Date of Award

12-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Human Ecology

Major Professor

Julia A. Malia

Committee Members

John Peters, Priscilla Blanton, Michael Lane

Abstract

The dearth of research on women's female friendships might suggest that a woman's relationships with her girlfriends are less important than her relationships with her partner, children, or parents. Few researchers have focused on the closeness of female friendships despite the fact that those studies that have been conducted have found those friendships to be significant, and over the course of a woman's life, of great importance to her growth and development.

This study took a phenomenological approach in order to understand the lived experiences of women regarding their female friendships, focusing on how women make meaning in their lives through friendships with other women and exploring from a feminist perspective women's ways of knowing.

Ten women ranging from 25 to 75 years old, who met the criterion of having experienced close female friendships, participated. The central research question was how women's friendship experiences contribute to their lives and the meanings they construct for themselves. I used the long, in-depth interview, audiotaped and transcribed verbatim, to facilitate understanding of the beliefs and experiences of the women.

Themes that emerged suggest the need for balance in a female friendship. On one hand, female friendships importance was expressed by sharing experiences; "being there;" displaying loyalty, trust, and honesty, and being an encourager, a supporter, and an advisor of the other. The women talked of understanding and accepting each other that resulted in each being known "inside and out," and participants referred to their friends as being "like family." Resonating throughout is reference to that bond--a connection that meant "we just get each other." On the other hand, there were spoken and unspoken boundaries and things that friends ought not do. This talk centered on betrayal of some kind. Sometimes it involved the betrayal of confidences, sometimes incidents within friendships that had caused hurt or disappointment. On some occasions, it resulted in the end of a friendship, and telling that story never failed to bring tears to the teller's eyes. The women's friendships reflected in this study formed a complex fabric woven with many threads of their unique and life-enhancing relationships.

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