We know friendships are important, so why do we place less value on male friendships? For American men, growing up often means embracing adulthood alone and leaving behind the deep friendships of childhood - but that autonomy comes at a cost.
Researchers now know that friendships not only make us feel good, but also help us live longer and healthier lives.
"When you have a friend you're much more immune to colds and common illnesses," said Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University. "We're so deeply in need of relationships, we thrive in these relationships and when we don't have them we get sick -- psychologically and physically -- and the data shows that."
Way will join The Daily Circuit Thursday to discuss male friendships. She said globalization has dramatically changed how men interact in other countries.
"In China years ago when I lived there, you'd see men holding hands," Way said. "Now that American culture has entered into the conversation in China, boys don't want to look gay, they don't want to sound gay or talk about their desire for friendship. That's part of what it means to be American: the lone cowboy syndrome."
Geoffrey Greif, professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of "Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships," will also join the discussion.
"When we talked to men about issues with friendship and masculinity, a quarter or third of the men we talked to talked about the fear of appearing gay if they reached out to other guys for friendship," he said.
For men: How important are friendships to you? And women: How do you think the friendships of your husband, sons and brothers differ from womens' relationships?
Our guest, Geoffrey Greif, says "men have 'shoulder-to-shoulder' friendships and women have 'face-to-face' friendships.
"Men meet to do things, not just to have coffee or drinks. We men meet at a bar to watch sports or to do things. Women are more comfortable talking face to face and having a nice dinner or just chatting."
James wrote to us through the Public Insight Network,
"I am likely a bad sample to choose for this, as I am an extreme introvert and in terms of “close personal friends”, very, very few.
"I have several acquaintances and I interact with many people on a social level, generally when my spouse sets something up and I am expected to go with her.
"The stereotypical “male bonding, beer drinking, deer hunting, fishing whatever” is as far away from my life style as I can possibly imagine.
"Truth be told, I much prefer the company of dogs to the vast majority of humans I have encountered. Or reading a book, or listening to MPR."
Matthew wrote to us through the Public Insight Network:
" I'm a little confused by the question. While I have observed men who do not make many close friends, I do not know if they have a "harder time" doing so. Is the comparison to women, who are supposed to make friends easily? Really, I think gender has nothing to do with how easily one makes friends. Instead, the ability to befriend has a lot to do with one's role models. The men I see who have difficulty befriending had male role models who used friendship for business purposes, i.e. to make a living, but not for emotional support."
The original question on the Public Inight Network was about men over the age of 25 making friends. I am not sure why the comparison with women is relevant here.
I do think that men tend to be very competitive in nature, and that this tendency makes it harder for them to make friends with people they did not grow up with. This is because men see other men more often as competition for jobs, women, and attention.
(Ed note: After we made calls to find experts to weigh in on male friendships to move this beyond the anecdotal, we found a lot of research about men in comparison to women.
Not to mention that comparisons between men and women was also something that arose from the men who answered through the Public Insight Network.)
Often, a wife just doesn't approve of her husband's friends, so they tend to disappear over time and the guys just get more isolated. This doesn't seem to happen as much to women.
From Michael via the Public Insight Network:
"The very basis of the question is incorrect - it presumes that making friends is a high priority for me, and if you just look at psychological type, such as the myers-briggs type indicator, you'll see that men generally prefer Introversion (55%) over Extraversion and prefer Thinking (75%) over Feeling (aka values/rapport). So they don't care to - it's not a priority."
I wish my husband would have more friends. But he is such an introvert and so much more comfortable in the life of the mind and his own thoughts than making the effort to get to know people. He's classic in the results--isolation, often sick.
@ellen Does he mind not having many friends? As Michael said, many people just don't care about making friends.
Glenn via the Public Insight Network:
"Our culture is the culprit, mostly. Our society is based too much on competition and consumption of things, instead of collaboration and fulfillment through human bonding. Then there's homophobia. Homophobia hurts straight men in ways that are seldom recognized, since the fear that one "might be gay" or that another man might make unexpected sexual advances keeps men more distant from each other.
"Another factor is how family life is "supposed" to work - the women at home with the men on the job all day. Families have changed dramatically since this was the norm, but the world of work still pulls men more away from home and community and more to work long hours on the job. In addition to all this, there is still some perception that men, when compared to women, are more crude, typically slobs, prone to violent behavior, socially inept, etc., all of which mak es it more difficult to get close, emotionally."
I think there is a vital evolutionary component here. Males are evolved to be active "do-ers."
It was more successful for our male ancestors to be task-oriented, whereas it was more successful for women to be relational oriented. However, we're now a dominantly social species still running on hundred-thousand-year-old software. Women have the advantage, whereas men are trying to catch up. Of course, this is a very broad observation.
stephanie--at times he does. At a colleagues funeral he saw the sense of loss for what this man meant in their lives, and he knew his passing would not have the same effect. It's not only for his own health (mental & physical) that I wish he had friends, but so that he would also understand my need for friends and social outlets outside of the immediate family. Sorry to whine . . .
This seems to be an issue of masculine or feminine intimacy styles. How is friendship being defined? It is different for men and women. Women place a higher value on the sharing of emotions; while men are satisfied with shared activities as the scale of intimacy.
I have close long term friends who I trust, but, to my wife's frustration I don't have friends nearby who I spend much time with.
@KerriMPR do you think the advent of social media will change these findings?
In my experience it is the opposite.
Most of the guys I've known in my life have way more life-long friends than women do. I often feel that guys have less stringent standards for what they expect from a friend and they are generally less judgemental.
Most of the women I know (including myself) have changed friends through different ages and hold higher standards for who they consider friends and want to spend time with.
This is all about fear. It is also about homophobia in our society. It is also about competition between men.
I have a weekly video game night with a group 6-12 of good-to-moderate guy friends. Such video gaming experiences are becoming for men the 21st century equivalent of the 20th century's poker night.
Texting! It's all about the texting. My husband is 25 and out beats me with his texts every month. And they're always to his guy friends. From what I can tell, they share interesting news stories or photos that they've found online. It's like a constant stream of talking ... but through texting. It's great for me so I don't have to talk about motorcycles, video games or other "guy" things!
@Jay Sieling Great observation! Male friendships seem to be forged through shared interests and activities and tend to be centered around those. Male relationships are utilitarian as male speech tends to be more utilitarian. We don't mind as much if we lose contact with someone we don't really have reason to stay in contact with anymore. That does make it harder to make really close friends...
Like the video game night mentioned below, I feel that I see many male friendships as situational. When the situation changes, the "friendship" is left behind. No hard feelings, no angst, it is understood that the situation is what held the friendship together.
@KerriMPR Know or know of many rural men who live a life with limited interaction with others. They seem satisfied. Compare rural/urban
Season 1 epsiode two of Seinfeld: Male-Unbonding. Classic Seinfeld relationship comic/drama.
Jerry tries to break up with an obnoxious childhood friend. His friend starts weeping and Jerry has to give him another chance. It's interesting how the friendship originally developed: through shared experiences. His friend had a ping pong table and Jerry liked to play ping pong "I would have been friends with Stalin if he had a pingpong table!"....His friend had a perception of still being 'close friends'. but the whole friendship...however one gauges the intimacy...is predicated on shared activities.
Any resources or suggestions for how men can find friends in adulthood? There are so many groups and meetups for women, but where do men go to find genuine friendships, not necessarily related to sports teams? My 40-something husband is struggling with this right now.
I'm in my 40's and often find myself jealous of my husband's close friendships with his male friends. They get together weekly. My women friends are few but very tight, but we often put family first therefore we rarely see eachother...
When my guy friends get together, it's usually to relax and blow off steam. Rarely do the conversations get deep, and that's a good thing.
I’m in my 40’s. In my 20’s, all my best friends were women, gay men, and Sci-Fi Geeks. I just found these groups to be the most open to talking about how they feel - and talk about fun geeky things.
Now, I’m married with two kids. That’s even better. I moved with my wife to MN ten years ago and lost all my friends in my process.
It has been a HUGE challenge building new friendships. My wife is not too keen on me hanging out with other women, we are not church-goers, plus I really have next to no free time. It’s hard to build a network of friends when I only get out every other Thursday after 9 PM. So, right now, my friends are my wife, and my two kids (and my wife’s cousin who is gay). :)
My husband would like to reconnect with friends, but has trouble reconciling marriage, family and work obligations. For him, it's an either-or, whereas I'm able to easily combine it all at once...
Kevin said via the Public Insight Network:
"Several of my closest friends are from college. The shared crucible of the college experience during a very formative part of most peoples' lives contributes to the bathos underpinning these enduring friendships. It seems to me, men create friends easily when in a shared, us against them, foxhole condition. For a number of reasons, these foxholes disappear with age and hence, the decline in the quantity/quality of friends. "
I have found tennis to be a great way for me to make male friends. When we went to the bar after our regular Thursday games, we even called that time "Men's Support Group." I don't make support group meetings anymore, but I'm still getting together with a couple of those guys on a regular basis.
@KerriMPR I'm 43 with about 3 good friends. Most guys at this age seem to only want friendship if it furthers their career prospects.
@lpinebrook I think part of it too might be that young men today don't have models of adult male of close friendship. As we moved into large cities during the Industrial Revolution, we lost the institution of deep father-son mentorship and men learning to connect with each other emotionally that we see historically. Male friendships used to be the locus of a man's life. Modern work models have disrupted that and moved male friendship to the periphery.
I found the health aspects of this discussion so interesting!
A lot of our friends are newly married and I see these strong male friendships being put on the line when these new brides force their husbands to choose them over their friends. It is so frustrating to see that they don't understand that these close friendships only make these men better partners because they have a much more well-rounded life! Great great great show!!!
If there a 2 women in a room they must constantly talk. If the conversation stops, each is trying to figure out what is wrong. On the other hand, 2 men in a room can sit together 8 hrs, not say a word to each other, and know they are still friends!
A 1989 study shoew that 75% of the men surveyed said that their most meaningful experiences with friends came from activities other than talking. they reported that through shared activities, they "grew on one another". For many men, closeness grows from activities that don't depend heavily on disclosure: A friend is a person who does things for you and with you.
I appreciated the comment about men fearing close friendships with male are " gay
I am 39, and my experience has been I can resume long dormant friendships right where we left off. The is an unspoken understanding that life can get in the way, and there is no offense taken regarding the lapse. This includes a friend I have had since kindergarden.
My good friends and I have just embraced the "gay" stereotype of being close and just have fun with it with awkward hugs and "guy love" but in the end we are just close guy friends who play video games together and have good hearty political/religious discussions.
I told my husband about this morning's topic and shared the teaser I heard--something like "as long as I have a steady girlfriend or a wife, why do I need friends?" He totally AGREED!!
He said men who need friends don't have happy home lives. My husband is NOT a recluse, has great social skills, and is very comfortable in social situations. But he genuinely feels that I am enough for him when it comes to real friendships. Hmmm. Do I even have to say how different that feels to me? I love him to pieces and we have a great relationship! But I need my friends, too. He understands that, supports it, but just doesn't feel the same way for himself.
My wife says I can't multi task. Does that have something to do with inability to spread oneself beyond family to friendships?
I'm very lucky to have a best friend that is more like a brother than a friend.
But beyond him, my wife makes it very difficult to have many other male friendships let alone close ones. She finds fault with all of my guy friends and even when it comes to my best friend, she makes comments like "I've just learned to accept it", calls him her "other husband" or worse, my "husband's other wife". So, like most other guys, I just follow the path of least resistance and accept it because I just don't need the stress.
I am 53 and find my closest male friendships are with gay males because I can tell them how I feel and they dont question my sexuality or my motives. They know I'm married and don't see it as a sexual overture. It's quite liberating
A lot of the discussion here resonates with me. I'm a gay man and have a number of friends - men and women - with whom I engage in activities and who serve as confidantes. I have two straight male friends who talk to me about their relationships and "intimate lives," which they feel they can't get out of their straight male friendships.
totally agree with the "experience based" experience. If we don't have a plan - even something as small as watching a game - we don't even bother making the call.
@KerriMPR I put tremendous value on my male friendships. Very few people (in general) I consider "friends"; the few I have are worth much
@kerriMPR some see their partners' freinds as distractions,at best, and at worst, as threats. Male freinds are fuel for the pyer of love.
My wife had a monthly mothers book group for a short time -- they read a parenting book and met at someone's house over tea.
It was all very earnest but we dads could see it was helping with the kids. So we decided to meet too -- but at a bar. Within a few months the mothers ran out of steam, but we've been meeting every month for over 4 years. No more books now, just the beers.
The one thing that makes it harder to have close male friends is that men are always looking for something better. I have had plans with friends, but something else better came along and they just said "see you later." Time to get some new friends at age 40?
I have worked quite extensively in rural Africa, primarily in warrior based cultures.
How they raise their boys to men is quite different than in the US and the end results are dramatically different. Besides resulting in a less fragile sense of manhood, the men in these societies, tend to have much closer male friendships. We have lost in this society the mentorship of an older generation of men to the next. With this comes the degredation of male-to-male relationships.
@KerriMPR When I "hang" with my male friends; it is usually over coffee for an hour or two. Nothing fancy.
We married older.
I've found some of the wives of my husbands friends won't let me or other new women into the established girls club. It makes it hard for my husband to maintain his guy friends.
Am 44, have an interesting group. All my pals are married to Latina women from all over the world. We get together as families frequently. The women meet about once a month at a house and eat and talk. The guys do the same. However, it is a different experience for each. The women have a "check-in" (update on life, etc) and the men usual just talk, joke, drink. Wouldn't trade them for anything.
Differnet comon interests underlie different male friendships. I have some friends based on the common interest of music show going, some based on a trivia night habit, some based on love of going out to coffee shops for coffee. As Todd said below, our friendships are indeed situational. Many guy friendships are based on ease of access to one another (coworkers, neighbors)
I've found that my Dad, brother, and boyfriend only relate to each other with activities (such as climbing, paddling, meditating together in a group setting), and when they stop those activities they stop hanging out.
Also, I'll ask them how their friends are (ie, relationships, friends' family news, even the health of their friends) and they'll have no idea. It's as if they don't talk about anything personal, they just "do" together. Often my brother gets annoyed at me for asking as though it's not important, and why am I "bugging" him for details.
I wish I had more single male friends to hang out with. But quite frankly, single men scare me. I gravitated to women more as possible friends for two reasons: they were easier to be friendly with, and they offered the connection to other women that I wanted to date.
@KerriMPR There are certain times when I can tell that the only way to improve my husband's mood, is to send him off for beer with his buds
My husband had several close friends when we met. I was impressed and thankful Within a few years all of them moved out of the area. I really recognized the hole they left as we went through infertility, pregnancy losses and adoption losses. I which can be isolating even with friends close by. Much more difficult for him.
As a 29-year-old gay man, maybe it's that many of us tend to be more introspective in the process of growing up, but I most enjoy the times when my guy friends (most of whom are straight!) and I get to talk. But I do feel that I have more freedom to reach out like that because I don't worry about being perceived as "gay." Even still, it's also nice to just "be" with your guy friends and not have to worry about verbally communicating. There's something to be said for video game/poker nights.
I hope (was it Paul?) realizes that every male friend he has made in the last 20 years will be interigating him about why they became friends! :) We want updates..... LOL
I agree with some of the other comments. It’s hard to have friends that my wife finds flawed. Plus, I am very committed to being a father to my kids, so my free time after commitments at home and work is very limited.
Wonderful and timely topic! I am in the middle teach an Interpersonal Comm. course and the current chapter is "Intimacy and Distance in Relational Communication" !! (And I refered to that scene from Buth and Sundance yesterday!!)
I have encouraged my husband to go hang with the guys.
I disliked the double standard for women to maintain friendships and men being discouraged. I do notice that it takes a huge negative experience for men to open up. Fear of looking weak or like a failure? I see the death knell of male connection as a result of the Industrial Revolution and technology advancement. When do men work side by side, live in close contact, sweat together, hunt together, bury their dead together, rebuild barns, fences, homes whatever.
Great conversation but I can't believe you cut off the punch line at the end of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie scene "Why, you crazy — the fall'll probably kill ya!"
@StPaulBorn It wasn't my edit! totally agree!
I am also very fortunate with the friends that I have accured through the years starting from kindergarden. My wife had early on not understand going for happy hour, watching a Packer game, or for a weekend trip. She had thought since she went to dinner or coffee shops with hers that I should be the same being more constructive with our time together. It is not really in the cards. I also can pick up with friends that I have not seen for a while as if we had seen them yesterday.We catch up briefly catch up and move on. We also love making fun of each other, it is a special bonding and way of catching up or way to say that we are concerned.
I've found church a good place to connect to other men in a less superficial way.
What an interesting personal consequence that our societal gender roles that seem to be cemented in the male(and even female) brain have upon us. I wonder of people who live by the way "a man is supposed to act/conduct himself"- how fulfilling of an emotional/intimate relationship can we have with our spouse if we do not have it with our friends? I have had to distance myself from those friends who only discuss sports. I desire close, communicative, initmate relationships with my friends, and I get them. But it is work like any relationship. You put in, you receive, you struggle together, and you share life's smallest glories together!
Church might be a good place, unless you happen to be a staff member. The chances for clergy and other churchworkers to craft healthy relationships can be quite difficult.
What an interesting consequence of our societal gender roles that we have created. It has become masculine to not have intimate relationships(as a man) with another man, or it is deemed something feminine.
To me, it prompts an enormous question: How can we think to have fulfilling emotional relationships with our spouses, when we don't have it with our friends? Specifically talking male to male. I have had to distance myself from people who have been all about beer, sports, etc. I desire closer, intimate relationships with my guy friends. I guess part of that, while not nearly the motivation for, is to have a good grasp of my emotions and mental state when conversing and living with, being intimate with, raising children with and being successful with my spouse. Making her happy, being happy myself, knowing that we are living life together and have the tools to face life's challenges. I used the word consequence of our socialization because I fear that perceived masculine notion of what it means to be a man has drowned out in a lot of people the ability and desire to form relationships that can be so, so wonderful.
I see alot of the comments are from older men. I am in my 20's and I understand the dificulty. In college I as the only male in my graduating class, and I currently work in a profession that is felmale dominated. As a result I have very few male friends but many female friends. It is difficut for me to connect with my female friends on the same level as I could with my male friends. I also find difficulty being the only male in outings and sometime being out with groups of women with my wife at home.