For all of us, friendships surely occupy a vitally important place in our social and emotional well-being. And for many members of the gay community - especially those who may not have partners, spouses or close family relationships - friendships may be of overwhelming importance.
Yet there is an outlook that sees friendship as having a lower standing on the social hierarchy than family or romantic relationships, even though one can easily recognize the critical role that our friendships play in our lives. Law, for example, recognizes a legal privilege for married couples but not close friends. Should society and the law value friendships more?
We will begin the evening with a brief overview of about fifteen minutes by a community psychologist, Dr. Ronald Schnur, to suggest how the social sciences can help us in thinking about our experiences of friendship.
A recent article on marriage (NY Times Magazine), suggested that there are two major types of friendship:
Intimacy: shared feelings and inner perspectives, perhaps secrets
Companionate: shared activities, intellectual discussion, material support
One issue interesting in the context of this Salon on Friendship, is the possibility that:
· These categories also extend to friendship and
· That the traditional straight male type of friendship is companionship – not intimacy
· That the prototypical (and desired) gay male model is intimacy - perhaps with more or less of the companionship aspect depending on one’s family, one’s early experience and one’s individual temperament.
We might also wonder where straight women and lesbians fit in these models.
Most important, thinking about our own experience of friendships, we are left with such questions as: What varieties of friendships do we have? How do we acquire and keep our friendships?
What barriers do we find in forming the sort of friendships we want? Is there a way that San Francisco or the Bay Area presents special opportunities for friendship? Or special challenges? How have you made friendships via this salon?
Is “friendship” fundamentally one thing, or is it many things? Does friendship have a special role for gay men?
QUESTIONS & ISSUES we might raise, consider & discuss include:
• How satisfied are you with your friendships? What kinds of problems arise for you or the other persons? How important are friendships to you compared with other goals and relationships?
• Some gay men remember friendships in their childhood and teenage years as difficult or even painful; what were your friendships like as a young person, and how has that affected your friendships in your adult years?
• Where do your friendships fit on the companionship – intimacy spectrum? Does this differ for “close friends” vs. more casual friends? Is intimacy vs. companionship a factor in the spectrum from “casual” to “close” – and if this differs what does that suggest to you?
• Forster said, If I had to choose between my friends and my country, I hope I’d have the guts to choose my friends. Do you agree with this view? What about choosing between friends and families – or friends and a romantic interest of yours?
• What’s important to you in a friendship relationship?
• What kind of friendships, do our friends and potential friends seem to want from us – and how do we respond to their possibly differing types of preferences? Should we change the way we typically respond?
• Do you have friendships that have changed – or ended? Did you find this beneficial – or not? Did the nature of the friendship, for example intimacy vs. companionate, affect its longevity? How do your experiences differ for casual vs. close friendships?
• What does deeper friendship mean for us? Might our friendships be improved by more balance between intimacy and companionship – or not?
• How and why do your friendships change? When friendships have shifted from casual to emotional intimacy (or vice versa) – or ended -- what has changed? Why do you think this might occur?
• Do straight men have something to learn from gay friendships? Conversely? What about women?
• Is there a way that San Francisco or the Bay Area presents special opportunities for friendship? Or special challenges? How have you made friendships via this salon?
• How do you think friendship can be improved for you or people generally?