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Chapter One The Modernization of Friendship and Marriage
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The Rise and Decline of Romantic Friendship

Because women's friendships have generally been conducted in the private sphere, they have been poorly documented, particularly those of working-class women, who often had neither the education nor the leisure to write their own accounts. Letters, diaries, and literary writings of middle- and upper-class girls and women are the sources of most accounts of women's friendships. These,


with a few documents on working-class women, reveal patterns of sociability, cooperation, and attachment persisting among women kin and friends.[85] In addition, historians have documented a female culture of romantic friendship that extends from sixteenth-century platonism through eighteenth-century private religious and spiritual experience to the sensual and passionate sorority of Victorian "true womanhood."[86]

Romantic friendship was the idealized, self-conscious, affective-individualistic pattern that women built upon older bonds of material and emotional interdependence among female kin, neighbors, and friends. The most distinctive ideal of women's friendships had its roots in romanticism and the great awakening of religion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Women's friendly associations had flourished in collective work, worship, and festivities of early modern village life and religious confraternity; and they continued in preindustrial forms that carried into the modern era.[87] But the roots of modern friendship lie more in new forms of self-conscious attachments than in older forms of female interdependence.

The evangelical emphasis on heart and feeling drew women into a self-conscious religious role that historian Barbara Welter considers a feminization of American religion. American religious participation was probably always predominantly female, but the change allotted women a prominent religious role.[88] Nancy Cott documents how this new role became the basis of friendly communion: "'I do not believe that men can ever feel so pure an enthusiasm for women as we can feel for one another,' Catherine Sedgwick recorded in her diary in 1834 after meeting Fanny Kemble, '—ours is nearer to the love of angels.'"[89] The religious redefinition of womanhood in terms of spiritual and moral superiority fed the romantic friendship culture that flourished in middle-class women's narrowed sphere.

Focusing on the republican virtues of true womanhood, secular canons of domesticity paralleled religious themes. Cott explains their logic: "The success of self-government in a nation of diverse characters . . . required 'the culture of the heart, the discipline of the passions, the regulation of the feelings and affections'" that only dedicated self-conscious mothers and wives could provide.[90] The moral elevation of women in evangelical thought and the new


emphasis on women's moral responsibility for children and husbands allied women in a sentimentalized sisterhood of religious, maternal, charitable, and moral reform associations that blossomed during the early period of urban growth and private domesticity.[91]

The statements published by women's organizations, the flood of literature on domesticity (including the massive new production by women novelists), and the letters and diaries of women friends document a salient theme of romantic friendship in this period—a glorification of female sensibilities and an explicit hostility to the male (read public) values that domesticity in fact underwrote.[92]

Proponents of domesticity worked to expand girls' schooling to prepare them for women's socially influential domestic responsibilities.[93] The flowering of school friendships both complemented and added adolescent passion to the solidarity of spiritual sisterhood. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Nancy Cott illustrate this passionate sorority of educated young women in the late eighteenth century, friends who throughout schooling and courtship relied on each other for spontaneity, emotional expression, and love; they addressed letters to "My Beloved," to "lay our hearts open to each other" and closed, "Imagine yourself kissed a dozen times my darling."[94] Passionate attachments such as these, expressed in public embraces, kisses, and the luxuriant sharing of beds caused no disapproval among elders or suitors.

Spiritual sisterhood was further secularized and sentimentalized in the nineteenth-century adoption of European romantic styles, including the epistolary tradition.[95] Women and girls recorded their ardent feelings for one another in passionate letters, diaries, and novels. Lillian Fademan's history of romantic friendship quotes typical passages from popular literature, such as these turgid verses by Christina Rossetti:

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest,
Folded in each other's wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.[96]

Thus, by the nineteenth century, adult middle-class women had adopted the romantic conventions of friendship that earlier gener-


ations of school girls had pioneered.[97] A mature diarist describes her friend: "Time cannot destroy the fascination of her manner. . . her voice is music to the ear."[98] Demonstrating the romantic spur of obstacles, the letters and diaries of nineteenth-century married women who found themselves separated from friends were especially passionate: "Dearest darling—How incessantly have I thought of you these eight days—all today—the entire uncertainty, the distance, the long silence—are all new features in my separation from you, grevious to be borne."[99]

A friend's death presented an obstacle nothing could overcome. One newly married woman whose best friend died, mourned: "To me her loss seems irreparable, I have not a friend on earth, to who [sic] I could so freely communicate my feelings, at any time."[100] Even a honeymoon could stimulate romantic yearnings for a friend. From her honeymoon voyage, one bride writes to her friend of having no one with whom to share the pleasures of traveling and seals her complaint: "Darling, do you think every day that in my heart, I am close, close by your side?"[101]

Although both Carl Degler and Ellen Rothman question the extent of romantic friendship, all the historians who document its rise consider it an enriched female solidarity—not just an ideal or style.[102] Even though the language of female friendship followed the romantic conventions of an era, those conventions reflected a new sensibility. For women, modern subjectivity unfolded in a gender-identified culture that affirmed their dignity and individuality in a separate sphere of caring that they believed would indirectly influence and enrich all of society.[103]

Romantic women friends shared the heady illusion of that early era of gender consciousness—that women possessed an "almost magic power, which in [their] proper sphere [they] now wield over the destinies of the world.[104] Women's culture ennobled friendships that satisfied deeply felt needs newly defined by the "cult of subjectivity." And by eliciting religious approval and affirmation from their broader culture, women augmented their resources for domestic struggle with men (and for public versions of that struggle).[*]


Romantic friendship developed parallel to romantic marriage, as its cultural twin. Both ideals centered on themes of affective individualism, mutuality, and romance. The ideal of companionate marriage opposed patriarchal traditions and confronted timeless practices of same-sex socializing. By the nineteenth century, its progress was paradoxically accelerated by a new gender ideology that endorsed the separation of work and home—the segregation of male and female worlds and sensibilities. Thus, romantic expectations of marital companionship spread among middle-class women just as new gender expectations moved them worlds apart from the husbands with whom they hoped to find communion.

Nancy Cott seems to suggest romantic friendship absorbed the tension between the ideals and realities of nineteenth-century marriage.[105] Certainly, romantic friendship fit easily into traditions of female interdependence, sociability, and attachment, whereas romantic marriage contradicted inherited modes of authority, deference, and demeanor between husbands and wives. Romantic friendship thrived on its practicability in a period in which romantic companionate marital ideals were unpracticable.

From the late nineteenth century through the 1920s, various influences undermined romantic friendship; it remained in decline for most of the twentieth century. One set of changes involved male-female companionship, as education (especially coeducation) for women expanded and urban recreation diversifed. Young men and women spent more time in mixed-sex socializing; both in school and with peers, they shared more common interests and endeavors. Dating, which became widespread in the 1920s among high school and college women and men, was an intensive and time-consuming leisure pattern.[106] It isolated couples far more than nineteenth-century courtship or peer activity had, and it preempted the energies of female friendships. In 1920 a woman professor pronounced that "one seldom sees" the kind of women's friendship "that has all the wonderful community of interest one finds in ideal marriage."[107]


Another influence on friendship was the spread of popular sexology and psychoanalytic ideas. A new belief in the ubiquity of eroticism lifted the mantle of innocence from formerly unclassified romantic and sensual language and behavior. Schools actively condemned romantic friendships among girl students. Those that survived were forced underground.[108] The "lesbian threat" would hereafter shadow the course and culture of female friendships. By 1934 one sociologist, Joseph Folsom, observed fewer girls' "crushes," and less "homosexuality . . . in the form of strong friendships," which, he maintained, had been predominant among women more than men in the preceding fifty years.[109]

In response to a divorce rate that had been rising steadily from the late nineteenth century, sociologists and the up-and-coming professionals of marriage counseling placed more and more prescriptive value on companionship in marriage (strongly emphasizing mutuality), couple socializing, and "togetherness." M. E Nimkoff observed this new emphasis on "comradeship and understanding" in reviewing family sociology of the 1920s and 1930s.[110] Finally, the burgeoning industry of advertising increasingly sold identity and status through consumption, targeting women and urging them to explore romance and individuality with purchases. Beauty became a commodified individual quest, its products hyped with invidious female comparisons. Advertisers threatened that each failure of a homemaker's acumen or allure could result in loss to her sharper competitor.[111]

These remarks do not indicate the decline of same-sex friendships among women but rather the decline of romantic friendship, a culture of friendship that had been constructed within the ideology and practices of radically separated spheres of gender. Un-romantic but intimate friendships among women seem to have survived, filling the gap in marital companionship noted by twen-tiethcentury observers. As the companionate marriage ideal became more popular and more specifically romantic, egalitarian, and empathic, women intensified their emotional investment in marriage. Doing so, they relied increasingly on friendships to manage the emotional strains of marriage and to sustain their commitment to it. The researches of Harvey Locke and Ernest Burgess each concluded that friends were more important for the "marital adjustment" of wives than of husbands.

Sociologists in most eras of this century noted—if not in detail—


both the intimacy of women's friendships and the contrast with the greater distance of men's.[112] The sociologists who restudied Middletown in the 1970s found "overwhelming" evidence that marital communication had improved since the 1920s and offered, without further comment, "a typical example from one housewife": "I feel there is nothing I couldn't go to him and ask. . .I mostly talk to one of my best friends, but I feel that you should look to your own husband for basic communication."[113]

The romantic friendship ideal withered as twentieth-century social changes accelerated the companionship of men and women. They amplified egalitarian and empathic themes in the marriage ideal, stigmatized passionate attachments between women, and replaced material interdependence between women with consumption in the marketplace. The tone of adult women's friendships faded from passionate attachment to affectionate camaraderie. Romantic friendship was not to emerge again among heterosexual women until the 1970s when contemporary feminism opened a new era of gender consciousness and conflict. It emerged once again within a middle-class segment, this time among young, college-educated women. Part of a much narrower class- and age-based stratum, they relied on its countercultural support rather than the larger structures of religion and mass literature that had spread nineteenth-century romantic friendship.

In the 1980s romantic friendship has drawn publicity, particularly from advertisers, who must still exploit autonomous feminist and female cultural themes because women have remained their most important audience. Long-distance telephone commercials, for example, portray the longing and intimacy between separated women friends. For the moment, however, romantic friendship appears to flourish mainly within small feminist circles. Yet if romantic friendship has been in eclipse for most of the twentieth century, intimate friendships among women have continued to thrive in spite of the vicissitudes of geographic mobility, the double day of work within and outside the home, pronatalist and marital revivals, and the feminization of poverty. Intimate friendship among women has not only persisted; it has expanded as effective individualism has affected new sectors of society. In contrast to marriage, the reality of women's friendships has outstripped the ideal.

I have revised the history of friendship and marriage because


my contemporary interviews contradicted so much of what the sociological account of the decline of community and the rise of companionate marriage would predict. I interpreted more than a decade of new social history to suggest that friendship and marriage evolved intertwined, symbiotic cultures infused with the modern ethos of affective individualism. The economic forces that separated public and private life, and associated forces of individualism, fostered the change from traditional forms of female interdependence to modern forms of intimacy. Concurrently, intimate friendship and intimate marriage became social ideals. But for women the ideals of friendship were generally more practicable than the ideals of marriage; and so romantic friendship both compensated for and served as a model for romantic companionate marriage. As husbands and wives became more companionate, women's friendships became less romantic. Intimate female friendship quietly persisted, unheralded support for women as wives and mothers.


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Chapter One The Modernization of Friendship and Marriage
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