I’m a white male and I have some friends, but I still understand the Salon article

Here it is. Essentially, it claims that the hidden issue for American men is their inability to make lasting friendships (especially white American men, of which I am one). Here’s the essential paragraph (or one of them):

To be close friends, men need to be willing to confess their insecurities, be kind to others, have empathy and sometimes sacrifice their own self-interest. “Real men,” though, are not supposed to do these things. They are supposed to be self-interested, competitive, non-emotional, strong (with no insecurities at all), and able to deal with their emotional problems without help. Being a good friend, then, as well as needing a good friend, is the equivalent  of being girly.

Since the Salon article came out, there have been a number of reactions all over, including this article in Slate, this article in The Guardian, and this article in The Oregonian. I’ll throw my hat in the ring here for a second too, because I think it’s an interesting topic that actually drives a lot of how we (as humans) ultimately relate to each other. (There’s also this article, although it predates the Salon article.)

I’m an adult (I think), white (check), heterosexual (check) male (check). So I’m in the fewest friends bucket. I have some good guy friends — about eight or nine of them, plus my brother-in-law, a couple of ex-coworkers, and a few others here and there. I think that’s actually a lot, which is interesting now that I’ve typed it out. I usually think I don’t have a lot. For the purposes of this discourse, I’m defining “good guy friends” as people I regularly text with, e-mail with, or see (geography can be a limitation, yes). I am not necessarily defining it as “people I’d talk to about my problems,” and maybe that’s the issue. If I was doing that, the number would be closer to 2-3, whereas in the definition I’m using right now, it’s probably 12-13. So, it drastically drops if you raise the standard even a little bit.

Most of the articles — from Lisa Wade’s (the original article) through all the responses — focus on the same basic things about guy socialization vs. girl socialization, such as the pull quote I used above. I completely agree with that. It was super hard to make friends when I was in HS and even college, because a lot of the things guys were valuing — stereotypical things, but stereotypes do exist for a reason — I wasn’t into. I know a lot about sports, but I don’t even love watching sports minute-to-minute. I learned about sports mostly because I was a fat, dorky kid and it was the easiest way to relate to other guys. I related much easier to girls, and still do, but it felt weird to only have female friends in middle school/HS (plus, there’s the whole When Harry Met Sally question; that keeps popping up — BHAHA — if you have a preponderance of female friends at that age).

I went to grad school at a later age than probably most do (into my 30s) and I have almost no male friends in that program; I’ve tried to relate but it’s been hard. Part of it is age and me not wanting to hit a bar until 2:30am anymore, and part of it is the nature of the relationships. I get bored talking to some guys, because there’s only so many times I can talk about sports or shit like that. Most of my friends are female. I just find them easier to shoot the shit with and talk to. I also think I’m probably a little different than most guys; I’m not afraid of emotional topics, and sometimes I like to hash things out. That usually leaves me on the outside looking in with male-male relationships.

One thing I’ve always noticed — and that’s always been hard to interact with — is that the guy world values a certain type of aloofness, whereas in the girl world (while there is a lot of backstabbing), you can be a little more direct and put things on the table. At every major societal stop of my life — HS, college, grad, different jobs — I’ve encountered a ton of guys who like to “play it cool,” even in their guy relationships; kinda like playing hard to get, but same sex. It’s interesting. This is going to sound really weird given the ways girls think about guys at certain ages, but if I text a guy to hang out, I also expect a response. I feel like some guys play it the same way on both genders; I’m not sure that’s ‘social norms,’ but it’s something I’ve always seen that I find interesting.

In terms of the drop-off from ’12 good friends’ to ‘2 good friends’ if you include the barometer of ‘talking about life issues or feelings,’ that’s pretty simple: guys are supposed to be rooted in strength. If your other friends clearly make more money than you or are seemingly “ahead” in life (I don’t really view life as a race, but it can get frustrating from time to time), sometimes you don’t want to discuss that stuff with them for fear of seeming “weaker.” I know friends — true friends — would never judge one of their own as “weaker” per se, but as a guy, you do worry about that stuff. Even talking about feelings like issues with a girl you’re seeing or problems at work can make you feel like you’re exposing yourself a bit. That’s just straight biology and evolution, I think. No one, especially guys, likes to show their neck.

I wish transparency was a thing that was valued on both sides of the equation (guys and girls) a little more from birth, but that comes back to how you were raised (some families are huge on keeping the outside out, which I understand too) and other factors. Guys have a hard time being emotionally straight-up with each other, and even sometimes about basic things; girls seem to struggle with this too. When you’re trying to connect a guy with a girl romantically, it’s even more f’n complicated. Sometimes I think (this is a broad generalization, so apologies in advance) that we put too much emphasis on keeping yourself shielded. Again, evolutionary and it makes sense. If more people were open with how they feel and weren’t afraid of violations of gender code or “what’s proper” or whatever, I honestly think the world would function a bit better. I understand the limitations of what I’m saying, though. Gender code has made huge strides in recent years, but think about this: GM names a female CEO and it’s national news. It shouldn’t be news. It should just be a successful woman. But that’s how we norm women and men, and that feeds into how men talk and interact. I’ve always been on the outside looking in with that stuff, probably even with my dad to an extent, and it’s hard.

I don’t really know how to conclude this, because I honestly do think I’m pretty different than most guys in terms of how I process things. I guess the easiest way would be to say that I agree with Wade’s article — it’s hard, and sometimes I do feel alone, even surrounded by people, because when I have things I really need to discuss, I’m sometimes unsure where to go. It doesn’t feel right to go to guys often; that seems to be the norms she’s discussing. I’m a little different than the article in some ways, but I am completely the same in others.

Oh, one other thing: one of my friends (let’s say acquaintances) on Facebook shared this Salon article and said the reason was because guys are contextualized to be douchebags from a certain age to a certain age (say, 16 until they find a mate) because they think that’s what girls (and other guys) will respond to. That’s kinda sorta true. The “bad ass” or whatever will get a lot of ass up to a certain age, and also probably has “a crew” of his own. So it can be a good move for a guy. Even though there’s been a ton of stand-up done about how girls really want the nice, empathetic guy, they actually don’t until they’ve had the alternative (ask most girls about this and I think they’d somewhat agree). They need to see what the two sides are before they go with one, and they usually start with the “bad ass” side as opposed to the “emotive nerd” side. At the end, all this stuff comes back to personal preference and context, but I do think there’s some value in a guy being an asshole for a while, and that probably impairs the depth of male friendships too.

Ted Bauer