Why does a man never make friends with committed girls

sociology: The secret of friendship

The secret of friendship - page 1

The Italian car rental man must have been confused. He had a Fiat Bambino ready, but when the bride and groom from Germany arrived, they protested against the tiny vehicle - until the car rental company made their own car available for the honeymoon. "We would never have fit into that little thing," says Rainer Seehase - he had not only taken his wife with him on his honeymoon, but also his friend Gerhard.

The two men are still laughing at the car rental company, years later. Also that night when they sit on the deck of their sailing ship in fleece sweaters and tell the story. The bride had nothing against accompanying her boyfriend, Rainer Seehase assures, but admits: "I didn't even think about whether that was appropriate." In his defense, it must be said that he had known Gerhard Niemeier for much longer than his wife. The two have been friends for almost 60 years. Niemeier had already stood by him when his previous marriage failed, wasn't it just fair that he was allowed to share in his new happiness?

As curious as the story is, it shows the great importance of friendship. Especially today, when partners and jobs change frequently, having one's own family is no longer a matter of course and fewer and fewer people find solace in the church, friends are becoming more and more important. Sometimes they are the only ones who accompany us over a long period of time - they know who we really are. They are not only the companions of our childhood and adolescent adventures, but increasingly also the pillars that support us as adults in life. "Friendships are one of the central relay stations for social cohesion," says sociologist Heinz Bude. And for some people they are even more important than family.

Scientists want to discover the secret of this special relationship. They measure our groups of friends and use experiments to test who we let in. Doctors find evidence that social relationships can protect us from illness and extend our lives, some even ask for friends on prescription. Sociologists notice a new sense of responsibility among friends and see in it a salvation of the aging society beyond the family and the welfare state.

Friendship takes many forms. There are friends for life who stick together from a young age and there are friends who live together like family. Some friendships span continents or generations, others exist almost exclusively on the Internet. And then there is that friendship that puzzles psychologists - and many others -: Can men and women be friends without even thinking about sex?

The power of the first encounter

The power of the first encounter

Rainer Seehase and Gerhard Niemeier are friends for life. Even as children they camped together under the cherry trees in the garden and rowed on the Hamburg Alster. They founded a Mickey Mouse Club and shared their comic books, today they have a sailing club and a common ship. "There is no one who has known me for as long as Gerhard," says Rainer Seehase. The two met on their first day of school in Hamburg almost 60 years ago, from then on they sat next to each other in the class.

Coincidence, but it could explain why they became friends. Because often the physical proximity of two people is enough for a friendship to develop between them. The psychology professor Mitja Back from the University of Mainz found this out in a study. He randomly assigned first-year students a place in the classroom. Amazingly, the seating arrangement at this one event influenced the development of friendships: a year later, people who happened to be sitting next to each other were better friends with each other than fellow students who had sat apart. "People spontaneously rate others positively when they are in close proximity," says Back. He assumes that people who happened to sit next to us appear more accessible and that we are more likely to address them in other situations.


The friends for life: Gerhard Niemeier

Gerhard Niemeier, 65: “I will never forget how Rainer showed up at my birthday party years ago, much too late and completely filthy in a boiler suit, and said: I need money now, I've just bought a ship for us. Only he can do that. Since then we have been sailing together with our ›Verano‹, often in the English Channel, but sometimes in the Mediterranean. We even started a sailing club. We were practiced in club work: As children we had a Mickey Mouse Club, with a club hut and comic library. We even had scarves with Tick, Trick and Track on them. "

Rainer sea hare

Rainer Seehase, 65: »There is no one who has known me as long as Gerhard. We sat next to each other from the first day of school. We did all kinds of things together: rowing, camping, playing soccer. Once, when we were vaccinated against smallpox in the school gym, we passed out at the same time. Gerhard is the quieter of the two of us, he has already saved me from a lot of fights. I could talk to him about anything. And he's the only person I can sleep next to in the car in the passenger seat. "

Freshman lectures are made for the field studies of friendship researchers - where else do you find so many people looking for new friends? Jaap Denissen from the Humboldt University in Berlin also observed the initiation of friendship there. His results arouse doubts about the saying "like and equal like to join". After that, it doesn't matter whether someone is really similar to us - it is enough that we perceive them as similar. Those who consider someone to be similarly conscientious, open, extroverted, agreeable or fearful compared to themselves are more likely to make friends with them. "However, this perception often does not coincide with reality," says the psychology professor.

Calculation also plays a role, the study has shown: We choose our friends based on what we expect from them. How useful students found their fellow students at the beginning of the semester had an impact on who they became friends with. This applied primarily to emotional needs, explains Denissen: "How well will a person comfort or amuse me? Can they create a cozy atmosphere?" Therefore, extroverts are fundamentally more interesting as friends. They are more sociable and talkative, and radiate more warmth. "We promise ourselves that they will manage the matter of emotional help particularly well."

Even very pragmatic considerations play a role - whether someone can help us with repairs or has important information ready. "The people have a calculating approach," says Denissen. That may be unromantic, but it's not surprising. "You have to ask the evolutionary question why there are friendships," says Denissen, referring to the hard life of our ancestors. "So it is plausible to assume that friendships are also a means to help each other in difficult situations."

Friends make us strong

Friends make us strong

Rainer Seehase and Gerhard Niemeier have often helped each other. One was better at maths and had people copied, the other knew better about girls and gave tips. But true friendship sometimes took courage. Like when Gerhard Niemeier felt the harshness of a strict teacher. "That was a dragon from the 'Third Reich'," he remembers. And the dragon struck hard when the boy was late for class again. "Bums! Your head was all red," says Rainer Seehase. First he had to grin, he admits. But then he organized a protest with other schoolmates out of solidarity. Half the class marched to the teacher's house to tell her that the students didn't want anything more to do with her. "I thought that was great," says Niemeier.

The true value of friends is particularly evident in difficult situations: They make us strong and protect us from stress. To measure this, scientists put people in the most uncomfortable situations. The Freiburg psychology professor Markus Heinrichs, for example, had subjects give presentations in front of an audience including a camera. Then they had to do mental arithmetic without warning. A nightmare for many. Some coped better with the situation than others: Those were the ones who were allowed to bring their best friend with them. "They were much less stressed than the people who had to come alone," says Heinrichs. The researchers measured a lower concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva, and the test subjects themselves reported less anxiety and restlessness. The friends were only allowed to be present during the preparation phase, not during the test itself. Heinrichs summarizes his results in a rule of thumb: "Ten minutes at my side, a friend effectively protects me from stress for over an hour."

The psychologist believes that the hormone oxytocin is responsible for this. It builds trust and reduces anxiety. Scientists assume that the body secretes more of the hormone in the presence of people it trusts. So far they have not been able to prove this directly. Blood and saliva tests only partially reflect what is happening in the brain. That's why Heinrichs tested the effect of the hormone with the help of a nasal spray. In his stress study, he made half of the test subjects inhale the oxytocin spray, the others he gave a placebo, a dummy drug. In fact, the subjects who both had their boyfriend with them and inhaled the hormone spray were the best immune to the stress. Those who came alone and only received the placebo were the most sensitive to stress.



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Researchers have also done these experiments (without spray) with couples - with an amazing result. It does help men if their partner persuades them well. However, the reverse is not always true. For some women, the stress response was even stronger when their partner came along. "It may be better for women to bring their best friend and not their husband with them when facing a challenge," says Heinrichs.

Problems appear smaller in the presence of friends - and mountains literally flatter: In experiments, people actually estimate the incline of a hill to be lower when a friend is standing next to them. The longer you know it, the stronger the effect. Often even the thought of him is enough for the mountain to shrink. "We book our friends as potential support," says psychology professor Denissen. "Anyone who has such resources classifies a problem as less threatening." Denissen found that people have higher self-esteem on days when they meet their friends. He even sees a connection between the number of friends in a country and the mood of the population. A comparison of the OECD countries showed that in the USA or Greece, where people are often in contact with their friends, citizens' self-esteem is higher than in countries like Hungary or Japan, where people spend less time with their friends. "That was a very strong effect," says Denissen. "You can really line up the countries on a chart." Germany is in the middle of the field.

Seehase and Niemeier meet twice a week, not only for sailing talks, but also to "express emotions". Niemeier then tells about his mother, who has just turned a hundred and needs care, the sea hare sometimes has to say something about his "tricky children". They discuss the big issues in life on their sailing ship, at night when the sea is calm and the Verano glides smoothly through the water. A few years ago, when Gerhard Niemeier's wife had died, they sat up on deck for many nights and talked. "That helped me."

The people who come to Wolfgang Krüger's office hours, on the other hand, often have no friends to talk to. The Berlin psychotherapist has found a "blatant lack of friendship" in many of his patients. Men in particular often have little confidante and become too dependent on their wives. Kruger has written a book about the importance of friendship and even offers counseling courses. "I'm sure that some people wouldn't need therapy at all if they had more friends," he says.

Studies clearly show one thing: those who have good social relationships are happier, physically healthier and even live longer. The latter was only recently revealed by a meta-analysis by psychologists at Brigham Young University in Utah. The researchers evaluated studies with a total of more than 300,000 people whose state of health had been documented for an average of eight years. People with close ties had a 50 percent higher chance of surviving this period. A lack of social support, on the other hand, turned out to be just as harmful as the daily consumption of 15 cigarettes or alcohol abuse and more harmful than refusal to exercise or being overweight.

In turn, positive relationships strengthen the immune system, improve wound healing, and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and depression. Researchers suspect that they act like a buffer: the support of other people dampens the effects of acute stress and permanent strain. In addition, according to the scientists, people pay more attention to their health when they have close ties.

An Australian long-term study with 1500 over 70-year-olds showed that it is above all friends who increase life expectancy. Contact with one's own children or other relatives therefore had a significantly less positive impact. "We can choose friends. We tend to value relationships with them more than family ties. That could lead to them being more useful to us emotionally," says Carlos Mendes de Leon of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago.

Facebook helps the shy

Facebook helps the shy

However, it is not always easy to maintain close ties. The great upheavals in life often drive old friendships apart: Those who move to another city to study or work, have children or get divorced, can rarely keep all of their connections. Every seven years we lose an average of half of our friends and replace them with new ones.

Robert Fiedler has a profile on Facebook to "easily stay in touch with people". The 35-year-old from Lübeck has 43 friends there: old classmates, travel acquaintances, people he met during his studies in England, but also close friends he often sees.


The Facebook friend

Robert Fiedler, 35: »Four years ago a friend from England invited me to Facebook. We then finished a game of chess on the website that we had started when he visited us. After a while, other friends came along. Facebook provides a convenient framework for keeping in touch with people. I am really friends with most of my 43 Facebook friends, not just known. But Facebook is not my life. If it's really important, I'm still more likely to call or meet people in the café or at home. Some of my friends don't even have a Facebook profile. I find it most beautiful when a friend from the past shows up on Facebook and in this way revives an old connection. The site is really good for that. "

How close can you get yourself through a website? In the past, critics have repeatedly warned of the social consequences of the Internet, such as superficial online contacts that are at the expense of real relationships. Some researchers even claim that people with many Facebook friends have social adjustment difficulties.

Mitja Back contradicts these theses: "It is a myth that Facebook users have worse relationships in real life." Studies have refuted that. Rather, the opposite seems to be true. For the psychologist Jaap Denissen, "there is now a consensus in research that technical innovations like Facebook have a positive effect on friendship".A long-term study by the University of Amsterdam, for example, recently found that the quality of friendships among young people increases when they communicate with their friends over the Internet.

Denissen even sees online networks as an advantage for all those who find it difficult to deal directly with others. "You can write everything down in peace," he says. "That makes them more exposed, and that favors friendships."

Robert Fiedler sometimes sends messages to his friends on Facebook, looks at their vacation photos and receives birthday greetings on his wall. Of course, this cannot replace a personal conversation, as all the experts agree. "But it usually doesn't either," says Denissen. Most people on Facebook would interact with people they know in real life, and they would continue to meet them. "I see my friends as often as before," says Robert Fiedler. "Sometimes I even use Facebook to meet on the phone with people I haven't seen for a long time."

Friendship is stronger than sex

Friendship is stronger than sex

When Jandrik Wessels and Joy Liedtke take their strollers for a walk through the park at the old airfield in Berlin-Tempelhof, one might think: What a beautiful couple! "Crazy," says Joy Liedtke. The two shake their heads and laugh. They have known each other for five years, see each other three times a week, go dancing and camping together at a music festival every year, they cook together, discuss politics and can even be silent together. But they haven't kissed once in five years. Jandrik and Joy are just friends.

In the 1970s, social scientists called this kind of friendship simply abnormal. Until the 1980s, there wasn't even a relationship category for it. But then something monstrous happened: in a study in the United States, up to 30 percent of the subjects named a person of the opposite sex as their best friend.


The platonic friends: Joy Liedtke

Joy Liedtke, 28: »Jandrik and I have been friends since we camped at Fusion, the music festival, a few years ago. The adventures of a camping community weld together. He's always in a good mood, it's easy to be five with him, that's what I like about him. But I can't imagine that there could be more between us. I've always had a lot of male friends, I think that's completely normal. And it has advantages, for example when I have a problem with my partner. Unlike my friends, Jandrik can understand his side well. He gives me a more objective look. "

Jandrik Wessels

Jandrik Wessels, 30: “Once a girl in a club intercepted me on the way to the toilet because she didn't dare to speak to me in the presence of Joy. So I thought, upsala, do we look like a couple? But I don't care what people think. I can fax with Joy, but also discuss politics or music and philosophize around. I have a good friend too, but in general I am more likely to talk to friends about feelings. Somehow women are better friends for me. Maybe that's because I grew up in a village where the guys didn't have much on their minds besides beer and soccer. "

Today, when the worlds of men and women overlap strongly, gender roles and stereotypes are dissolving, platonic friendship between the sexes is commonplace. Nevertheless, such pairs of friends still seem suspicious to many. Is there really nothing going on? Doesn't a sexual relationship inevitably have to develop - as with Harry and Sally in the film - when a man and woman are so close?

"From an evolutionary perspective, every halfway person of the same age of the opposite sex is a potential reproductive partner - if a man meets a woman, that is simply in the room," says the evolutionary psychologist Lars Penke from the University of Edinburgh. And he confirms a cliché: "Men have a stronger tendency than women to suspect a possible sexual relationship when they meet new people." Nevertheless, a platonic friendship is possible.

American communications researcher Heidi Reeder found out in extensive surveys that not everyone has purely platonic intentions. After all, 28 percent of those questioned found their close boyfriend or girlfriend physically attractive, 14 percent even secretly longed for a love affair, and 39 percent had at least had romantic intentions in the past. The majority of the 231 participants, however, had no romantic or sexual attraction towards their friends. And friendship was a priority for most of them, they didn't want to change the relationship. Two researchers from the University of Athens recently came to the same conclusion: Although sexual attraction can be a challenge, friendship is in many cases stronger.

It is of course easier if at least one of the two friends is already taken, says evolutionary psychologist Lars Penke. When Joy met Jandrik through friends and they camped together at a music festival for a week, she knew that from now on he should have a place in her life. But only as a good friend. She already had a partner. She's been together with him for eleven years now, and they now also have a child. Jandrik had other things on his mind at the time as well, a painful separation was behind him, so he would "never have thought of seeing Joy as more than a friend".

Would they have become something if the situation had been different? "Don't take it personally," says Joy to her friend Jandrik, "but I just can't imagine doing it with you." She already finds Jandrik attractive, and he also has his heart in the right place. "But you can find someone attractive without having to go to bed with them." Science agrees with her. In her survey, Heidi Reeder came to the result that, objectively speaking, one can find the boyfriend or girlfriend physically attractive without feeling attracted to him or her.