Friends and Friendships in Emerging Adulthood
Carolyn McNamara Barry*
Loyola University Maryland
Stephanie D. Madsen
“I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour.”1 These lyrics began each episode of the popular sitcom Friends. The trials and tribulations of these six “20-something” friends captivated the American public for a decade until Ross, Monica, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, and Rachel eventually transitioned to adulthood at the show’s closure. Perhaps the show’s popularity was due to having some truth in the fiction: (a) friends can be a proxy family for young people, offering invaluable advice, support, and companionship; (b) friends can be of the same or opposite sex, but these two types of friendship work differently; (c) friends may engage in casual sex, but may also become involved romantically; (d) friendships are central to the lives of emerging adults, especially those who are single and not in a serious romantic relationship; and (e) friends help people to figure themselves out and influence their behavior, potentially for both good and bad. As is the case with all TV shows, there is also pure fiction in this sitcom: these six friends lived in the same apartments in the same city and often held down the same job for over a decade. Instead, instability is more the norm among reallife emerging adults. Also, most American young people get married and become parents in their late 20s rather than the 30s (as the sitcom depicted). So while close friendships are critical to emerging adults’ happiness, search for their identities, and true loves, friends become less important once they’ve figured out the big questions of life and “settle down” in marriage, parenthood, and careers. Still, for emerging adults, friends can fill the growing gap between the time when they leave the families they grew * Carolyn McNamara Barry is an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland. Stephanie Madsen is an associate professor of psychology at McDaniel College.
Changing Spirituality of Emerging Adults
up in and when they establish families of their own.
Can Men and Women Be Friends?
As a chosen relationship between two equal persons over time, friendships can be with persons of the same or opposite sex. Children need same-sex friendships in order to develop into socially skilled, moral, and empathetic adults. From the teen years on, it is common to make friends with both sexes, and these friendships can be of good quality, as seen in Rachel and Joey’s friendship—they regularly shared problems, offered support, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. Still, people most prefer same-sex friendships throughout their lives, and it is less common for men and women to be friends beyond college or after one friend marries. Friendships between men and women differ in some ways from those between people of the same sex. Men’s friendships with women are more emotionally intimate than their friendships with men. And heterosexual men often seek friendships with women to whom they are sexually attracted. Not surprisingly then, approximately half of opposite-sex friends in college report that they have engaged in sexual behavior, which has the potential to hurt the relationship. However, many college students believe that sex enhances a friendship’s quality and helps them to consider whether they want to remain “just friends” or move on to something more.
What Are Friendships Like?
There appears to be some truth to the old adage “birds of a feather flock together.” Certainly we saw this portrayed in the six characters on Friends. All shared the same ethnicity (European American), enjoyed the same activities (sipping coffee at Central Perk), and had similar levels of social skills (though Joey seemed more adept at getting dates than Ross or Chandler). Such similarities offer a common ground that strengthens friendships and helps them to endure. Women’s friendships are...
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