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Patterns of Intimacy and Distancing as Young Women (and Men) Friends Exchange Stories of Romantic Relationships


Heterosexual U.S. adolescents tend to show gender differences in how they describe romantic relationships, with males being positioned as cool and objectifying toward females, and females as warm and positively engaged (Simon et al. 1992; Tolman 2002). However, according to developmental theory (Arnett 2000, 2004), such gender scripts should be less operative in early adulthood, when romantic relationships become a prime concern for college-age youth regardless of gender. Partly confirming this premise, a recent study of male undergraduate friends in California found that during casual conversations, one of their most prevalent story telling patterns was shifting between positioning themselves as warm and engaged (intimate) and as cool and objectifying (distancing) toward romantic partners (Korobov and Thorne 2006). For purposes of a gender comparison, the present archival, mixed-methods study deployed the same methodology to examine the prevalence of these patterns for a companion college sample of 37 pairs of women friends. Gender differences were found for only one of four story patterns: Women friends told proportionately more stories than men that were mildly intimate. Otherwise the stories of both genders showed parallel patterns either of dense distancing, or of repeatedly shifting between intimacy and distancing. In addition, women and men friends showed a similar versatility in the array of patterns they produced. The findings suggest mild operability of a gendered intimacy script, but more generally support the premise that working out what one does and doesn’t want in a romantic relationship is a common concern for young adult friends regardless of gender.

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Correspondence to Avril Thorne.

Appendix A

Appendix A

Table 6 Examples of a stories with each of three primary positioning patterns

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Norona, J.C., Thorne, A., Kerrick, M.R. et al. Patterns of Intimacy and Distancing as Young Women (and Men) Friends Exchange Stories of Romantic Relationships. Sex Roles 68, 439–453 (2013).

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  • Gender
  • Development
  • Friends
  • Romantic relationships
  • Intimacy
  • Young adulthood
  • Stories
  • Positioning