The Significance of Friendship in the Formation of Identity

There is an old saying that goes: “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are”. Indeed, we are all influenced by the company we keep. And this is most especially true in friendships.

Apart from one’s family, the set of friends – and the kind of persons they are – that an individual has plays a major role in the formation of his identity. Most feel more comfortable sharing their lives and secrets among friends than with their family. Teenagers usually prefer seeking support and reassurance from his peers who are of the same age and who share his interests.

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According to sociologists J. Allan Beegle and Charles P. Loomis, friends feel an unlimited responsibility of one for all and all for one, and the solidarity which results from converging sentiments and interests. “The death of a member or a member’s grief will be the cause of real sorrow in the informal congeniality or mutual-aid group. The happiness of one becomes the happiness of all.”[1]

Because of this tendency, coupled with a great amount of time spent with peers, an individual shares a number of experiences among his friends that would mold and form his character. An individual goes through life’s lessons and pains together and with his friends. Truly, a person discovers more about the world and himself among and with friends.

This is true with the case of the main characters of Ann Brashare’s “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, a story about four girls – Lena, Carmen, Brigette and Tibby – who have been best friends since childhood. They are quite a bunch – Lena is collected and quite shy while Brigette is outrageous and an extrovert; Carmen is feisty and outspoken and Tibby is independent and aloof. But they amazingly mesh well simply because of their childhood bond and love for each other. They cannot imagine themselves having other best friends.

They are about to spend their first summer apart after fifteen years of being together. Days before separating, they found a pair of pants that magically fits all of them even with their different sizes and builds. They then made a pact that the Pants will travel among them so each will be able to document and share their escapades with each other despite their distance.

During their time apart, the four friends encounter problems that each has to deal with separately. Carmen, who is spending the summer with her dad, finds out that he is getting married again and is having a hard time accepting his fiancée and her kids. Brigette is spending the summer in a sports camp where she falls in love with one of the coaches and has sex for the first time. Lena is visiting her grandparents in Greece where she also falls in love with a local boy. Meanwhile, Tibby is left at home with a summer job in one of the local grocery stores where she learns some life lessons from a dying child.

The four friends, who were used to relying on each other in time of need, have to deal with each of their problems individually this time. But real friendship can withstand distance. Despite the girls’ being miles and oceans apart, they still manage to turn to each for inspiration and support through the Traveling Pants. The Pants serves as their link to each other, their medium of communication, an assurance that they may be physically absent but their concern and support for a “sister” in need is still felt by each other.

Growing up, friends contribute to the development of one’s interpersonal skills and emotional growth, primarily because one often interact and spends more time with their friends or peers than with their parents or family members. Thus, it is convenient to turn to friends for advise, support, or even criticism.

With the constant presence and companionship that friends provide, it is not unusual to be influenced by and to adapt certain characteristics, habits and traits that one’s friend or group of friends possesses.

When Lena falls in love for the first time and does not know how to deal with it, she turns to Brigette who is more experienced in the boys’ department. When cold and emotionless Tibby is forced to deal with a dying girl, she envisions what sensitive and sympathetic Lena would do to make the child feel better.

True, one may not be even conscious of it, but he may be behaving the way his friend would in a given situation, or his decisions may be influenced by how his friend would react to a particular problem.

One does not like to read romance novels before, but because her friends are into reading, she develops a fondness for it. He may not be smoking before but his friends do it, and he has suddenly picked up the habit. A person develops interest and curiosity in things that his friends are into.

Yes, as a coin has two sides, friends also have productive and destructive influences on an individual. Sometimes, especially in adolescent years, there is pressure to conform to your friends’ interests and personalities. And because one tends to feel the need to belong, he gives in to the pressure and conforms to his friends’ standard.

The good thing about it is we can choose our friends. If being with them causes one more harm and trouble rather than making one a better individual, then clearly, they are not the right set of friends.

It is thus important that we carefully choose our friends. Because, as has been said, we are the company we keep.

The values and principles that one’s friends have greatly affect an individual’s character. How a friend behaves and reacts in a given situation contribute to a person’s growth and self-development. The level of support that one gets from his friends reinforces his self-confidence and lack thereof could also undermine his faith in himself.

Friendship can be considered as one of, if not the, basic and central relationship that an individual will have in his lifetime and even the most casual kind goes through conflict. Conflicts arise because of differences which is just understandable, a given considering that every individual is unique. How an individual deals with these conflicts – even at a very early age – can say much of his ability to deal with problems later on.

Friendship also entails taking risks and investing time as this is a relationship that needs nurturing. It instills in an individual a sense of duty and responsibility to his friends. It teaches a person how to trust, value and respect another. It also calls for a deeper level of commitment and at times, self-sacrifice.

But true friendship and real friends, will become one’s stronghold and anchor, his number one fans, a person’s best and worst critics in various times of his life and in whatever difficulties (and successes) he encounters and will still face. And even if he is already old and gray, one can trust his friends to still be there for him, to continue to share stories, reminisce over the glory days, and watch and look forward to the next generation of sisterhood or brotherhood, composed of their offspring.