- Humans have been musing about the nature of friendship for millennia.
- An academic article published in 2020 asked participants why they create friendships.
- A total of 41 reasons were revealed, which were condensed into five factors and two main categories: for true friendship, and for opportunity.
He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep:
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe.
William Shakespeare is credited for eloquently defining true friendship in The Passionate Pilgrim nearly 500 years ago, in the year 1599. In 340 BC, nearly 2,000 years before him, however, Aristotle put forth three main types of friendships in Nicomachean Ethics: friendships which exist of pleasure, of utility, and of virtue. Nearly 2,000 years before Aristotle, friendship was described in the poem, Epic of Gilgamesh—the oldest surviving piece of literature in humanity, which reads:
“Friendship is vowing toward immortality and does not know the passing away of beauty (Though take care!) because it aims for the spirit. Many years ago through loss I learned that love is wrung from our inmost heart until only the loved one is and we are not.”
Needless to say, humans have been philosophizing about the nature of friendship for millennia. A modern study, published in Personal Relationships in 2020, asks why:
In the first of two studies, researchers conduced in-depth interviews on 20 participants (10 women and 10 men, with a mean age of 37), seeking to identify the perceived motivations behind why they created friendships. Simultaneously, 108 other participants were recruited to fill out an open-ended survey that asked participants to “please indicate as many reasons as you could think that have led you in the past or could lead you in the future to make friends.” The researchers coded the data to reveal 41 reasons for the creation of friendships. The second study asked 1,316 participants to rate how likely each of the 41 reasons for friendship creation was true for them on a five-point Likert scale. Statistical analyses were used to classify the reasons for making friends into broad factors and to reveal age and gender effects. The research identified five factors that could further be classified into two categories for the motivation behind making friends, not so far off from Aristotle's own musings: wanting a true friendship, and out of opportunity.
- To have someone to support me.
- To have someone to discuss my problems with.
- To have someone to rely on in a time of need.
- To have someone to advise me.
- To have someone to help me.
- For mutual support.
- To have someone to share my joys and my sorrows.
- The need to have someone to talk to.
- For support when I am in a new environment.
- To have someone to go out with.
- To have someone to do things together.
- To approach one of his/her relatives who interests me romantically.
- To approach one of his/her friends who interests me romantically.
- To approach someone who interests me romantically.
- To expand my social circle so that I have more chances to find a partner.
- I need someone to be with me when I go out looking for a partner.
- To approach others from his/her social circle who would be useful to me.
- Someone's appearance.
- To raise my social status.
- To have someone to admire me.
- Someone's character.
- Good chemistry with someone.
- Someone's ethos.
- Someone's positive characteristics.
- The common interests with someone.
- Someone's humor.
- When someone appears to be trustworthy.
- My admiration for someone.
- To share my interests.
- If someone has opinions that I strongly agree with.
- The need for contact with other people.
- The need for socialization.
- The need for communication.
- The need for companionship.
- The willingness to meet new people.
- So that I do not feel lonely.
- To expand my social circle.
- The need for acceptance.
- In the work environment for best cooperation.
- This friendship can be helpful in the future.
- To help me advance my career.
Overall, the research found that women were more likely to rate the items in the support factor more highly than men, with the exception of "to have someone to go out with," whereas men generally rated "mating" and "career" factors more highly than women. Younger participants were more likely to rate the support factor as higher than older participants, while the reverse is true for "desirable traits."
Apostolou, M., Keramari, D., Kagialis, A., & Sullman, M. (2021). Why people make friends: The nature of friendship. Personal Relationships, 28(1), 4-18.