

Value that is found in friendships is often the result of a friend demonstrating on a consistent basis:

It is often considered that a true friend is capable of deep feelings, which may be inexpressible, except in times of great trouble, when they come to one's aid.

In a comparison of personal relationships, friendship is considered to be closer than acquaintanceship, although there is a range of degrees of intimacy in both friendships and acquaintances. For many people, friendship and acquaintanceship lie along the same continuum.

The principal disciplines studying friendship are sociology, anthropology and zoology. Various theories of friendship have been proposed, among which are social psychology, social exchange theory, equity theory, relational dialectics, and attachment styles. See Interpersonal relationships

Two girl friends


The English word is of Germanic origin, and related to the Old English fréond with the same meaning, and the Old Teutonic frijôjan, to love.


Friendship is considered one of the central human experiences, and has been sanctified by all major religions. The Greco-Roman had, as a paramount example, the friendship of Orestes and Pylades. The Abrahamic faiths have the story of David and Jonathan. The Christian Gospels state that Jesus Christ declared, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."(John 15:13)

In philosophy, Aristotle is perhaps best known for his discussion (in the Nicomachean Ethics) of philia, which is usually (somewhat misleadingly) translated as "friendship", and certainly included friendship, though is a much broader concept.

A tradition in decline

In recent times, some thinkers have postulated that modern friendships have lost the force and importance that they had in antiquity. C. S. Lewis for example, in his The Four Loves, writes:

"To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. We admit of course that besides a wife and family a man needs a few 'friends'. But the very tone of the admission, and the sort of acquaintanceships which those who make it would describe as 'friendships', show clearly that what they are talking about has very little to do with that Philia which Aristotle classified among the virtues or that Amicitia on which Cicero wrote a book."

Likewise, Paul Halsall claims that:

"The intense emotional and affective relationships described in the past as "non-sexual" cannot be said to exist today: modern heterosexual men can be buddies, but unless drunk they cannot touch each other, or regularly sleep together. They cannot affirm that an emotional affective relationship with another man is the centrally important relationship in their lives. It is not going too far, is it, to claim that friendship – if used to translate Greek philia or Latin amicitia – hardly exists among heterosexual men in modern Western society."

Mark McLelland, writing in the [Western Buddhist Review under his Buddhist name of Dharmachari Jñanavira (Article), more directly points to homophobia being at the root of a modern decline in the western tradition of friendship:

"Hence, in our cultural context where homosexual desire has for centuries been considered sinful, unnatural and a great evil, the experience of homoerotic desire can be very traumatic for some individuals and severely limit the potential for same-sex friendship. The Danish sociologist Henning Bech, for instance, writes of the anxiety which often accompanies developing intimacy between male friends:
"'The more one has to assure oneself that one's relationship with another man is not homosexual, the more conscious one becomes that it might be, and the more necessary it becomes to protect oneself against it. The result is that friendship gradually becomes impossible.'"

Their opinion that fear of being, or being seen as, homosexual has killed off western man's ability to form close friendships with other men is shared by Japanese psychologist Doi Takeo, who claims that male friendships in American society are fraught with homosexual anxiety and thus homophobia is a limiting factor stopping men from establishing deep friendships with other men.

The suggestion that friendship contains an ineluctable element of erotic desire is not new, but has been advanced by students of friendship ever since the time of the ancient Greeks, where it comes up in the writings of Plato. More recently, the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger claimed that:

"There is no friendship between men that has not an element of sexuality in it, however little accentuated it may be in the nature of the friendship, and however painful the idea of the sexual element would be. But it is enough to remember that there can be no friendship unless there has been some attraction to draw the men together. Much of the affection, protection, and nepotism between men is due to the presence of unsuspected sexual compatability." (Sex and Character, 1903)

Recent western scholarship in gender theory and feminism concurs, as reflected in the writings of Eve Sedgwick in her The Epistemology of the Closet, and Jonathan Dollimore in his Sexual Dissidence and Cultural Change: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault.

Physical manifestations

Friends usually will engage in various forms of physical contact, at times spontaneous and other times of a ritualized nature. This is often used as an outward symbol of their friendship.

The form and context of the physical contact has varied historically, culturally, and developmentally. In the West, these manifestations, with the exception of the more formal ones, can be seen with greater frequency among young children and among female friends. In the East they are more equally distributed.


  • Handshakes. This is a more formalized type of contact, frequent among older individuals and only denoting feelings of friendship if emphasized.
  • Holding hands
  • High five
  • Hugging
    • Two-armed hug
    • Pound hug This embrace, primarily used by young males, has become popular among Western subgroups because it expresses affection while maintaining a remote posture, so as to preclude any homosexual connotations[1].
  • Walking arm-in-arm
  • Placing an arm over the other's shoulder or waist
  • Kissing
  • Eskimo kissing
  • Imitation of fight (e.g. a punch on the shoulder,usually among males.)

Developmental issues

In the sequence of the emotional development of the individual, friendships come after parental bonding and before the pair bonding engaged in at the approach of maturity. In the intervening period between the end of early childhood and the onset of full adulthood, friendships are often the most important relationships in the emotional life of the adolescent, and are often more intense than relationships later in life. These friendships are most often with one's age and sex peers, though equally intense bonds can form with older or younger individuals.

Cultural variations

A group of friends consists of two or more people who are in a mutually pleasing relationship engendering a sentiment of camaraderie, exclusivity and mutual trust. There are varying degrees of "closeness" between friends. Hence, some people choose to differentiate and categorize friendships based on this sentiment.


The relationship is constructed differently in different cultures. In Russia, for example, one typically accords very few people the status of "friend". These friendships however make up in intensity what they lack in number. Friends are entitled to call each other by their first names alone, and to use diminutives. Everyone else is addressed by full first name plus patronymic, and is known as an "acquaintance". These could include relationships which elsewhere would be qualified as real friendships, such as workplace relationships of long standing, neighbors with whom one shares an occasional meal and visit, and so on. Physical contact between friends is expected, and friends, whether or not of the same sex, will embrace, kiss and walk in public with their arms around each other, or arm-in-arm, or hand-in-hand, without the slightest embarrassment or sexual connotation.

According to Oleg Kharkhordin in a paper on the politics of friendship, in Soviet society, friendships were "a suspect value for the Stalinist regime" in that they presented a stronger allegiance that could stand in possible opposition to allegiance to the Communist party. "By definition, a friend was an individual who would not let you down even under direct menace to him- or herself; a person to whom one could securely entrust one's controversial thoughts since he or she would never betray them, even under pressure. Friendship thus in a sense became an ultimate value produced in resistance struggles in the Soviet Union". [2]


In Ancient Greece, in a text in defence of pederasty, Plato asserts: "the interests of rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by experience; for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power." (Symposium; 182c)

For Aristotle's position, see Philia.


In the Middle East and Central Asia male friendships, while less restricted than in Russia, tend also to be very intimate, and also involve a great deal of mutual non-sexual but affectionate touching, holding of hands, and so on.

Modern west

In the Western world, intimate physical contact has been sexualized in the public mind over the last one hundred years and is considered taboo in friendship, especially between two males. However, stylised hugging or kissing may be considered acceptable, depending on the context. An exception are young children, whose friendships, usually of a homosocial nature, typically exhibit elements of a closeness and intimacy suppressed later in life in order to conform to societal standards.

Types of friendship

Non-personal friendships

Although the term initially described relations between individuals, it is at times used for political purposes to describe relations between states or peoples ("the Franco-German friendship," for example), indicating in this case an affinity or mutuality of purpose between the two nations.

Regarding this aspect of international relations, Lord Palmerston said: "Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests."

The word "friendship" can be used in political speeches as an emotive modifier. Friendship in international relationships often refers to the quality of historical, existing, or anticipated bilateral relationships.

Interspecies friendship and animal friendship

Friendship as a type of interpersonal relationship is found also among animals with rich intelligence, such as the higher mammals and some birds. Cross-species friendships are common between humans and domestic animals. Less common but still of note are friendships between an animal and another animal of a different species, such as a dog and cat.

See also ethology, altruism in animals, sociobiology

Colloquial nomenclature

A number of colloquial terms have been used to describe friendship and the context in which a friendship is fostered. These are briefly described below.

  • A friend who supports others only when it is easy and convenient to do so is called a "fair-weather friend".
  • A friend who sticks by you through thick and thin is a "true friend".
  • A friend with whom you are sexually intimate but don't consider yourself to be dating is said to be a "casual relationship". This is also referred to as being "friends with benefits".
  • A "best friend" is a friend to whom one feels closest (the relationship normally having to be reciprocal). A best friend may be of the same sex or of the opposite sex. The term is usually only used by children.

Friendship contrasted with comradeship

Friendship can be mistaken for comradeship. Comradeship is the feeling of affinity that draws people together in time of war or when people have a mutual enemy or even a common goal. Former New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges wrote: "We feel in wartime comradeship. We confuse this with friendship, with love. There are those, who will insist that the comradeship of war is love — the exotic glow that makes us in war feel as one people, one entity, is real, but this is part of war's intoxication. As this feeling dissipated in the weeks after the attack, there was a kind of nostalgia for its warm glow and wartime always brings with it this comradeship, which is the opposite of friendship. Friends are predetermined; friendship takes place between men and women who possess an intellectual and emotional affinity for each other. But comradeship – that ecstatic bliss that comes with belonging to the crowd in wartime – is within our reach. We can all have comrades." [3] As a war ends, or a common enemy recedes, comrades return to being strangers, who lack friendship and have little in common.

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • Duck, S.W. (1973) Personal Relationships and Personal Constructs: a Study of Friendship Formation, London: John Wiley.


Kurth, S.B. (1970) Friendship and friendly relations. In: G.J. McCall, M.M. McCall, N.K. Denzin, G.D. Startles and S.B. Kurth (eds) Social Relationships, Chicago, Ill.: Aldine.

  • Miell, D.E. and Duck, S.W. (1986) Strategies in developing friendship. In: V.J. Derlega and B.A. Winstead (eds) Friendship and Social Interaction., New

York: Springer.

  • Rose, S, and Serafica, F.C. (1986) Keeping and ending casual, close and best friendships, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 3: 275-88.

Additional material



  • Google Scholar
  • Williams, J.G. and Solana, C.H. (1983) The social reality of feeling lonely: friendship and reciprocation, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 9: 237-42.

Comadena, M. (1982) Accuracy in detecting deception: intimate and friendship relationships. In: M, Burgoon (ed.) Communication Yearbook, vol. 6, Beverley Hills: Sage.

External links

Further reading

  • Silk, J.B. (2003). Cooperation without counting: the puzzle of friendship. In P. Hammerstein (Ed.), The Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, Dahlem Workshop Report 90. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, pp. 37-54. Full text

External links

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