Just Friends


Lillian B. Rubin — noted social scientist, writer and psychotherapist — has written movingly on love relationships between men and women (Intimate Strangers), and on working-class family life (Worlds of Pain). Now, in this major work drawing on years of study and based on interviews with three hundred men and women from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, she turns her attention to that most valued yet fragile bond: friendship — friendships between women, women and men,
couples, even between best friends.

In chapters covering this full range of friendships and their interrelations with kinship, marriage, and romance, Dr. Rubin exposes the ambiguity, ambivalence, and contradictions with which friendship in our society is hedged. Unlike other relationships, friendship for us is a private affair. We have no rituals, no social contracts, no shared tasks, no role requirements, no institutional supports of any kind to bind and hold friends together.

We’re “just friends” we say, as we try to explain that these are not relationships of blood. Yet, Rubin argues convincingly, these same friends are central actors in the continuing developmental drama of adulthood. Throughout our lives, friends provide a reference outside the family against which to judge and measure ourselves, helping us during passages that require our separation and the development of an autonomous sense of self, supporting us in our efforts to adapt to new roles and new rules.

Friends, she shows us, help to heal the hurts and make good the deficits of the past, offering
the place and encouragement for the development of parts of self that, for whatever reasons,
are unexpressed in the family context. “It is with friends,” she writes, that we test our sense of
self-in-the-world, that our often inchoate, intuitive, unarticulated vision of the possibilities of a self-yet-to-become finds expression.”

No book in recent memory has illuminated this difficult subject with such depth and insight.
Compassionate and moving as she tells the human and social story of friendship in our time,
Lillian Rubin once again helps us to understand ourselves and our relationships more fully, while also making a major contribution to the psychology of human development.