Preferred Citation: Oliker, Stacey J. Best Friends and Marriage: Exchange Among Women. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.

Chapter Three Close Friendship as an Institution

Frequency of Contact

Do the standards of commitment in women's best friendships require more frequent association than friendships based on shared sociability or exchanges of services? My data suggest they do. The close friendships I learned about were extremely active. A majority of the women I spoke to saw their closest friend at least a few times


a week. Even those with best friends who lived out of town frequently visited with them at least once each week. Of the thirteen women whose best friends lived in the same town, six saw their friend nearly every day (two of them at work), and five saw their friend two to four times a week. Women who had part-time jobs or who did not work outside the home dominated the former group of most frequent visitors; those with full-time jobs dominated the latter.

Friends also frequently phoned each other. All but one of the women whose closest friends were local spoke to each other at least a few times a week. Five of the thirteen spoke to their closest friend nearly every day. Even the women whose closest friends lived out of town spoke frequently by phone. All but two spoke at least once each week. And these two, whose closest friends lived at a considerable distance, phoned their friends every few months. Because the central medium of exchange between best friends is talk, for women in particular the phone company's advertisements may be correct—telephoning may be nearly as good as being there. Given the effectiveness of telephone communication for the constitutive exchanges of women's close friendships, close women friends should be considered to sustain an enormous rate of binding association.

The women I interviewed, especially those who were not employed full-time, frequently visited with and telephoned others in their close network as well. Immediate kin—parents, grown children, sisters and brothers (and their spouses)—were predominant among the kin women felt closest to and frequently contacted.[38] Friends in this category had been friends for at least a few years.

Frequent face-to-face contact with close network members was pervasive among the women I interviewed, even though they did not see all their friends often. Nineteen of the twenty-one women saw at least one close friend or relative once a week. A majority saw at least three close friends or kin each week. The two who did not often see close friends or kin were both in the first year of living-together relationships: one was new to the region she lived in and was very attached to faraway friends and kin; the other had retreated from an active friendship network of many close friends when she entered a love relationship. All but one of the women also phoned members of their close networks; a majority had four or more close associates they called at least once each week. The


sizes and compositions of their friendship networks varied. By far most, however, had someone close—at least a few woman friends or relatives—whom they often visited and telephoned and at least a few others whom they visited less frequently but telephoned often.

Women regularly drove an hour or two to visit kin and close friends, often couples who had moved away. Traveling to visit close friends is a family activity that takes place during "family time," such as weekends or vacations. Social norms favoring contact with immediate kin seem to make it easier to use family time to visit a woman's relatives than her exclusive friends. Thus more "elective" close friends selected for routine visiting tend to be those both husband and wife feel close to. Women visited less regularly with distant women friends who were not such couple friends, even those who lived at comparable distances. Women often offered husbands' hesitations as explanations for why intense high school or college friendships had faded once either friend married and moved away.

Network scholars remind us that quantities of friends and rates of contact do not necessarily indicate social support. Conflict and stress also circulate through social networks within the same relationships that exchange support.[39] Similarly, frequency of association can be meaningful only when we also consider the content of the exchange. I have suggested that much of the fundamental exchange between women best friends takes place by telephone; so in figuring rate of association we must weight phone contact as nearly equal to personal contact. I would not, however, advise this equation in friendships that have other standards of commitment. If men's friendships use solidifying exchanges like joint activity and help in tasks, telephone contact would not substitute for them. Indeed, men do not appear to use the telephone as a medium of friendship. Lillian Rubin, for example, vividly describes her male respondents' aversion to telephone conversation and their bafflement at wives' opposite inclinations.[40]

Chapter Three Close Friendship as an Institution

Preferred Citation: Oliker, Stacey J. Best Friends and Marriage: Exchange Among Women. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.