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Chapter Two Distinctive Values of Friendship
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If Not Unique, Preferred

The values I have been describing are the ones that women believed women friends alone could provide. Throughout the interviews, respondents identified other important values for which they preferred to turn to friends, even though husbands or others could also provide them. Once again, most of these values circulated in communication rather than material exchange. I asked women specifically for subjects they could talk about better with close friends than with husbands. Thirteen of seventeen married women identified such subjects (seven further identified some they could talk about only with friends). Since I assume that the preference for talking with friends tells something about the distinctiveness of the bond of close friendship, I shall explore these subjects here.

"Him, mainly—I can talk about him better to Jan," was a typical answer to my question. This answer tended to have two main subtopics: figuring him out and solving problems with him. The


women who preferred talking about "him" with friends to talking to "him" in person generally believed that conversations with good friends were more likely to help them understand husbands' attitudes and motivations than were probing conversations with taciturn mates. Chapter 6 looks more closely at this collaborative "marriage work," in which friends discuss their husbands and marital problems.

Another group of topics that women preferred to discuss with other women includes topics that husbands concede, or perhaps delegate, to friendships. This group includes the subjects women described as gossip, like news in personal networks; and those they elevated, like detailed discussions of children. Although women sometimes reported that husbands complained when they revealed personal details of the marriage to friends, they reported few jealousies of the sharing of personal problems that did not implicate their mates.

I don't usually talk to Jeff about problems. My husband believes when you've got problems, you can solve your own. I learned early on in marriage that he's not a good choice. I'm not sure if it's a lack of sympathy or empathy—but it's sure a lack of patience. He'd rather I tried someone else, so I do.

A third category of topics women preferred to discuss with friends includes areas of contention between husband and wife in which a woman wishes to preserve or defend her method or perspective. One such area is emotionality and emotional dependence. Several women said they relied on friends in expressing emotion, both to reveal emotional states and to use an emotionalized mode of expression.

Feelings. For example, I can talk about experiencing sorrow far easier with a friend.

Women are allowed an emotional freedom that men are just not allowed. They can really express how they feel to other women. I really enjoy that warmth I get in friendships with women. It's totally different from the warmth I get from my husband or any other man I know. It's a unique shared experience.

Women friends are comfortable with and encourage emotional revelation; husbands are often less at ease with this mode. Even sym-


pathetic husbands, their wives said, often responded to emotional discourse with hostility, withdrawal, or an attempt to "help" modulate feeling.

A husband will say, "Oh, quit griping!". · · My husband is not reassuring like my friend is.

He can't understand me, but he cares. It worries him [when I'm upset]. He wishes he could do something, but he doesn't know what.

Mike would be less sympathetic that I'm feeling jealous [of my son's attention]. I feel intimidated by it.

Related to this reliance on friends for emotional discourse is an accepting recognition between friends of emotional dependence. The women I spoke to believed their husbands needed them; yet they found when their husbands acknowledged this need, the men were uncomfortable. They said that husbands were especially loathe to admit dependence on anyone other than their spouse and that husbands could not comprehend their wives' emotional dependence on others. One woman described this contrast: "Catherine understands needing other people. Andrew sees himself as a loner, not needing others. He pooh-poohs that need."

Women also reported turning to friends to defend differences of opinion with their husbands.

Dennis always said he respected me intellectually and trusted my opinions, but if he disagreed with me on something that was really crucial to him, he would put down my opinion. With my women friends there was more respect. Even if they disagreed with me, they wouldn't tell me "somebody's been trying to put ideas in your head." Even if there was a disagreement, there wouldn't be a put-down that came with it.

In this exchange Jean, talking about her former husband, illustrates a pattern of talking to friends to protect areas of belief, opinion, or practice under contention in the marriage. Chapter 6 explores how this pattern of confiding in friends may be construed as marital problem solving that adds to the wife's power in marriage.

Jean's account of her former husband's contempt for her differing opinion illustrates another situation in which women turn to friends to protect their methods or beliefs: women seem to prefer talking to their close friends about thoughts, plans, or fantasies of autonomy.


I can talk about wanting more independence better with June. I act it out more with Lloyd, rather than talk about it.

I talk to Doreen about thoughts of other things . . . different walks of life. Maybe other men . . . doing things with my life.

Once you're a mother, you don't have such a mind of your own as you did before. That's one of the qualities Jerry used to like in me. But now, if I talk about that change to him, either he turns it into a fight, or he thinks I'm being ridiculous. It's easier to talk about it with Karen.

When I thought I was pregnant and would need an abortion, I couldn't speak about it to Les. I didn't want the confrontation of him wanting me to have a baby. I knew Brenda would urge me to change my mind, but I could say "no" to her and know she'd still be with me.

This last statement, about keeping an abortion decision secret from a partner, is Lee's. A single woman, she confided in a close friend rather than her boyfriend. One might think that this would rarely happen in a marriage. Informal discussion with health clinic workers discourages such a conclusion, however. On the abortion decision, as on less momentous issues of individual autonomy, women often feel too powerless to hold their own in debate with their husbands. The finding that women avoid discussing issues concerning autonomy with their husbands—and that they prefer to engage these issues with friends—is one of the strongest patterns that emerge in this research.

Friends' special exchange of thoughts about autonomy or individuality is indicated also among the responses to questions probing various personal exchanges. The question, Is there anyone who encourages you to try new experiences or activities?, elicited the names of close friends or kin—but not of husbands—from over half of the married women. Women included their husbands in answering most of the other thirty-three questions of this kind. I pick up this issue of friendship and autonomy again in chapter 4.

As unique values of close friendship, then, women described intimacy in self-disclosure and a mutual validation of individual activity and inner self through understanding and deep affection. Such descriptions of intimacy and emotional depth are worlds apart from Robert Nishet's depiction of modern friendship as "pseudo-intimacy with others, a kind, of pathetic dependence on the superficial symbols of friendship."[9] In fact, they are close to Ernest Burgess's transports on companionate marriage.


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Chapter Two Distinctive Values of Friendship
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