JUST FRIENDS: The Role of Friendship in Our Lives by Lillian B. Rubin

JUST FRIENDS: The Role of Friendship in Our Lives

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Rubin is a California psychotherapist who writes popular books about interpersonal relations--between men and women, women and women, in working-class families, and, now, among friends. How delightful it is that she does not advocate instant intimacies or any sort of quicky conversions to a more feeling life. Rubin thinks! She is warm but meticulous. As a solid psychologist, she keeps her eye on Number One, the self, with all its obvious and obscure needs. Psychology, she says, has been so obsessed with the nuclear family and its imprint on the psyche that we have ignored how ""our very sense of ourselves is connected to our ability to negotiate the world of friendship."" Unlike other cultures, ours provides no social forms to honor friendship, and as anthropologists we fail to understand its importance in other societies, living and dead. We pay lip service to friendship, but do we really know who our friends are? Rubin interviewed 300 people, and many of them named one good friend. She followed up and found very few of these ""friends"" who felt a reciprocal connection. She is only mildly alarmed. The self--or rather the many selves that each of us seems to be--has changing demands, so that ""throughout our lives...we have friends and 'just' friends, old friends and new friends, good friends and best friends--each relationship meeting some part of ourselves that cries out for expression."" Rubin goes on to argue that men and women are profoundly different as friends, because of a key difference in early childhood. Both a girl and a boy are deeply dependent on the mother, then must separate from her to find their own selves. But the girl's separation, while difficult, is not so extensive as the boy's must be if he is to go on and establish his identity as a male, too. The process requires him to build a set of defenses that may cut him off from others and even from his own emotional life. In a fascinating semi-digression, Rubin attacks the venerable notion of a symbiotic relationship between mother and child. The mother does not need the child as the child needs the mother; there is no real symbiosis. The effect of this way of thinking, she says, has been to perpetuate ""stereotypes about women and their needs while, at the same time, it leaves fathers standing helplessly and relatively uselessly outside the charmed circle."" Rubin is not only a good psychologist and a decent writer, she is an utter non-sexist, too. How rare, and again, how delightful.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row