Friendship: Choosing Others

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Friendship: Choosing Others

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. (William Blake, Jerusalem, 1800)

Our feelings towards our friends reflect our feelings towards ourselves. (Aristotle, Nicomacheon Ethics, 350)

Acquaintance. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1906)

There is no agreed definition of friendship, though it is relatively simple for people to recognize when a person is a friend. Friends have shared interests; they show admiration, loyalty, commitment to one another. They exhibit mutual acceptance, and their relationship is characterized by genuineness and intimacy. They see each other frequently and call upon each other for help and advice. They like and trust each other.

Some have suggested that we can define ’friends’ as acquaintances, casual friends, close friends and intimate friends. It takes time to establish bonds and trust, and test one another.

Researchers have documented various factors that predict friendship formation. They have shown that propinquity/proximity is a strong predictor. That is, we get to like those who we ’bump into’ a lot. We have always known that we tend to marry the girl or boy next door. Another obvious and well-established factor is familiarity which is related to the above.

There is some debate in this literature between the similarity, opposite and the complementarity hypothesis. It concerns whether we choose and like those who are like us, quite the opposite to us or similar to some degree. They can be more complicated to test than expected because it is possible that people with opposite personalities (e.g. introverts and extraverts) are attracted but that they have similar values (economic, religious and political beliefs). The data suggest there is relatively little evidence for the attraction of opposites theory but a lot for the similarity theory.

Many factors have also been implicated along with personality and values: these include social intelligence and rewardingness. Given this long list of factors it is clear why people of similar racial and religious groups tend to like each other: they are similar in many important ways and live, work, play and pray in a similar area. They speak the same language, worship the same God, eat the same food and share many similar experiences.

There are indeed ’mini’ theories for attraction and the start of relationships like balance theory, reinforcement theory, social exchange theory and equity theory. Some are based on economic models with ideas such as people are attempting to minimize their costs and maximize their rewards in dealing with others.

When friends become lovers, the psychological literature also attempts to differentiate loving and liking as well as various types of love. These are:

1 ’Eros’ or Erotic Love: Eros is associated with sexual passion and desire. Eros is a passionate, erotic and intense form of love that arouses romantic and sexual feelings: a fire that burns out quickly.

2 ’Philia’ or Affectionate Love: This a sort of platonic love often between equals and is a type of love that is felt among friends who have endured difficult times together. It is associated with loyalty, camaraderie and sacrifice.

3 ’Storge’ or Familial Love: This is mainly to do with kinship and familiarity, a natural form of affection that flows between parents and children.

4 ’Ludus’ or Playful Love: It is seen best as the affection between young lovers often associated with flirting, teasing and feelings of euphoria.

5 ’Mania’ or Obsessive Love: Mania love occurs when there is an imbalance between eros and ludus. This can lead to becoming possessive and jealous, and can often lead to issues such as co-dependency.

6 ’Pragma’ or Enduring Love: Pragma is a love that has matured over time. It is the result of effort from both parties. It is the love between people who’ve learned to make compromises to make the relationship work.

7 ’Philautia’ or Self-love: This is not the unhealthy vanity and self-obsession that is focused on personal fame, gain and fortune. It is about self-compassion and feeling comfortable in your own skin.

8 ’Agape’ or Selfless Love: The highest and most radical type of love according to the Greeks is agape, or selfless love. Agape is spiritual, unconditional love, which is free from desires and expectations.


Studies on mate criteria of heterosexual individuals have been particularly concerned with two areas, namely sex differences and similarity preferences.

Two major findings with regards to sex differences in mate selection criteria are important. Universally, women are more concerned with a prospective partner’s potential earning ability, while men pay relatively more attention to physical factors, such as attractiveness and health. Although both women and men are concerned with partners’ attractiveness and resourcefulness, the differences lie in the weight given to these two groups of characteristics.

There are two hypotheses to explain this phenomenon: evolutionary theory hypothesis and the sex-role socialization hypothesis. The evolutionary theory explains mate strategies by referring to reproductive success. Female mate criteria should include signs indicating potential control over necessary resources, and related personality traits such as ambition. As for men, their primary constraint on a male’s reproductive success is access to fecund and reproductively valuable females. Therefore, males are hypothesized to value youth, physical appearance and health since they provide strong cues to reproductive value in females. Females are hypothesized to value male appearance less because male appearance is not strongly correlated with resource potential.

The sex-role socialization hypothesis, on the other hand, states that women are typically excluded from power and are viewed as ’objects of exchange’. Due to their restricted paths for individual advancement, they seek mates with characteristics that are associated with power such as earning capacity and higher education. Hypergamy composed the primary traditional channel for upward mobility for women, which is the tendency for women to marry upward in socioeconomic status. In contrast, men place importance on the quality of the ’exchange object’, and therefore value physical attractiveness (e.g. enhanced value as a sex object). Thus, physical attractiveness becomes a central means for designating relative value among exchange commodities. Traditional sex-role socialization practices are assumed to maintain and support these structural differences, and are used to inculcate role-appropriate values in males and females.


Argyle, M., & Henderson, M. (1985). The Anatomy of Relationships. London: Heinemann.

Furnham, A. (2009). Sex differences in mate selection preferences. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 262—7.

Noel, H., & Nyhan, B. (2011). The ’unfriending’ problem: The consequences of homophily in friendship retention for causal estimates of social influence. Social Networks, 33, 211—18.