Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Instrumentality, Expressivity, and Relational Qualities in the Same-Sex Friendships of College Women and Men

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Instrumentality, Expressivity, and Relational Qualities in the Same-Sex Friendships of College Women and Men

Article excerpt

Using the relational-cultural model (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver,& Surrey, 1991), the authors hypothesized that instrumentality, expressivity, and the individual affective experience of same-sex friendships would predict increased relationship mutuality, with college women and men showing different predictive patterns. Overall, results supported the hypotheses. Gender moderated the associations among variables, notably between mutuality and individual affective experiences of same-sex friendships. Implications for counselors serving college student populations are discussed.

Keywords: friendship, mutuality, relational cultural theory


Numerous definitions of friendship have been offered in the literature. In summarizing various definitions, Fehr (1996) noted that there is general agreement that friendship can be defined as a "voluntary, personal relationship, typically providing intimacy and assistance, in which the two parties like one another and seek each other's company" (p. 7). Miller (1988) described healthy relationships as resulting in both friends experiencing increased energy, empowerment, self-knowledge, other-knowledge, self-worth, and desire for more connection. Attributes such as trust, mutuality, and self-disclosure also have been cited in the literature as important contributors to friendship (Fehr, 1996).

Much of the literature has focused on identifying gender differences in friendship characteristics, often concluding that men, in contrast to women, prefer less intimacy, self-disclosure, and expressive behavior in same-sex friendships. For college women and men, an important part of transitioning to college and making the adaptations necessary for adjustment involves establishing friendships on the university campus (e.g., Dunkel-Schetter & Lobel, 1990). Accordingly, the present study focused on same-sex friendships among undergraduate college students to extend the literature on gendered aspects of relational quality. A better understanding of relational development during young adulthood may increase insight into friendship functioning in later life.

The Role of Gender in Friendships

Research regarding same-sex friendships has suggested that men perceive their friendships as less rewarding than women's, with men reporting less intimacy (Lee & Robbins, 2000) and mutuality (Genero, Miller, Surrey, &c Baldwin, 1992). For instance, men have been found to prefer less self-disclosure in their friendships (Fehr, 2004) and to avoid intimacy by intentionally distancing themselves emotionally (Blazina, 2004; Blazina, Eddings, Burridge, & Settle, 2007). Similarly, the literature has suggested that men prefer less expressive/ communal and more instrumental/agentic behavior in friendships (e.g., Duck & Wright, 1993). However, Frey, Beesley, and Miller (2006) found that, for college men, a sense of connection emerged from affiliation with the broader college community, perhaps allowing an experience of relational engagement without the risk of pursuing dyadic closeness. Accordingly, Frey et al. (2006) proposed that gender-related friendship preferences are more complex than can be attributed solely to instrumentality and needs for power versus needs for intimacy, explanations that have commonly been offered.

Rather than focusing solely on the identification of gender differences, the present study explored relationships among gender, instrumentality, expressivity, and relational qualities in the same-sex friendships of college students in an effort to better understand gendered patterns. The exploration of possible moderating effects of gender on relational variables is a unique aspect of the study, and one that may assist counselors working in college settings to provide targeted, gender-responsive services.

Relational-Cultural Theory

Relational Socialization

Relational-cultural theory (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991; Miller, 1984) provides a useful framework through which gender influences on relational patterns can be understood. …

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