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Friendship is voluntary. And this is her weakness
In the hierarchy of relations, friendship is in last place. Relations with lovers, parents, children - all this is above friendship. This is true for life and is reflected in science: research on interpersonal relations mainly concerns couples and families in love.
Friendship is a unique relationship, because, unlike relations with relatives, we choose with whom we deal. And unlike other voluntary relationships like romantic relationships and marriage, friendship does not have a formal structure. You can’t see or talk with your soulmate for a month, but you can with your friends.
Nevertheless, study after study confirms that friends are very important for human happiness. And since friendship changes over time, so does the person’s requirements for his friends.
I have heard people of different ages talk about close friends: a teenager of 14 years old and an old man approaching his centenary. There are three descriptions of close friends: with whom you can talk, from whom you depend and with whom you feel good. Descriptions do not change throughout life, but the life circumstances in which these qualities manifest themselves change.
William Rawlins, Ohio University Professor
The voluntary nature of friendship makes it defenseless against life circumstances. Growing up, people prioritize not in favor of friendship: family and work come first. And if earlier you could just run into the next entrance to call Kolya for a walk, now you are negotiating with him “to somehow find a couple of hours” to meet and drink beer once a month.
In friendship, it is wonderful that people remain friends simply because they want it, because they chose each other. But this also prevents us from maintaining friendship for a long time, because you can also voluntarily stop dating without regrets and obligations.
Throughout life - from kindergarten to nursing homes - friendship improves human health, both physical and mental. But in the process of growing up, people change their priorities, and friendship changes - for better or for worse. The latter, unfortunately, occurs much more often.
How friendships are changing
Youth is the best time to create friendships. It was at this time that friendship became more complete and meaningful.
In childhood, friends are other guys who are fun to play with. Teenagers are more open to their feelings, support each other. But in adolescence, friends still only examine and test themselves and others, find out what “loved one” means. Friendship helps them with this.
Over time, passing from youth to youth, people become more self-confident, they look for people who share their views on important things.
Despite the new, more complex approach to friendship, young people still have enough time to devote to friends. Young people mostly spend from 10 to 25 hours a week on meetings with friends. A recent study showed that in the US, boys and girls aged 20-24 spend most of the day talking with groups of people of any age.
At universities, everything is aimed at communication between students - at lectures and between them, on holidays with classmates, at seminars and so on. Of course, this applies not only to those who attend the university. All young people tend to avoid things that distract from talking with friends, such as weddings, having children, or talking with parents.
In youth, friendships are stronger: all your friends go to the same educational institution or live nearby. Over time, when you leave school, change your job or place of residence, your connections will weaken. Moving to another city for the sake of studying at the university may be the first experience of parting with friends.
Scientists who have been watching pairs of friends for 19 years have found that people move an average of 5.8 times during this time.
Andrew Ledbetter, director of this study, believes that travel is becoming part of the life of modern society, where remote communication technologies are well developed and accessible. And we don’t even think about how negatively this affects our social interactions.
Unlike our partners, work and family, we have no obligations to friends. We will be sad to move, leaving them, but we will do it. This is one of the features of friendship.
We have the freedom to choose whether to depend on a person or not.
How friendship fades into the background
When people reach maturity, they have many urgent matters more important than meeting friends. It is much easier to postpone or cancel a meeting with a friend than playing with a child or an important business meeting.
The sad truth is that it was friendship that helped you in your youth to understand who you really are, and now that you have grown up, you don’t have time for those people who helped you make important decisions in life.
Time is spent mainly on work and family. Not everyone got married and had children, but even those who are left alone are likely to realize that meeting friends has become less common.
But the most significant event that pushes friendship into the background is, of course, a wedding. There is some irony in this: all friends on both sides are invited to the wedding, this is such a large-scale meeting of friends. And a dramatic goodbye.
An interesting series of interviews on friendship taken from middle-aged Americans in 1994. The judgments of "true" friendship were saturated with irony. It turned out that most of the respondents rarely have time to spend it with close friends.
Friends who lived very close to each other noted that it is important to plan a time for meetings, to find a place in your schedule. Many also mentioned that they talk more about what needs to be met, and are rarely found in reality.
How is changing the way you make friends
Throughout life, people make and keep friends in many ways. There are independent people — they make friends wherever they appear, and they have more good acquaintances than truly close friends.
Others make a couple of best friends and get close to them for several years. This is fraught with some danger, because if such a person loses one of his best friends, this is a real disaster.
A safer way of making friends involves both types: a person has several close friends, but he continues to make new ones.
In adulthood, new friends are more likely to be more than just the people you chat with. For example, they may be your colleagues or parents of your child’s friends. It is much easier for adults, constantly limited in time, to make friends if there is more than one reason to spend time together. As a result, the ability to make friends just like that can atrophy.
But years pass, you don’t have much to do, and friendship again takes on its significance. You retire, the children have grown up and no longer require attention. You have a lot of free time left, which you have nowhere to spend if you have lost all your friends.
At the end of life, priorities are shifting again: people prefer to do things that bring pleasure, including talking with close friends and family.
Some people manage to maintain friendship throughout life, at least a solid part of it. But what influences whether it will be possible to go through all the hustle and bustle of middle age together and celebrate the silver wedding of friendship?
What helps to keep friendship
Whether people stick together in the process of growing up or move away from each other depends on how much they have done to maintain the relationship. During a long study by Ledbetter, it turned out that the more months the best friends spent together in 1983, the more likely they would still be close in 2002. This means that the more you invest in friendships, the longer you keep the relationship.
Another study showed that people need to feel that they receive as much from friendship as they have invested in it, and how much the friendship lasts depends on how much they give to a friend.
Have you ever noticed how annoying the chatter of two best friends is? Years of “their” jokes, stories and occasions make such communication incomprehensible to others. But this particular language is part of what keeps friendships going.
In a study of best friends, the future of their relationship could be predicted by how well they play word guessing when one talks about a word without naming it, and the second must guess what word it is.
This communication skill and total understanding help friends to successfully pass through changes in life circumstances that can destroy relationships. True friends do not need to talk often, just do it at least sometimes.
Social networks are a way to stay in touch.
There are more tools to chat with friends than ever. And the more funds you use to communicate with friends (SMS, email, instant messengers, sending funny photos or videos to Snapchat and sharing interesting links on Facebook), the stronger your friendships. “If you are only chatting on Facebook, your friendship is in danger and most likely will not survive in the future,” says Ledbetter.
Happy birthday on the social network, like a friend’s tweet - these are mechanisms to strengthen friendship. They prolong its existence, but automatically, like a cardiopulmonary bypass.
There are several ways to maintain relationships, and for some of them, online communication is quite enough. The first is simply to maintain relationships so that they don’t stop at all.
The second way is to maintain a certain degree of proximity. This is also possible through online communication, however, it requires more attention and time. Sometimes in this way you can even build relationships, of course, if they are not badly damaged. Again, write to a person with whom you have not talked for a long time, or send him a touching email with an apology.
But then, when you go to the next level and ask yourself: “Can I make these relationships normal?” - only online communication is no longer enough. Because people perceive “normal” communication as something more than correspondence on social networks or by email.
Social networks and other means of communication online allow you to have a lot of relationships, but insignificant and shallow. In addition, they maintain relationships that could (or perhaps should) perish for a long time.
In our long lists of friends in social networks there are still people with whom we have not been communicating for a very long time and do not even correspond. Your school friend, some guy from the sales seminar, a friend from the summer camp you visited 15 years ago.
Many people have become memories for you, you will never communicate with them, but they continue to hang in your friends. Why do you need to know that the son of this school friend first visited Europe? Well cool, well done. He is a stranger to you and does not interest you at all. But in our time of online relationships, such relationships never stop.
Do not touch memories
In adulthood, we accumulate quite a lot of friends from different areas: from different jobs, from different cities, people who have never even heard of each other. At this time, friendship can be divided into three categories: active, in sleep mode, and in memories.
- Active friendship - this is when you often meet, at any time you can call and talk with this person, get emotional discharge and support. You know a lot about human life, and this does not seem strange.
- Frozen Friendship, or friendship in sleep mode - this is when you practically do not communicate with a person, but think of him as a friend. If you happen to meet, for example, you come to the city where this person lives, you will definitely meet and will talk heart to heart for a long time.
- Friendship in memories - this is when you do not communicate with a person at all, but remember about him. At one time, communication with him was very close and friendship has given you a lot. Therefore, you periodically recall him and still consider him a friend.
Social networks allow you to constantly keep “friends in your memories” in sight. This is the effect of a “friend from the summer camp.” No matter how close you are in the camp, you will not be able to maintain friendship when you arrive home and go to school.
You are in a summer camp and you are in school - these are two different people, and an attempt to maintain relationships on the Internet will only spoil the magical memories of summer and great friendship.
Circumstances and politeness are the main enemies of friendship
Friendship is very susceptible to circumstances. Think about all the things that we have to do: work, take care of children and elderly parents ... Friends can take care of themselves, so we can exclude them from the busy schedule.
When youth is replaced by maturity, the main reasons for ending a friendship are life circumstances and politeness.
A study by Emily Langan, a professor of social interactions at Wheaton College, found that adults feel they should be more polite with their friends.
Adult people understand that friends have their own affairs and they cannot demand a lot of time or attention from their person. Unfortunately, this happens on both sides, and people begin to move away from each other, even if they do not want it. Just because of my politeness.
But what makes friendship fragile also makes it flexible. Participants in one of the polls most often thought that the relationship did not break, even if there was a long period when friends did not communicate.
This is a very optimistic view. You will not think that you have normal relations with your parents if you have not heard anything about them for several months. But it works with friends: you can be considered friends, even if you have not talked for six months.
Yes, it’s sad that we stop relying on friends when we grow up, but it gives us the opportunity to learn a different kind of relationship, based on an understanding of the limitations of adulthood. Such relationships are far from ideal, but they are real.
In the end, friendship is a relationship without any commitment. You yourself decided to connect yourself with a person, just to be together.
What about you? Do you still have real friends?