What's right about modern society

Friendship in modern society One soul in two bodies

By Tabea Grzeszyk and Lotta Wieden

What is a good friendship? (imago / Medicimage)

In times of increasingly unstable couple and family relationships, friendship becomes more important. But what are good friends? On the trail of the essence of friendship - from Aristotle to the party friends in a karaoke bar.

Monday night in the Monster Ronson's Karaoke Bar, Berlin: Caileen, Mara, Dennis, John and Nora only met a few days ago, now they are sitting in a small booth around two microphones, singing Queen, Madonna and German hits:

"Because these are my friends!"
"It doesn't matter where we go, the main thing is that we are together."
"Yes we are friends, but new friends as well."

Young women sing karaoke - friends for life? (picture alliance / dpa / Bernd von Jutrczenka)

Friends - in everyday life with its ups and downs, they are often a saving island. Scientific studies show: Just the thought of a good friend can lead to people perceiving their everyday problems as less stressful. What may be due to the nature of friendship itself: Friendships are the only forms of human relationship that can do without legal regulations, official founding rites and mutual obligations. What a friendship looks like, why and how long it works, is only negotiated between the parties involved.

"Friendship is the desire for a non-binding bond that lasts."

Daniel Tyradellis, curator, philosopher and friendship researcher:

"And that is what I mean by non-binding: You can never rely on your friend still wanting to be your friend tomorrow. And yet he stands on the mat and says: Let's go fishing! And that can move a sea to tears, because that's so voluntary! Because I really understand: he only does it because he wants to! "

Many definitions of friendship

Even if science is still unable to offer an all-encompassing, single-valid definition of friendship, the researchers have nevertheless been able to clarify many individual questions, they have shown:

"That friendships arise from the need for belonging and self-affirmation. That you choose your best friends not only because they are so great, but also because they make you feel great yourself. That the number of friends a person has The fact that people - regardless of age and regardless of the number of their Facebook contacts - only have two to three close or best friends throughout their life, and that new friends displace older friendships. "

And they were able to show that trust and the opportunity to reveal yourself to another are at the core of friendship:

"You also support each other in bad moments in life, so you are simply linked in the long term, even if you don't hear from each other for a short time - in the long term you know that you are there and follow each other's lives."

"We have known each other for 50 years, we even went to school together."

"Someone I trust completely and who I also support when he is in need. I think I wouldn't necessarily expect him to support me - but I would definitely help him unconditionally, that would be a friend to me, and there aren't that many of them. "

Soul is only beautiful when it changes

Some friendships last a lifetime, others break down. Are good friends people who are particularly similar - or exactly the other way around? For the psychologist Franz Neyer, director of the Institute for Psychology at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the matter is clear: like and like people like to join:

"This is because friends usually meet in contexts, for example at university or in a club, or on vacation or at cultural events, where they also have common interests. This is also known as 'social homogamy', and it plays a role The choice of partner also plays a role, but it is also the case with friendships. "

Neyer's homogamy thesis is empirically proven very well. Nevertheless, emphasizes Daniel Tyradellis, it is worth having friends who are not only close to you:

"If all people, all friends are exactly the same, then you always reflect, but you don't develop, you don't change. And according to Schiller, we know that the soul is only beautiful when it changes. And when it does Friends only consist of saying: I think it's great! Let's do it! Then a development stagnates. On the other hand: a friend who only ever questions everything, no one can stand that. That means, friendship always consists in that too to decide gradually: in which things do I need similarity. But it still has to be so different that it brings me into contact with points of view, perspectives, opinions that somehow irritate me without disturbing me. This is how you get an input that keeps you alive too. "

Relationships have become more unstable - also through breakups, divorces and relationships that have become shorter. Are friendships therefore even a substitute for families? (imago / Paul von Stroheim)

While the essence of friendship has cast a spell over researchers for centuries, new questions determine the scientific discourse today: The topic of the hour is the social potential of friendships in an increasingly individualized and aging society.

In the last five years alone, 580 books on the subject of "friendship" have been published in Germany, along with 37 films, radio plays and audio books as well as hundreds of academic articles. Friendship, it seems, is everywhere - and on everyone's lips. In times of increasingly unstable couple and family relationships, lonely old age and a culturally and religiously heterogeneous society, journalists and researchers scrutinize friendship concepts for their social value: If friends can protect against loneliness in old age, they can, for example, step in where children, no longer taking care of their parents - or simply there are no children? Can friends replace family?

Monika Koch observes the steady stream of women and men, young and old, families and children, who push their way through the sun-drenched ground floor of the Berlin Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. The woman with the short, brown hair and the colorful silk scarf represents one of 40 initiatives for communal living that will be presented at the "Experimentdays", the "Housing Project Days Berlin". Monika Koch is looking for new comrades-in-arms for her living group "+ - 60 - Live in friendship".

Community of like-minded people

"The title has to do with the formation of the group, there were two women who thought about how they would like to shape their lives in old age. It was clear to both of them that they would not be alone in a two or three - Wanted to sit in a room apartment, at that moment they were no longer in a two-person relationship. And they opened up and checked their social networks to see who might be interested in getting together and building a housing project together? "

The idea of ​​two friends has turned into a community of like-minded people who are already holding talks with housing associations looking for a rental house for around 15 parties. Their idea of ​​friendship has found its way into sociological research under the concept of the "self-chosen family". Today's 60-year-olds like Monika Koch belong to a generation in which previous obligations such as "marriage forever" began to crumble.

"There are predominantly singles in the group, which means that they don't live in a way that they are now in a two-person relationship. There are some in the group who have children - some of them decided not to go with theirs when they were old Wanting to live together with children because they don't want to be a burden to them either. If you don't want to live alone then, the next best thing to do is to do something together with friends. "

Monika Koch's initiative "+ -60 - live in friendship" reflects a social trend. According to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2014 only 0.5 percent of households lived with their grandparents or great-grandparents under one roof. Overall, only a minority in Germany lives in a family at all, around 28 percent. In contrast, almost every fourth household is made up of senior citizens aged 65 and over. The search for living space where people can come together even beyond traditional family relationships - this longing is shared by the vast majority of visitors. On the housing exchange, questions about living are mixed with a pinch of social utopia.

Instead of living with the family, some seniors move into shared apartments. (picture-alliance / dpa / Bernd Thissen)

"Alternative forms of housing, so where will I live later? I have to think about something now and just take a look around what is available and first develop an opinion myself, that's why I'm here."

"If you include several friends, then you can probably organize it relatively intensively and use a communal kitchen, perhaps communal rooms for the children and so on."

"It's not just about living, it's about public living and public togetherness and shaping yourself in general. Without the use of" this is property, no entry! "Or:" the police! ", Really more free space to create more breathing space for the city dweller and for the citizen. "

Researchers see fundamental changes in family coexistence behind such wishes. Franz Neyer, director of the Institute for Psychology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, speaks of so-called "beanstalk families" in which there are only a few members within the same generation.

"We often have these one- or two-child families today, so there are no longer the siblings and cousins ​​that we had in earlier times. Due to this demographic change, it will perhaps be so in the future For older people, family relationships are simply no longer available in this form and in this variety - and there it could be that friendships fulfill an important function here. You notice that I am speaking in the subjunctive: We don't know exactly yet, but that would be at least also my hope that we will find approaches to promote such relationships more strongly in order to be able to use such social potential for our older age. "

Franz Neyer has been researching the connection between friendship and quality of life for over 20 years. The social potential is enormous. His research shows that people with intact friendships are less stressed and have greater self-esteem. "Relatives are the family you are born into. Friends are the family you choose" - these winged words come very close to reality, according to Franz Neyer. His research even suggests that friendships can even out broken family relationships.

"We cannot necessarily make causal statements, but it has been shown that young people who have fewer family relationships than others tend to have more friendships. This also continues on the qualitative level. That means: when the family relationships are not so good or are experienced rather negatively, this can be compensated for by particularly good and intensive friendships. This in turn has a positive effect on the quality of life if you can replace something like that. "

The fact that friendships are the panacea against loneliness in old age, against obsolescence or this burden of old age, is what it is called, which I think is shortened. This is not how friendships work.

Julia Hahmann is a sociologist at the University of Vechta, her research area is called "Elective Affinities". In the opinion of the 34-year-old, two problems are overlooked in the current discourse. First: caring for friends, does not work in old age.

"Most people do not want to age in a retirement home, they want to age in their own apartment! What annoys me is that it is not thought through to the end: They just say, oh look, a shared flat for the elderly - that is But something really nice! But the question that is relevant in private aging - i.e. aging as an individual, namely: who will be there afterwards when it comes to body care after all? Who is responsible for it? What actually happens When such an old-age flat share ages together and suddenly everyone is sick and old at the same time, and does anyone need? They are simply left out. "

Second, if friendships are burdened with nursing expectations, they can break.

Friendships as a threat to the state?

"If I now pack friendships in an environment where they are supposed to do exactly that - everyday support - then this last form of relationship, which is so free from cost-benefit-calculative thinking, will be undermined and I think - that is a normative one Position that I'm doing here - I don't think it's right that friendships are treated and viewed that way! And if the individual is now responsible for having friendships and having these friendships in such a way that the family can replace it, then that has a Potential to burden and overwhelm individuals, but also to destroy friendships. "

"That's what friends are for ..."

Who are we when we are friends? What does it mean today to be someone else's boyfriend or girlfriend? And how do considerations of utility influence our forms of relationships? In Greek classical music, friendship was once more important than love. Only with the strengthening of Christianity - and its message of the unconditional love of God - does friendship begin to be suppressed, and love to the social ideal rises. A development that was promoted from the 11th century onwards by the gradual emancipation of women and strengthened by the increasing individualization of society and the influence of romanticism: marriage - for centuries primarily understood as trade - becomes a covenant of love, the most desirable form of relationship of all. But is this concept still relevant today? The philosopher Daniel Tyradellis, on the other hand, argues:

"All these attachment theories out there always assume that you are born and then you have your primary attachment - that's usually the mother, and then you suffer the rest of your life from having this symbiotic relationship This form may no longer exist. But that is not true at all, I would say. Actually, you just want to get away as quickly as possible! Of course I want this elementary bond, but I would just as much like to build my own bonds that are completely differently founded , based on non-commitment and openness. And that's why I now have the image that when you pop out of the womb, you shoulder your backpack, so to speak, and say: Well, I'm going to look for friends! "

The fact that the love affair has become so important in our day not only has to do with romanticism and the age of sensitivity, but also with socio-political considerations. Around 1820 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who was known as the "Prussian state philosopher" at the time, had a particularly strong influence on this development.

"So he played a key role in writing the constitution, if you want to put it that way. And Hegel saw that groups of friends can represent an actual social force. Take 5,6,7,8 friends who have a common idea, who organize themselves "This creates a force that can be politically dangerous, that can actually undermine power structures."

"It's impossible to have 800 or 8000 friends"

Hegel recognized:

"That it poses a risk to the state when friendship is so central. And that's why Hegel very deliberately reprogrammed and said that we put the nuclear family and marriage and love at the center of the constitution, so that the people as their goal social being see the couple relationship. That worked out great! When we go through life and say: somehow my life is not enough, somehow I'm unhappy, then you always stuff all love into it. Yes, if I find the right one, then everything will be fine again. And in a love relationship it is then so that the people then tear themselves apart in two-packs, they become politically completely ineffective, because you then always ask all your energies, do I love him enough, too little, etc. and is therefore no longer dangerous as a political force.

Historically, love has won the race between love and friendship - at least for the time being. Because in 2004 the founding of a social network should bring the concept of friendship a meteoric resurrection. With the invention of Facebook, the concept of friendship was adapted to the possibilities of the 21st century. But are online friends really "real friends"? The psychologist Franz Neyer is skeptical.

"This concept of friendship is being watered down a bit by social networks.It's probably impossible to have 800 or 8000 friends even with that many contacts on Facebook. The good friends - and studies especially on adolescents and young adults show this - are also the ones you meet face-to-face in real life. "

So are online friendships generally worth less? The sociologist Felix Elwert sees it differently: he studied and taught in the United States for 15 years, now he's back in Germany - and has headed the "Inequality and Social Policy" department at the Berlin Science Center since September 2015. Working on two continents, he draws the line between online and offline friendships less strictly.

"If I see a friend, my best friend, every six months, or I have a friend, I never see them in person, but interact with them on email and Facebook every other day - then I'm not ready to say: him one is a 'real friend' and the other is not. "

Social networks have delimited friendships in terms of space and time, closeness and distance are no longer mediated through physical encounter alone. But is this really a new experience in our digital age? Daniel Tyradellis.

"Historically, since the invention of correspondence, friendships have been mostly long-distance friendships. There are thousands of friendships of people who have never met personally in their lives, whose friendship consisted only of exchanging letters, and that is precisely where closeness and intensity are concerned that they have not found in any other social relationship. There are numerous testimonials for this. In this respect, one has to be very careful if one atavistically relies on real-life encounters and believes that any virtuality and digital situation can be condemned . "

Social networks have changed friendships - they have de-limited them in terms of space and time. (imago / Peter Widmann)

For Daniel Tyradellis, the current discourse - online versus real-life friendships - is only a sideline to a much more interesting discussion: the question of the political explosiveness of a community of friends on the one hand and their appropriation as a useful social cement:

"It is almost now being suggested: Look, you don't want to end up alone in the old people's home, please: these are your alternatives, take care of it, do something and that - that's my impression - is already being pushed and promoted politically : There are congresses, there are ideas, there is a huge market, you have to see that too: there is an incredible amount of money behind it and the research interest that develops from it. "

Sociologist Julia Hahmann has been investigating the social significance of friendship concepts for seven years - she also devoted her doctoral thesis to this topic. For them it is clear:

"If politics continues to think 'friendship' like this: Well, friendship is becoming more and more important, the individual is becoming more and more responsible for not being alone in old age, but for being in some form of collective. That would mean I start to strategically build up my friendships so that this person can help me. So maybe in my mid-40s I'll start looking only for friends who are younger than me, and somehow healthier, who can then carry me I'm starting to invest in friendships in a way that they can pay off afterwards and accomplish these feats - I don't think that's such a nice idea. "

If so, says Julia Hahmann, friendships should also be socially upgraded, marriage and registered partnership should be put on an equal footing.

"Friendship must not now also submit to this exploitation logic like other forms of relationship, it must not be used for this, and if it is used for it, then please also with the advantages and protegation mechanisms that marriage has, for example. So Either we let friendship exist freely as a free form of relationship that is really based on sympathy, on interest in the person, but then it has no obligation, or we institutionalize it, then it has an obligation, but then it also needs support, then needs each other Protection."

"Friendship is one soul in two bodies," wrote Aristotle enthusiastically around 300 BC. Is friendship becoming a civic duty today, almost 2000 years later? Will we invest in friends as we do in the pension fund? Perhaps a change of perspective is worthwhile at this point. The Greek-American sociologist Nicholas Christakis from the "Yale Institute for Network Science" has been researching friends' networks on the basis of huge amounts of data, including from Facebook, since the mid-1990s. Felix Elwert from the Berlin Science Center worked with Nicholas Christakis in the USA and reports on a fundamental finding: Our personal behavior depends on the behavior of our friends.

"We are our entire social environment"

"With children it is absolutely clear that they imitate each other and all do the same nonsense - and with adults and children we also sincerely hope that they influence each other. For example, we want teachers to influence children, we want that too Children listen to parents or imitate them in a positive way and avoid their mistakes. But when it comes to the transfer of behavior between adults, then we are so attached to the fact that we are autonomous actors, I think: No. We really have to Loosen up a bit and realize that maybe there are also children in us. Even as adults, we imitate other people, we learn from other people, we adapt, both positively and negatively. "

When the researchers were able to prove that even our appearance can be transmitted via social networks - that a person's bacon rolls, for example, increase the likelihood that their friends will also gain weight - the team even received death threats. Activist associations accused the researchers of raising the mood against overweight people. Nevertheless: According to Felix Ewert, certain behaviors spread through friendship networks. Regardless of whether it is the Body Mass Index or political elections.

"If someone sees on Facebook that a Facebook friend has voted, their probability of voting goes up by 0.3 percent. That's Pippifax, that's a very small effect, but you have to do that on 61 million Facebook members In America, there is one more thing: Your own voting probability not only increases when you see that your own friends have voted, there are real cascades of choices that spread through the network: If John has voted, it increases the likelihood that his friend voted for Tim - and therefore the likelihood that his friend voted for Grit, and so on. That can be traced back to the fourth link. "

What can be visualized today on the basis of masses of available data applies to all networks, be they online or offline: Our behavior depends on the behavior of those with whom we are connected. So are we our friends?

"We are not just our friends, we are our entire social environment because our environment influences us. You can exaggerate that now or you can leave it. For me as a sociologist, the question does not actually arise, where is the 'real' I 'and where does the "real me" end, because insofar as my friends influence me,' I am 'my friends. "

The seating arrangement at Monster Ronson's karaoke bar in Berlin has changed: Caileen, Mara and Dennis are blaring out old songs with new colleagues. Did you consciously look for new karaoke friends or did the change "arise"? Has she brought together a complex interplay of musical preferences, vacant seats and a pinch of coincidence - or are you responsible for who you sweaty share the cabin with and have fun with? Perhaps we underestimate the power of friendship, which is always looking for and finding new paths. For Felix Elwert one thing is certain: Nobody is an island, people will always live in networks. Even if we don't know today what the friendship networks of tomorrow will look like.

“The beauty of society is that it is so incredibly adaptable. Who would have thought in the early 1990s that we would just spend so much time with friends on computers? Facebook was unthinkable for most people in the early 1990s. So that's one area where social networks have changed by adding a new kind of network. "

"You got a friend"