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Intimate close friendships, found across the life span, make their first appearance during early adolescence. These friendships are distinct from those involving younger children. Among young children, friendship provides a playmate with whom time is spent (Howes, 1981); during adolescence, emphasis is placed on intimacy and loyalty. An increased concern with intimacy was described by Sullivan (1953) as a hallmark of developmental changes in adolescence and as central to adaptation. In this article, adolescents' conceptions of intimacy in two cultures--Israeli Jewish and Israeli Bedouin--will be of concern. In particular, we will examine and compare age and sex differences of intimacy across the two cultures.
Several features distinguishing adolescent friendships from those of younger children were considered as markers of the emergent adolescent intimacy. Adolescents emphasize mutual trust, loyalty, and exclusiveness as central features of friendship (Berndt, 1983; Sharabany, Gershoni, & Hofman, 1981; Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Friends know one another's feelings and preferences and support each other emotionally and materially. Adolescent friends discuss secrets, exchange ideas, and share affective states and feelings in a secure and accepting environment (Bigelow, 1977; Furman & Bierman, 1983; Oden, Herzberger, Nangoine, & Wheeler, 1984). Throughout adolescence, these characteristics of intimacy become increasingly important constructs around which close friendships are organized (Hartup, 1993; Jones & Dembo, 1989).
Two central themes have emerged in the conceptualization of friendship intimacy: closeness and individuality. Closeness describes mutual empathy, love, and security (Sullivan, 1953). It develops during adolescence with the growing awareness that a successful relationship involves meeting the needs of both participants. In a close friendship, participants strongly influence the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of one another (Kelley et al., 1983; Laursen, 1993). Such closeness provides the impetus for self-disclosure among friends, prompting discussions of personal matters such as sexuality, family problems, and money. Thus closeness involves interpersonal processes in which friends share important feelings and information (Reds & Shaver, 1988).
Individuality describes a sense of a separate and distinctive identity. According to Erikson (1963), the establishment of an identity requires the capacity to commit to a close relationship and to allow "fusion without fear of ego loss." Individuation emerges gradually during adolescence as children strive to distinguish themselves from both parents and peers (Grotevant & Cooper, 1985). Expressions of individuality during adolescence reflect personal styles and developmental timetables for the creation of a unique self to be shared in an intimate relationship.
In a recent discussion of the nature of intimacy during adolescence, Selman (1990) contended that the maturity of an intimate friendship is reflected in the balance between closeness and individual autonomy in the relationship. At the lowest levels of intimacy, partners share experiences by imitating feelings and behavior. Closeness exists, but the capacity to negotiate individual preferences is lacking. At the next level of intimacy, friends share activities and preferences, although one partner tends to impose on or control the other. At the highest level, friends negotiate and integrate their needs, carefully balancing closeness and individuality. Friendship intimacy develops, therefore, with age, cognitive maturation, and social experience.
Studies on intimacy in adolescent friendships have mainly referred to self-disclosure between participants, shared closeness and readiness to help each other, and the nature and development of those dimensions during the adolescent years (Jones & Dembo, 1989; Sharabany et al., 1981). Recently, we have examined adolescent intimacy in a more comprehensive manner (Shulman, 1994; Shulman, Laursen, Kalman, & Karpovsky, 1995). In addition to emotional closeness and self-disclosure, intimacy was also conceptualized in terms of individuality. Adolescents were asked to report the extent to which they respect the individuality of their close friend and whether differing opinions of friends are discussed and negotiated. In addition, adolescents were asked to rate their tendency to control and to be similar to the close friend. Results indicated more individuality among older adolescents and more control and similarity among younger adolescents. These results are in line with Selman's model (1990) and reflect adolescent conceptions of the mechanisms that maintain an intimate friendship. For example, during the latter stages of adolescence, friendship is maintained via a balance between the sense of closeness and individuality, but for younger adolescents, relatedness is maintained by giving up one's own preferences by either becoming similar to or controlling the other.
The dialectic of closeness versus individuality and respect for individual needs has been a central issue in the understanding of family systems (Minuchin, 1974; Reiss, 1981; Wynn, 1958, 1970) and adolescent friendships (Shulman, 1993). Similarly, Hofstede (1980) described the centrality of the collectivism versus individualism as varying among different cultures. Emphasis on individuality, self-fulfillment, and personal achievement is a Western rather than global tendency (Feather, 1986). Anthropological and sociological writings describe that other cultural traditions, including Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Southern European, accord a central role to norms of collective support, allegiance, and obligation (Cooper, Baker, Polichar, & Welsh, 1993). The Chinese, for example, are described as valuing family and tradition, harmony, noncompetitiveness, conformity, and obedience to authority. Individualistic goals are valued to the extent that they are in the service of the family or the larger reference group (Chinese Culture Connection, 1987). In such traditions, the interplay between closeness and individuality results in a balance where the needs of the relationship may surpass the needs of the individual. Although these traditions are experienced within the family, or in the culture at large, they are carried over to …