Politics

What Are Friendship Researchers Like With Their Friends?


Each installment of “The Friendship Files” contains a dialog between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or extra pals, exploring the historical past and significance of their relationship.

This week she talks with two pals who additionally occur to check friendship. They met at a convention again when only a few relationship students have been specializing in the subject, and have become each pals {and professional} collaborators. They discuss what they’ve realized from their analysis and the way they’ve utilized these classes in their very own friendship.

The Friends:

Rebecca Adams, 69, a sociology professor within the gerontology program within the School of Health and Human Sciences on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Rosemary Blieszner, 73, an alumni distinguished professor within the division of human improvement and household science at Virginia Tech with a specialty in grownup improvement and growing old

This interview has been edited for size and readability.


Julie Beck: How did you get into researching friendship, and what have you ever studied?

Rebecca Adams: While I used to be in graduate college, my grandparents have been residing distant from most of my household. I lived closest to them, and I observed that they have been counting on their pals to care for them. At the identical time, I used to be starting to take lessons in growing old. So I began to consider friendship and growing old, and ended up proposing a dissertation on the subject.

I’ve targeted on different issues since, together with music followers as a group, however I’ve printed on friendship and growing old all through my profession.

Rosemary Blieszner: I considered how a lot I valued my pals and the way I wished to know extra about how friendship adjustments or stays the identical in outdated age. I used to be additionally engaged on a analysis challenge about outdated individuals’s cognitive functioning—in order that was a serendipitous alternative to analyze older-adult relationships.

Beck: How did the 2 of you meet and turn out to be pals?

Rosemary: We met at a convention. I used to be working with a college member who was concerned in growing a brand new self-discipline targeted on interpersonal relationships. Scholars doing that type of work got here collectively and held a convention. At that convention, an individual got here as much as me and mentioned, “There’s this other scholar here presenting on older-adult friendship.” And he mentioned the identical factor to Rebecca. So we met and began speaking.

Two older women wearing warm coats stand close together in a parking lot with a playground and blue sky in the background.
Rosemary Blieszner (left) and Rebecca Adams (proper) (Courtesy of Rebecca Adams)

We realized we had come to very comparable conclusions concerning the gaps within the analysis. Although Rebecca was writing from the attitude of sociology and I used to be writing from the attitude of psychology, we have been each noticing that little or no analysis at the moment had been completed particularly on friendship. People have been speaking about major relationships—that means household, marital companions, and parent-child relationships—and lumping pals with everyone else, like co-workers and neighbors and other people you already know at church.

Rebecca: We started engaged on one thing collectively as quickly as we met. I used to be inquisitive about having a convention and bringing collectively all of the friendship researchers, as a result of we have been from totally different fields and there weren’t that many people. We ended up doing that, combining it with a e book on older-adult friendship, our first publication collectively. Everyone wrote chapters earlier than the convention, and we used it as a workshop to develop the edited e book.

Rosemary: The e book’s objective was to jumpstart the sphere.

Rebecca: All types of issues grew out of these individuals assembly one another.

Beck: You’ve collaborated on loads of issues collectively. Are there notably memorable tasks that stand out to you?

Rosemary: We created a questionnaire associated to the networks that folks kind, the interplay processes that construct and maintain friendships, and what may result in the fading away or the demise of friendships. That research was crucial to our profession improvement and to the sphere, as a result of I don’t know that anybody else took such a radical interdisciplinary method.

Rebecca: Everything generated from that mannequin. I couldn’t resist—I made this cheat sheet about our friendship for this interview and divided it into course of and construction, which is how our mannequin is developed. I’ve on right here issues concerning the course of in our friendship, but in addition why, structurally, we noticed one another and had sufficient time to develop a friendship.

Rosemary: That actually made me snicker, Rebecca, that you simply used our mannequin on this cheat sheet.

Beck: Tell me concerning the course of and the construction!

Rebecca: I’ll say the construction factor first—we had very synchronously evolving careers. We have been getting in lockstep by way of the identical issues. It wasn’t simply promotions; we have been additionally very service-oriented, and we each began administrative careers at about the identical time. And we have been each journal editors. We simply stored having these similar experiences.

Rosemary: We have been each presidents {of professional} societies.

Rebecca: So we might assist one another, merely due to the way in which our lives have been structured. Our mannequin has a component referred to as “behavioral motif,” which is the concept that everyone’s life has a rhythm that takes them sure locations. Friendship begins with unplanned repeated interactions.

For us, we have been going to the identical conferences, so it made sense to room collectively and work collectively. Now that we don’t go to the identical conferences anymore, we’ve much less time collectively, and we’re going to should get extra conscientious.

Rosemary, why don’t you discuss course of?

Rosemary: It was an interplay of construction and course of as a result of we each had loads of the identical work habits and values. So we made alternatives to be collectively. We took seaside journeys collectively. We introduced our youngsters with us. They performed with one another whereas we labored, after which we might swim or drink wine on the deck within the night. We have been intersecting our private lives with our work lives.

Rebecca branched into analysis on the Grateful Dead, and I went to Grateful Dead reveals along with her, type of as her analysis assistant, serving to her to make observations. It was linked to analysis, nevertheless it was additionally social.

Because we have been at all times collectively and our names began with R, individuals blended us up on a regular basis. In our writing, it acquired to the purpose the place we might now not keep in mind who wrote which sentences, or who got here up with this or that concept.

Rebecca: We have been so playful collectively. One time we went to this convention in Virginia and there was a reception in a museum with a band taking part in downstairs. Rosemary and I went into one of many artwork galleries so we’d have extra room to bop. Like our writing, you couldn’t inform who was main. We acquired kicked out of the exhibit by a guard.

Rosemary: That man didn’t respect our very positive jitterbug strikes.

A dark and crowded dance floor; in the foreground, a dancing woman in a red dress smiles with her eyes closed, next to a woman in a white top who is not facing the camera.
Rebecca and Rosemary dancing at a convention within the Netherlands in 1994 (Courtesy of Rebecca Adams)

Beck: Does your analysis ever have an effect on the way in which you method your friendships?

Rebecca: One of the issues that’s clear is that friendships have to be maintained. That was a part of our mannequin too. Rosemary’s superb at issues like sending birthday playing cards and thank-you notes. And I’m not fairly pretty much as good at that. But we acknowledged that we couldn’t be informal about this, that we needed to cease counting on encountering one another in our on a regular basis lives.

For instance, once I was president of the Southern Sociological Society, Rosemary launched me for my presidential tackle, although she’s not a sociologist. And she had a competing occasion—you have been getting some award.

Rosemary: I used to be getting an award at my college, and I didn’t attend as a result of it was the identical day as Rebecca’s presidency. That needed to take precedence. It was her massive day.

To preserve shut relationships, you do have to be intentional and plan time collectively. We aren’t engaged on friendship analysis as intensively proper now, however once we see one another, we at all times decide up wherever we left off. There’s no have to reestablish our bond. It’s only a matter of catching up. That contradicts the notion that you simply want to spend so much of time collectively. But after getting a stable bond, if there’s nothing critical to disrupt it, it may be enduring.

Rebecca: We might very simply drift aside—that was one other discovering. Most individuals don’t finish friendships. They simply progressively cease seeing one another. We’ll should be very conscientious about not letting that occur as we become old and have much less cause to return collectively professionally.

Beck: It looks as if you’re saying that you must be sure to carve out time for one another, and when you do, then when there are durations the place you don’t get collectively as a lot, you may have a basis and might decide up the place you left off?

Rosemary: Yes.

Rebecca: In my dissertation, I discovered that folks’s closest pals have been their oldest pals, even when they didn’t stay close to them. And Rosemary was positively one of many very first individuals I developed an expert friendship with.

It additionally helped that once we did have issues, we addressed them as an alternative of letting them fester. So they didn’t threaten our friendship; we didn’t lose one another. I feel our data of the literature may need motivated that too.

Beck: Are there explicit points you keep in mind that you’re snug sharing?

Rebecca: There have been two instances—one was about order of authorship, and one was how to deal with the truth that we had developed a few of our work individually.

Rosemary: Rebecca proposed that we might publish in alphabetical order. And I mentioned, “Okay, sometimes.” We have been new assistant professors, and your publication report—notably what you may have taken the lead on—is admittedly vital in shifting towards tenure. It wasn’t about our egos; it was very pragmatic. I in all probability wouldn’t even give it some thought now.

Rebecca: We know collaborators who’ve stopped collaborating due to these points and who’ve stopped being pals.

Beck: What is your greatest recommendation for making new friendships as an older grownup, and conserving friendships as an older grownup?

Rosemary: There’s loads of concern nowadays about loneliness, particularly the loneliness of older adults. If you might be lonely for some cause and also you simply keep in your house on a regular basis and don’t exit and do something, then you definately’re not going to resolve the issue. That comes from the literature: You should put effort in. You can’t achieve success in cultivating and sustaining friendships when you’re passive about it.

Rebecca: That is ideal, as a result of Rosemary gave a course of reply and I’m going to offer a construction reply.

Most relationships develop due to unplanned interactions with somebody. And they normally develop by way of give attention to some exercise. Activities self-select people who find themselves considerably just like start with, possibly coming from comparable social positions and backgrounds. So when you’re lonely and also you need to make new pals, discover an exercise that you simply’re inquisitive about that may entice different individuals whom you may need one thing in frequent with.


If you or somebody you already know must be featured on “The Friendship Files,” get in contact at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com and inform us a bit about what makes the friendship distinctive



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