Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Mystery of Human Friendship


This article attracted my attention today: Be your best friend if you'll be mine: Alliance Hypothesis for Human Friendship

Basically, it says that the mutual altruism model doesn't explain human behavior at all, when it comes to friendships and an Alliance based model makes a lot more sense. They compare it to nations who build alliances with other nations, just in case there's a conflict later (which kind of is a weird comparison, because that's still a human-friendship-relationship, and so it's comparing human friendship to human friendship, but whatever). It says, also, that the most valuable friends are the friends who have fewer other "alliances" or friends, because they can be counted upon more readily to support us in the instance of a conflict, whereas someone with lots of other strong relationships may not be able to support us totally, since their attention and time is divided.

I think that this kind of explains the single vs. married chasm**. Single people seem to have more single friends, and married people seem to be more interested in cultivating "couple" friends. But if this is about alliances, then for a single person, this makes a lot of sense-- you can't count on one half of a married party to ally with you. They always have an obligation to their mate that supersedes you, as a single entity. I would say that the only time this doesn't apply is when a single person is equally good friends with both halves of the couple in question, but traditionally, that doesn't seem to happen all that often. For example, My husband and I have several friends who are single and friends with both of us, but I have a lot more single friends who have no relationship with him at all. That being said, I would say that those single friends who are friends with both of us would divide in a conflict along gender lines, and as strong as those relationships are, they're not equally friends with both of us. The relationships are perhaps just MORE equal than others.

So. There you have it. All that drifting apart that occurs (or we're worried will occur) between single friends and their newly married buddies-- that's completely in line with the model. It's a natural consequence when we look at friendships with an Alliance based model. Mutual Altruism wouldn't really explain that either-- because whether you're married or single, the exchange of friendship services shouldn't really change that much, but Marriage is a swearing of allegiance, causing friends to fall in line as well. Now you're not only obligated in alliance to your friend, but also their spouse, in conflict. But your friend's first obligation will always be to their spouse, even if previously it was to their single friend.

Anyway, all of this is supposition without any real research backing it-- just my limited experience with human relationships and the world. But I think it's fascinating to think about, and even more interesting that this article doesn't touch on the single vs. married conflict, even though it seems kind of obvious to me.

**Disclaimer: By no means do I mean to say that by getting married, a person must eschew their single friends, or that a single person doesn't have married friends, and vice versa. It just seems to me that this is a popular trope of society and popular culture, if perhaps exaggerated. (Is trope the right word there? I'm leaving it anyway, because I feel like it applies.)


  1. and yet it IS kind of true--it happens by default (the eschewing, that is). say your spouse gets relocated, or your mother-in-law needs caring for and suddenly that fills up you and your spouse's every free minute. friendships are often hit the hardest, just when you need friends the most.

    i'm SO interested in friendship. i, like, purposefully seek out books about friendship and follow some bloggers who talk specifically about friendship ups and downs. right now, i follow the HuffPo "friendship doctor" column

    and have the book TRUTH & BEAUTY on my tbr list. an old stand-by is martha moody's BEST FRIENDS, which is a great novel about real-life changes and how some ladies adapt/stay there for each other.

    women are so complicated and interesting in how they relate to each other.

    sorry. you got me on one of my rants!

  2. Thanks for the link! I'll definitely check that out. It really is interesting and complicated.

    I'm especially fascinated by correlations between animal behavior and human behavior, and the way science studies behaviors in animals to explain why we do things that we do, while at the same time, as a society and race, we try to distance ourselves from those very basic "animal" instincts, to become OTHER, Better, More than just animal.

    A think a lot of the complication involved in relationships, and friendship, is really societal construct. It's so natural for us to make friends and reach out for people and connect, so intense a need that the internet booms with these social networking sites. So why does it have to be so hard? Especially for women? And are we alone in that, or is it something more fundamental to our genetic code? Something we share with the animal kingdom beyond models of mutual altruism?

    Sorry, that's kind of long winded. But thanks for the comment! I'll be checking out that book, too!


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