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Psychology of Social Connection

Friendship 101

March 20th, 2023 · 12 Comments

Ever wondered what’s the secret to a good friendship? While many people think romantic relationships are the hardest relationships to attain and maintain, there are many facets that go into having healthy friendships. Because of this, people may often overlook the possibility and reality of how effortful friendship-building can be. In this blog post, we will discuss the important components of building and maintaining friendships while providing evidence-based relationship-building practices. 

Gena: Communication: the key to building successful friendships. 

While proximity and frequent communication are valuable in shifting relationships from acquaintances to friendships, maintaining and developing friendship bonds require effortful communication. Communication is imperative to the success of all relationships, but within friendships, the type of communication shared may differ. According to research by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, as friendships develop, individuals shift from discussing fewer and more shallow topics to discussing deeper and more thought-provoking concepts (Altman & Taylor, 1973). Whereas acquaintances may focus on discussing the weather outside or their plans for the weekend, close friends may discuss more sensitive topics or seek advice on navigating stressful life experiences. Naturally, as one person shares more, the other does, and self-disclosure increases the chance that someone else will share about themselves (Sprecher et al., 2013). You may have experienced this effect when talking with a friend. As they shared a specific and potentially vulnerable story, you may have felt inclined to also share more about yourself. Hearing disclosure increases familiarity with an individual (Sprecher et al., 2013), and this cycle of effortful communication between two individuals provides the foundation for building trust and mutual support (Nicolaisen & Thorson, 2017), which are essential factors in sustaining a friendship. When thinking about best practices in building and maintaining relationships, it is crucial to create space for authentic conversation that also prioritizes active and enthusiastic listening (Reis et al., 2010). According to past research, enthusiastic listening is more beneficial than neutral listening since enthusiastic responses convey validation which plays a positive role in supporting friendship (Reis et al., 2010). Within friendship conversations, it is imperative to focus on listening to understand rather than to respond. Practices such as using affirming language, repeating for clarification instead of assuming, and asking how to help before offering unsolicited advice are great practices in shifting towards more enthusiastic listening (Reis et al., 2010). 

Callie: How can long-distance friendships be successful?

One threat to our existing friendships is a lack of in-person contact. Many people do not live close to their friends for the entirety of their friendships. Friends are made at different stages in life, and the physical distance between individuals may increase as we change jobs or schools, enter retirement, move, etc. An increase in distance between two friends makes it harder for friends to see each other in person. Because of this, it is important to understand the best ways to communicate with someone so that a close relationship can be maintained. Oswald & Clark (2003) found that the frequency of communication is important when maintaining friendships where in-person communication is rare. When looking at high school best friends who transitioned to separate colleges, the study found that the most successful friendships were the ones who communicated frequently, as this increased the satisfaction and commitment of the relationship. 

Technology has provided modern friendships with a unique ability to communicate regardless of distance, and certain forms of communication are more effective than others. Shklovski et al. (2008) found that phone calls are the preferable way to communicate with someone when compared to emails. This is because the study found that phone calls both maintain and foster growth within a friendship when face-to-face contact is limited due to distance. Furthermore, increases in emailing were not found to help maintain or grow friendships, but decreases in emailing were found to negatively affect friendships. This may be because communication through email shows investment in the relationship, but does not provide the same personal connection (like a phone call does) that fosters relationship growth between two people. 

While being in a long-distance friendship may limit the frequency of in-person interaction, these types of friendships are often just as satisfying as close-distance friendships (Johnson, 2001). Johnson (2001) found that certain maintenance behaviors in long-distance friendships allow individuals to remain close. For example, openness and assurance were both behaviors that were found to foster closeness in friendships, and, because of technology, this can be achieved regardless of the amount of in-person interactions. 

When looking at the factors that go into successful long-distance friendships, it is clear that the quality and frequency of interactions allow for satisfaction in the relationship. Even though we may not see our long-distance friends in person as often as we’d like, we can still maintain a close relationship with them by engaging in frequent and meaningful communication. 

Andrea: Friendship Evolution or Dissolution?

Have you ever thought about why some of your friendships have stayed strong for years, and others didn’t last? 

It turns out that there were likely either some unreciprocated or reciprocated actions that determined the outcome. In a study by Oswald et al. (2004), dyadic relationships, or friendships between two people, were assessed based on their closeness level (either best, close, or casual) and determinants of the maintenance between said closeness level. It was found that the reciprocal effort to maintain the friendship was a predictor of what level of closeness the friendship reached. However, if this effort was not reciprocated, there was instability in the friendship that was either resolved by one member of the dyad decreasing or increasing their maintenance effort to match the other member or the deterioration of the dyadic friendship. 

More often than not, though, if there is an unreciprocated effort by one side of the dyad, then we see that one side is benefitting from the friendship more than the other, and it will dissolve. Additionally, we see that this is a behavior that likely develops very early, as it is seen in young children. In a study by Hallinan (1978), it was found that children in an elementary school stopped interacting with a potential friend if there was no reciprocated interest in a proposed friendship offer or no reciprocated effort to preserve the friendship.

Having said this, these findings may not definitively be indicators of your friendships stability and quality, but these trends may be able to explain variations in your past and current friendships, and moving forward, you can even use them as methods to upkeep relationships with people that you want to stay close friends with. In order to do so, one may ask what are maintenance strategies one can employ? In the study by Oswald et al., 2004, the most effective strategies were found to be positivity, supportiveness, and openness. Funnily enough, we see that these strategies are also found to be important maintenance predictors in romantic relationships. Thus, a positive externality of implementing these maintenance strategies in your friendships is that it could help with your romantic relationships as well!



Altman, I., & Taylor, D. A. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Hallinan. (1978). The process of friendship formation. Social Networks, 1(2), 193–210.

Johnson, A. J. (2001). Examining the maintenance of friendships: Are there differences between geographically close and long distance friends?. Communication Quarterly, 49(4), 424-435.

Nicholaisen, M., & Thorsen, K. (2017). What are friends for? Friendships and loneliness over the lifespan–From 18 to 79 years. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 84, 126-158

Oswald, D. L., & Clark, E. M. (2003). Best friends forever?: High school best friendships and the transition to college. Personal relationships, 10(2), 187-196.

Oswald, D. L., Clark, E. M., & Kelly, C. M. (2004). Friendship maintenance: An analysis of individual and dyad behaviors. Journal of Social and clinical psychology, 23(3), 413-441.

Reis, H.T., Smith, S.M., Carmichael, C.L., Caprariello, P.A., Tsai, F., Rodrigues, A., & Maniaci, M.R. (2010). Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99, 311-329.

Shklovski, I., Kraut, R., & Cummings, J. (2008, April). Keeping in touch by technology: Maintaining friendships after a residential move. In Proceedings of the sigchi conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 807-816).

Sprecher, S., Treger, S., & Wondra, J. D. (2013). Effects of self-disclosure role on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(4), 497–514.

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12 responses so far ↓

  • Rachel // Mar 21st 2023 at 9:33 am

    When thinking about the ideal form of communication for a friendship, it made me wonder how people can cross the gap into more deeper and fulfilling conversations, and also the idea of “trauma dumping”. For some people, they may “overshare” and this presents a dilemma: when we want to get close to someone, we want to hear more about them, but what is appropriate? what can we handle? and if there are not previously established boundaries, how can we navigate these new forms of communication? Next, when looking at long-distance friendships, it made me consider how I’ve maintained relationships with my high school friends. Though we rarely join phone calls, we text semi-frequently, and yet remain close and hang out in-person when we are in our hometown as much as possible. However, setting the ‘proper’ expectations of infrequent communication has made sure that no one feels hurt or expects a disproportionate level of communication. Finally, the reciprocated actions is real. Not feeling appreciated definitely has led to the collapse of some of my previous friendships, thinking about the long-distance friendships, if we can set the right expectations, will that prevent the hurt? or is there always going to be some level of miscommunication before we figure out what works?

  • Evan Tingler // Mar 21st 2023 at 11:38 am

    As friendships play such an instrumental role in social connection, I found this blog post particularly useful in providing evidence-based tools and tips to strengthen and maintain solid friendships. I agree that friendships can take a lot of effort on both sides and when one person stops putting in the effort (similarly to romantic relationships), the friendship can begin to deteriorate.

    While reading Gena’s section on communication, I began to analyze the content and depth of my conversations with different friends. Gena mentioned that a big difference between acquaintances and friends is the extent to which you are vulnerable and open up. Yet, I have a few best friends that I go to when I want to have deep/emotional talks and seek advice, and I have other best friends who are very supportive, but they are not so good at the emotional vulnerability part. I wonder if it is good to have different friends to meet different needs. Additionally, I wonder if friends who struggle to share and react to emotional conversations will never be as close to me as those who do.

    Per Callie’s section, I definitely relate to the struggles of long-distance friendship with my best friends from high school. Over the years that I have been in college, I have found myself reaching out to them way more than they reach out to me. It makes the relationship feel one-sided, yet when I see them in person over breaks, we pick up right where we left off and are as close as ever. For some reason, I find it more difficult to communicate how their lack of initiative makes me feel versus communicating with a romantic partner, and I wonder why this might be.

    Andrea’s section on friendship evolution or dissolution really ties together all of my questions and comments from above. The key to any relationship is communication and effort. Is it possible to ask someone to put in more effort, or might this drive them further away? Can we inspire effort in our relationships? If so, what might this look like? Differently from romantic relationships, there isn’t typically a friend “break-up,” so at what point do you decide that someone isn’t reciprocating your level of effort in the friendship? Should you decide that this person isn’t someone worth having in your life since they can’t put in the effort, or can they drift back to being an acquaintance?

  • Cassie Sousa // Mar 21st 2023 at 4:43 pm

    Gena’s section about self-disclosure and enthusiastic listening reminds me of the week we had about imitation, wherein we discussed that behavioral mimicry and synchrony can increase liking between people. The strategies discussed for fostering a strong friendship (e.g., engaging in reciprocal self-disclosure, using affirming language, and repeating what the other person has said for the purpose of clarification) are all reminiscent of the strategies we talked about in Week 3 for successful imitation in social settings (e.g., looking where another person points, smiling when another person smiles, etc.). Each of these strategies, from Week 3 and Week 9, seem to encourage the development of reciprocal understanding — a key idea for this week.

    I was intrigued by Callie’s section because my best friend and I are in a long-distance friendship. While we only communicate once every week or two via text message (about nothing particularly important or meaningful), when we are able to see each other in-person again it feels as if no time has passed at all such that our friendship seems to have progressed even without frequent and meaningful contact. So, I wonder if there is another factor here which affects the maintenance of a long-distance friendship: the duration or strength of the friendship before it became long-distance. My best friend and I have known each other for 8 years or so now, and we spent a lot of time together in middle and high school. So, I wonder if the strength of the friendship we built before moving away for college has allowed our current friendship to continue to grow even though it is now long-distance.

    I think that Andrea’s section really begins to answer my question above about how the strength of a friendship might determine its ability to withstand separation. Also, I find it really interesting, yet common sensical, that similar maintenance strategies should be employed for both friendships and romantic relationships. I wonder if this is (partially) why some people really value being good friends with their partners before becoming romantically involved. Being friends first might be a way to ensure that you will enjoy reciprocal effort, positivity, openness, and support in your relationship before you actually take the leap and commit to a more serious romantic relationship.

  • Sophia Gilroy // Mar 21st 2023 at 8:47 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post not only because it discussed interesting content but I also appreciated how applicable their discussion was to everyday life. Gena’s section on communication highlighted the importance of not just speaking with a friend, but actively listening and interacting with what they are saying. I thought her statement of “listening to understand rather than to respond” was powerful and pertinent to our technology-focused society. I also thought her points on how to build a friendship via disclosure was another relatable and applicable process in order to successfully create a stronger and deeper connection within a friendship. I thought that Callie’s section followed Gena’s discussion beautifully because she emphasized how important these communication skills are in long-distance friendships. I was interested in the fact that email did not improve friendships but a lack of emails had a negative effect. Gena’s follow-up on this finding was helpful in understanding the possible mechanisms behind this association. Concluding this blog post with Andrea’s section built off of the other sections while also providing closure to the discussion. Her emphasis on reciprocity in friendships, and romantic relationships, made perfect sense to me. The fine balance that a friendship needs to be maintained and then enhanced was highlighted by all three sections of this post.

  • Wendy Carballo // Mar 22nd 2023 at 1:47 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! While reading Gena’s section, I was reminded of my Psychotherapy GENED class in which we’re learning about group therapy and how it can be process-oriented; process, in this sense, meaning a structural framework that focuses on the “how” as opposed to the “what” component of interpersonal communication which helps to encourage empathy (and/or navigate interpersonal differences), establish trust, and foster a safe environment for sharing and connecting. Given this, I was wondering if there’s a difference between friendships that focus primarily on one of these components, or whether a balance is genuinely required for building a meaningful relationship. Can a good friendship be cultivated when there’s low compatibility between the two parties, or can we work towards it using strategic communication? I was also wondering if being capable of sharing deep conversations is necessarily indicative of a close relationship, as it seems to me that sometimes the same could occur between two strangers wishing for a low-stake, emotional outlet. Moreover, regarding both Andrea and Callie’s section, it makes sense that reciprocity is an important aspect of maintaining relationships, as one can imagine that long-distance relationships tend to fall apart because of growing interpersonal differences, especially in regard to goals and expectations, or individual evolutions. In other words, if two people are not on the same page, then it makes sense that their relationship would dissolve or not evolve as one, as they may not be motivated to communicate and/or reciprocate with the same intensity, if at all.

  • Elle Freedman // Mar 22nd 2023 at 3:57 pm

    This week’s blog post gave great evidence in current research about methods to promote friendship, why some friendships are stronger than others, and the importance of communication with friends we don’t see as often as we would like. I thought that Callie’s section of long-distance friends was particularly interesting, especially in light of the pandemic. As the world shifts to more digital platforms as a means of keeping in touch with people, I wonder how that would affect the level of friendships and connectivity. Callie provided insight in her research that the methods in which we communicate, not just the frequency, are important to promoting friendship bonds. It makes sense that phone calls are stronger forms of communication than emails, and I wonder if that extends to texting as well. Is the form of communication more important than the frequency (ie is a few phone calls more beneficial than a lot of emails)? Future research on different digital platforms and their effectiveness in communication would be cool to look at.

    Gena’s section brought to light something that I definitely experience in my everyday life. Her analysis on the depth of conversations between levels of friends reminds me of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:”small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.” I appreciated her point about vulnerability- all it takes is one person to open up and share their story, and the other individual feels more inclined to do the same and a bond grows stronger. I wonder how many people stay as shallow friends just because no one is willing to be vulnerable, or other factors that impact the shift from friends to close connections.

    Andrea’s section on reciprocity is something I know all too well. I find that I put a lot of effort and time into my friendships, and I can definitely tell when that is not reciprocated and it’s super disheartening. Andrea enhanced this idea though with her findings that this behavior develops early on, even amongst elementary school kids. I wonder if that is some evolutionary component of social connection, almost a defense mechanism. To stop caring about someone who isn’t putting as much effort in as you could be a way of ensuring that we aren’t mis-allocating our resources and time!

  • Karley Merkley // Mar 22nd 2023 at 4:49 pm

    This was a really cool piece and I love everything you all talked about!– very relatable–
    When reading Callie’s part on maintains long distance relationships, it got me thinking about how I send meme’s & TikTok’s to friends rather than texting or calling … I would love to see how this either builds a relationship or sort of just maintains it — is this still meaningful? When reading Andrea’s part I was thinking about some filed friendships I have had and reflecting on them now it seems like the friendship was missing some key pieces like openness and perhaps that is why it failed. Furthermore, I think communication is very important in all aspects of life not just in relationships but in the workplace and perhaps in stores etc. One other related thought I had while reading is how does age effect ones willingness to create new relationships (referring to the first paper we read Baumeister) are long distance relationships more successful at a younger age or at an older age?

  • Pomai // Mar 22nd 2023 at 8:01 pm

    How people communicate is crucial to how they perceive each other and trust each other, among many other things. The research Gena shared is interesting and thoughtful, but I’m curious as to how communicating in group settings vs. 1-1 settings impacts the development of friendships. Having deep thoughtful conversations often occurs in friend groups while sitting around a common room or eating a meal, so does having those conversations in a group setting limit the impact the shared vulnerabilities have on forging closer connections? Since the connection is shared amongst multiple people, it may limit the extent to which the communication translates to a deeper connection with a specific individual in the friend group. For instance, if a group of friends were all talking about their biggest fears, would they feel as close to each other as if they had talked about their fears separately? The group setting has its benefits in opening up new directions of thinking and new perspectives, but I suspect that it doesn’t facilitate as strong a connection at the individual level because there isn’t as much back and forth building off each other’s thoughts as there would be in a 1:1 situation (e.g., someone may have something to say but someone else jumps in instead). Based on this, I hypothesize people need 1-1 time with each other in order to truly be close to all the people in their friend group. I’ve seen this reflected in my own friendships: of my friend group, the people I’m closest with are the ones I hang out with 1-1 outside of the group, whereas the ones I feel less connected to are the ones I only hang out with in the group (they are still great friends and I could talk to them about anything, but they haven’t bridged that gap to being someone who I would call on in a time of need).

    A point of interest that Callie’s section brought to mind is what affects someone’s propensity to maintain distant friendships vs. nearby ones. Some of my friends are incredibly good at calling their friends from home and staying in touch, while others focus more on being present in the moment with the people around them. I’m one of those people who doesn’t text while we’re on breaks and fails to communicate over long periods of time (e.g., I’ll text friends from back home once a semester and text friends at Harvard once a break). Thus, every time I meet up with friends after a long time of not seeing them, it feels great to catch up and have that experience of reuniting. In this way, not communicating doesn’t create a barrier and instead serves as a way of making our reconnection even more exciting without losing the connection we had. A different friend of mine video calls her friends almost every day and could never imagine not staying in touch. Both our methods are so different, but they work in their own ways, so I wonder what makes people choose a certain way of communicating in long-distance friendships and whether one method leads to more fulfilling friendships than the other. Based on our experiences, we both seem satisfied, but something must be sacrificed in each method (e.g., I sacrifice knowing what my long-distance friends are up to and can’t help them in the moment, only hearing about things after they happened, while my friend sacrifices hours that she could be spending with people near her), so perhaps there’s no one right way to communicate and it’s just a personal preference of what makes us feel closer to the people in our lives.

    Andrea’s section made me wonder how reciprocity starts. In the beginning, someone initiated the friendship. Thus, at some point in time, every friendship was at least somewhat one-sided before becoming mutual. So, the real questions should be not if a relationship is reciprocal, but how long are you willing to wait for another person to reciprocate your friendship. This varies from person to person and depending on the context of the situation, but I wonder if there is an optimal length of time for waiting before which you risk losing a good friendship and after which you waste your time on someone who you will never form a connection with. Although reciprocity is nice to have, sometimes friendships take a while to develop, and just because someone isn’t reciprocating initially, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the wait and not worth it to keep trying to be the person’s friend. I have some friendships that definitely were one-sided for a while, but one of us saw something in the other and didn’t give up on trying to form connections, which led to the other person realizing how much the first person cared and opening up more until the relationship became mutual. Everyone is different, and some people are slower to reciprocate or like to go with the flow, so I don’t think lack of reciprocity on its own is a determinant of friendship dissolution.

  • Ava Rauser // Mar 22nd 2023 at 11:32 pm

    Thank you for such a great post— reading this definitely helped me re-evaluate some of my current friendships and inspire ways I can be more intentional in helping them grow! I thought it was so fascinating to read about the role that technology can play in long distance relationships. I have found that some of my closest friendships are my long-distance friends who I FaceTime for 2 hours once a month and talk about deep, sometimes scandalous, thoughts and topics that I don’t share with my closest peers at school. The references from the Johnson (2001) paper is really making me reanalyze the substance that my relationships are built on— while I have many friends at school, they can sometimes be shallow in nature (mostly based on passing “hellos” on the street), while those that I choose to call (even after not seeing them for up to a year at a time) are people that I consider to be some of my best friends. Gena’s section really made me reflect on my current friendships and how I can do more to be a great friend. It made me reflect upon my friendship with my roommates— I realized that last year, our proximity at the time hurt our relationships. Because all six of us lived in such a confined space, we often treated each other as colleagues rather than best friends— we delegated tasks, had cleaning schedules, and were generally afraid of ruffling feathers as not to disrupt the peace. Now that we have been split into two different suites, we have never been closer— we finally have the space to be vulnerable and have deeper conversations with each other, without fear of getting into a minor rift and spending an awkward night in a double together. Now that we’ve successful overcome some difficult conversations, we are able to have unfiltered, raw conversations in which we feel safe to explore our opinions and share with each other. This development highly resonates with Altman & Taylor, and encourages me to create similar environments within my other friendships. Finally, Andrea’s section really reaffirmed these ideas in encouraging thoughtful, conscientious growth of one’s friendships. While it his easy to take friendships and shared history for granted, this section was an impactful reminder to water the flowers of friendship as the more love that you pour into others, often, the closer your relationships will be. Thanks all for a really informative post— it was a very welcome reminder of how special the privilege of friendship is and to show appreciation for your people!

  • Jessica // Mar 22nd 2023 at 11:57 pm

    I loved your focus on how friendships are maintained overtime. The studies on self-disclosure were especially interesting and seem easily applicable to real life. It feels natural that individuals would begin to share more information as they grow closer to a person. The deeper or longer the friendship, the more truth is likely developed between the two people. I read a similar study last year and I notice self-disclosure in my interactions with friends I am less close to. I would be interested to see what the studies say about the motivation for self-disclosure in less-developed relationships. The impact of technology on friendships and long-term relationships was also really fascinating.

  • Eliot // Mar 23rd 2023 at 12:33 am

    To Gena’s points: it appears that self-disclosure is a hallmark of deep friendships, but I wonder if it might be a bidirectional thing — could we deepen our friendships with people just by actively deciding to talk about more weighty/substantial subject matter, even if we haven’t reached a certain level of familiarity with someone?

    For context, I feel like sometimes the discussion of weighty material has been used to facilitate comfort with a new group of people (specifically, I’m thinking about my freshman orientation program, FOP, which had all of us go around one night and say something we were terrified of, something we liked about ourselves, etc… all very profound questions). This could be because it forces us to develop feelings of trust that otherwise wouldn’t develop (or would develop much more slowly).

  • Ella // Mar 23rd 2023 at 10:40 am

    I really enjoyed this weeks blog post – particularly how it illuminated the benefits of reciprocal sharing as it pertains to building mutual trust and, ultimately, friendship. Similar to Rachel’s point, however, I wonder about “trauma dumping” and the ways in which oversharing without attempts to check in with and respect the receivers boundaries might not always be the way to build a safe, healthy friendship. Moreover, while reciprocal sharing is so incredibly important – that both parties in a relationship feel that they have the space to share authentically and be heard – I also found myself wondering about the parameters on this, as well. As in, while reciprocal sharing over time is a necessity, in the short-term I could think of cases in which reciprocal sharing without taking the appropriate time and care to validate the sharing of our partners could actually prove detrimental to relationships.

    I also found the findings about phone call as a way to nourish long-distance friendships particularly compelling, as I have a few friends from high school I try to keep up with, given how I value our friendship. It is also an important point to make in relation to college students, given how much of a transitory period college can be – depending on the given month and whether or not it falls in the school year, friends rotate continuously between being short or long-distance. Knowing the best ways to sustain friendships during break periods is then critical!

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