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  • Author or Editor: Jenny van Hooff x
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This article explores online narratives of the loss or change of friendships following an intimate partner relationship breakdown. Drawing on internet forum discussions, we explore individuals’ transitions from coupled to single, and the multiple ways in which this affects their friendship ties. Forum users struggled to reconcile friends’ abandonment or distance with cultural representations of friendship as providing intense emotional support during critical life transitions. Users also reflect on the impact of their recent singlehood on friendships established and maintained while coupled, with relationship breakdown illuminating previously unacknowledged couple privilege. We argue that the loss of friendships exacerbated and became part of the break-up experience, illustrating the embedded nature of relationships (Smart, 2007). Relationship breakdown is perceived as acting as an ‘ordeal’ for friendship, revealing the depth and quality of existing ties, as users reflect on their own neglect of friendships while they were coupled.

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In this article, we consider how heterosexual young people navigate emotionality in their early dating practices. We draw on the ‘cold intimacy’ thesis (Hochschild, 1994; Illouz, 2007; 2012; 2018) that posits that emotions have increasingly become things to be evaluated, measured, quantified and categorised. Within the context of intimate relationships, research suggests that while young people are often open about the physical aspects of casual sex, they are reluctant to demonstrate emotional attachment, with vulnerability deemed shameful (Wade, 2017). Drawing on in-depth interviews with UK-based dating app users aged 18–25, we find that emotional attachment is rarely articulated, and is seen as a sign of weakness in the early stages of a relationship. For our participants, emotions become bargaining chips, with the ‘winner’ being the party with the least to lose, the least invested and the least emotionally attached. While this applies to both the young men and women interviewed, our findings demonstrate a gendered imbalance of power in intimate relationships, as female participants express a fear of emotional hurt, while male participants work to avoid potential rejection and humiliation. As a result, most connections remain suspended in what we identify as the ‘failed talking stage’. This is underpinned by the removal of channels of accountability, coupled with entrenched heteronormative sexual scripts shaping gender roles at this stage.

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In this article, we analyse how mediated discourses of toxic friendships echo and reconstruct the category of the toxic friend. We ask: what kind of assumptions does the toxic friendship discourse draw on, and what forms of subjectivity and interpersonal relationships are encouraged? Employing a critical discourse analysis of digital texts, we argue that the discursive category of the toxic friend draws on a simplistic set of classificatory dichotomies distinguishing between the good and the toxic friend. We also suggest that the popular labelling of difficult friendships as ‘toxic’ reflects the contemporary diffusion of the notion of toxicity in contemporary public culture. We contend that this discourse reflects the discursive conflation between therapeutic culture and neoliberal wellness logic, with the figure of the toxic friend constructed in ways that support imperatives for self-care and self-governance. While much of the advice situates friendship as an important personal tie, there is very little encouragement to ‘work’ on these relationships. As such, these discourses offer a reductive, disposable approach to friendship ties that overlooks the complexities and lived experiences of friendship relations.

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There has been an increase in the number of individuals who do not have children for various reasons, whether health, choice or circumstance, as well as those who have children later in the lifecourse. Concurrently, there is a moral panic surrounding the decreasing birth rate. A thematic analysis of posts on the parenting forum Mumsnet explores the significance of childless/freeness, in the context of wider relationships. We find that established categories of ‘mother’ and ‘childless/free’ are reductive, and are more porous than usually framed. We consider the impact of such categories on women’s friendships, finding that they undermine potential solidarities. Drawing on Scott (2019), we conceptualise the absence of children as significant, but not necessarily a deficit, highlighting the potential to understand childless/freeness in the everyday.

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