Can I call you friend? It’s a curious little question, one apparently more complicated than I thought it was.
Here’s the article that sparked this musing: Only half your friends actually like you.
This study bugs me for many reasons. First and foremost, the assumptions and value judgments floating around the margins were not addressed in any way, and the conclusions have been rolling around in my brain ever since and bumping into other thoughts.
These studies didn’t define friendship for the participants. The study administrators used a word they assume has the same meaning for all participants. That’s a big assumption. Huge. Big enough to bury the methodology in muddied responses. If you want to compare opinions of a fruit and half your subjects think they’re rating oranges and half think they’re rating grapes, are the results meaningful? I say no.
Nasty, tricksy things, assumptions. But, okay. Lets say we accept the (absurd) premise that everyone was operating with the same criteria when they rated their “friendships.” The conclusions still baffle me.
These studies found that perceived affection was unequal, and also that people are lousy at predicting the affection levels of others towards themselves. In other words, people overestimated how much other people liked them in ways related to how much they liked the person they were evaluating.
Let’s put this another way: studies show that if Beverly likes Ginny at a level of 10, she assumes Ginny likes her at level 10. But the reality is many of the Ginnys of the world only like their Beverlys at a level of 4. Okay, fine so far, right?
WRONG. The studies conclude that this is A Problem. The horror! People like some of their friends more than they’re liked back? The inequity! /sarcasm
The conclusions–that unequal affection is inherently bad–reduces the value of a friendship to a binary. Their conclusion is that anything other than full reciprocity of affection means the friendship itself is flawed.
I find this an immensely puzzling conclusion. It runs counter to my entire experience of friendships. It seems reductive and devaluing.
Friendships come in as many different shapes and varieties as humans do. The conclusion itself — that friendships are a singular type of relationship which somehow cheats one side if it’s not evenly mutual like a simple business transaction…it bugs me.
I like a lot of people. I consider them my friends if I like them. I don’t ever expect to be liked back. (when it happens it’s a perpetual surprise and pleasure.) Why can’t I call someone friend simply because I like and respect them? Why should my appreciation obligate them to hold me in precisely equal regard?
That whole idea seems silly to me. It even smacks of blackmail. Consider this statement: “I like you, therefore you must like me back just as much, or else we aren’t friends at all!”
Does that sound odd to anyone else? It puzzles and itches at me, and so I shared it here.
(Note: I am not looking for anyone to “explain” the study to me. I understand its point I simply disagree with it on a visceral level.)
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