10 - Adult friendship  pp. 229-247

Adult friendship

By Ann Elisabeth Auhagen

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The friendship paradox

Friendship is a highly valued asset to almost all people. As an interpersonal phenomenon, it has been in existence for thousands of years. This social relationship was, and is, the object of philosophical analyses, as by Aristotle, Cicero, Epicurus, Hegel, Kant, Lucian, Nietzsche, Plato, Schopenhauer, and Spinoza (see, e.g., Bukowski, Nappi & Hoza, 1987; Pakaluck, 1991). At the same time it represents an important theme of poets and authors: Shakespeare, Goethe, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry have treated it. From ancient Greece to postmodern times the concept of friendship has undergone numerous changes. Depending on the epoch and on people's situation in life during that epoch, friendships were associated with such various terms as blood-brotherhood, family, comradeship, soulmates, emotional and spiritual bonds between friends, friendship with God, young scamp and bachelor unions, vassals, sensible and functional relationships, and heartfelt emotional relationships (Kon, 1979). Friendship knows no limits when it comes to age, gender, and domicile. Therefore friendships seem to have no boundaries. Yet reality is different.

One of the peculiarities of this social relationship is that it makes few explicit demands on those involved. At the same time friendship appears to possess its own particular characteristics. We know which persons are our friends and at the same time we can usually identify those who do not belong to this circle. One precise feature of friendship is that it possesses so few truly clear, unequivocal characteristics.