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Friends: Who We Like, Why We Like Them and What We Do With Them

Friends: Who We Like, Why We Like Them and What We Do With Them
by Letty Cottin Pogrebin New York: McGraw Hill, 1988 416 pp., $7.95

Although cross-gender, cross-race, cross-class and cross-sexual-preference friendships are far from rare, they are also far from common. We tend to choose friends who are like us, people who share our interests, live similar lifestyles and do similar things. Part of this is cultural, writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin explains, as we expect our friends to act as we act, do as we do. What then of the liaison between an American and an Arab?

“Arabs refuse food three times before accepting it, but Americans would consider it overbearing to pressure someone who had twice refused to eat … .When Americans want to be alone, they go into a room and shut the door. When Arabs or British want solitude, they don’t seek closed space, they just stop talking.”

Add to these differences variables like race and class, and the complexities of human interaction take on new meaning. “Black children form friendships more rapidly, have more stable friendships, and make twice as many best friend choices as do white children,” writes Pogrebin. As Black children mature, they tend to continue this pattern, but unlike whites, they often veer into cross-class alliances.

For their part, working class people are often intimidated at the table of a boss or middle-class co-worker. On the flip side, those in the middle-class are often shocked that no one in a working-class or poor household asks them about their work or what they “do.”

But what of women’s friendships with one another? What of the impact of feminism in breaking down race and class barriers? While the past two decades have made tremendous headway in identifying rape, battering, incest and other forms of sexual violence as cross-class, cross-race phenomena, women have still not been able to create inclusive friendships. The task? “Be color blind and color conscious. Remember we are both human beings. The same. But also remember that I am different and special in my way. The same and different. That double consciousness is the hallmark of crossing friendships.”

While women relate to women differently than men relate to each other, Pogrebin concludes that both have a great deal to learn from one another!’ Most women communicate with their best friends on three levels: topical (politics, work, events), relational (the friendship itself), and personal (one’s thoughts and feelings). Most men, however, generally restrict their exchanges to the topical…. Women talk about themselves, their feelings, doubts, fears, loves, relationships, families, homes and problems; men talk about competition and aggression and things they have seen or heard!’ And while men equate friendship with fun, for women friendship revolves around shared angst, trauma or difficulty.

But cultural training notwithstanding, friendships are an essential safety valve and source of pleasure in coping with the caldron of daily existence. Pogrebin has written a wonderful book, a veritable celebration of friends old and new. Although little of her material is earth-shakingly fresh, she has done us a great service by categorizing the obvious. Among Friends prompts us to look at our lives and our friendship patterns in a different way. It is exciting, empowering stuff.