Identity as a Moderator of Gender Differences in the Emotional Closeness of Emerging Adults' Same- and Cross-Sex Friendships

Article excerpt

Meeting closeness and intimacy needs (e.g., mutual empathy, love, and security) within relationships outside the family environment is an integral aspect of development (Sullivan, 1953), and these needs are commonly met through the formation of friendships. Research on friendship closeness during emerging adulthood (often referred to as late adolescence and/or young adulthood) indicates that closeness becomes an increasingly important aspect of relationships (Arnett, 2000; Montgomery, 2005), and emerging adults meet their closeness needs through interactions with same- and cross-sex friends. Although both of these relationships are important to emerging adults, they report knowing their same-sex friend longer, spending more time with that friend, and being more committed to that friend (Johnson, 2004). Further, same-sex friendships are formed earlier than cross-sex friendships (Sharabany, Gershoni, & Hoffman, 1981), provide for more relaxed interactions (Sullivan, 1953), and are "perceived as more significant" than cross-sex friendships (Lempers & Clark-Lempers, 1993, p. 102).

In addition to the friendship differences, gender differences in same-and cross-sex friendship emotional closeness are also apparent (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985; Lempers & Clark-Lempers, 1993). Research examining gender differences in reported friendship closeness indicates that females (1) develop closer and more intimate friendships, (2) stress the importance of maintaining closeness and intimacy, and (3) expect more closeness and intimacy in their friendships than do males (Clark & Ayers, 1993; Clark & Bittle, 1992; Foot, Chapman, & Smith, 1977). Females also report closer same-sex friendships than do males. Although males report a desire for closeness and intimacy in their same-sex friendships, the level of closeness within male emerging adults' friendships does not approach the level reported in female friendships (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Lempers & Clark-Lempers, 1992). Finally, cross-sex friendships are more important to females during the period of emerging adulthood than to males (Blyth, Hill, & Thiel, 1982), and findings from Bukowski and Kramer (1986) and Johnson (2004) indicate that females report higher levels of closeness in their cross-sex friendships than do males.

Although gender and friendship differences in emerging adults' emotional closeness have been reported in the literature, other factors are also associated with emerging adults' friendship closeness. One factor that has received both theoretical and empirical attention is emerging adults' identity development. Because identity development may be a necessary step for the development of relationship intimacy and closeness (Erikson, 1968) and emerging adulthood is a time of identity exploration when dealing with relationships (Arnett, 2000), identity status may moderate gender and friendship-type differences in friendship closeness. Although identity development is hypothesized to play a role in the development of relationship closeness and intimacy, much of the research examining emotional closeness in emerging adults' friendships does not examine the complex set of relationships among gender, friendship type, identity, and relationship closeness.

Identity and Friendship Intimacy

As mentioned, emerging adulthood is a developmental period characterized by identity exploration (Arnett, 2000), and differences in identity status serve as a possible explanation for differences in friendship closeness during this period (Dyke & Adams, 1987, 2000; Paul & White, 1990). According to Sullivan (1953), the development of intimacy and emotional closeness is an important milestone for the development of identity during adolescence. Erikson (1968), however, argues that the development of strong identity is a necessary precursor to the development of intimacy and emotional closeness. Although Sullivan and Erikson appear to argue contradictory developmental roles of intimacy, closeness, and identity, both agree that the later period of adolescence (i. …

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