Feel like this question comes up a lot for people: are male friendships or female friendships inherently harder?
At some level, the question doesn’t matter — if you struggle with connection, regardless of genitalia, that can be tough. It’s one reason that we’ve seen upticks in loneliness, social isolation, and people feeling nervous.
But male friendships and female friendships are obviously different. The problem is, anyone choosing to write about this topic falls into one specific gender (in my case, male). So while I might have female friends and observe some of their dynamics, I’ll never truly know what a female-female friendship (or group) is like to experience. We don’t acknowledge that reality in these types of discussions enough.
But let’s now hit some research.
The baseline on male friendships
Before we get super far here, I think we need to understand how boys are typically raised in terms of connection (and what to prioritize). Some work on that, from a Cal-Berkeley therapist, would be here.
Research on male friendships
From a June 2016 New York Times article called “The Challenges Of Male Friendships:”
From childhood on, Dr. Olds said, “men’s friendships are more often based on mutual activities like sports and work rather than what’s happening to them psychologically. Women are taught to draw one another out; men are not.”
Consciously or otherwise, many men believe that talking about personal matters with other men is not manly. The result is often less intimate, more casual friendships between men, making the connections more tenuous and harder to sustain.
Nailed most of that.
And now, some Northwestern research on friendship development as an aid to your career:
This tends to be especially tricky for men. There is an interesting gender difference in the literature on how people keep friendships, Roese explains. Women are better at preserving one-on-one connections, known—to social psychologists, anyway—as dyads. “Dyadic connections are a specialty of women,” Roese says, “whereas men tend to be better at forming small groups, such as sports teams. Men need an extra nudge to preserve time for one-on-one friendships.”
The absolute generalization we all seek
Let’s get this out of the way quickly.
Most people believe men are:
- “The provider”
- Less emotional
- Not super connected
- Probably show their emotions through sex
- Big into “bro” forms of connection and not deep stuff
Whew. That part is done.
Oh, one other funny thing
When you’re younger (high school/college), it feels like dudes discuss sex/relationships a lot — often in a crass way, i.e. “I hit that.” As you get older, guys barely ever discuss it among themselves, and females start to discuss it way more.
Fun little story: I have this group text thread with 8 of my friends from college. One time, I decided to ask them all — 7 are married — “How many times a week do you have sex?” Radio/dead silence for 26 hours and then someone posted about the NBA. If I had asked those same guys that question 15-17 years ago, I bet I get an answer in 10 minutes. Small sample size, but always intriguing. Meanwhile, I know women in my neighborhood who sit at the bar, kids playing 10 feet away, and discuss that topic twice/month if not more.
So what’s the reality on male friendships?
Of course they have challenges. Are they “harder” writ large? Not sure I or anyone could say that, as all types of friendships have challenges and benefits. I think male friendships are probably uniquely harder to maintain long-term, as some of those pull quotes above speak to.
A few years ago, this article ran on Salon, entitled “America’s hidden crisis: Men need more friends.” I was pretty new to blogging when it ran, but I even blogged about it. Then as now, this part pops:
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 beinggirly.
That’s pretty much where the rubber meets the road on this topic. It’s hard to be a “good friend” as a guy because it might get you slugged. Females have their own issues in friendship development, but that’s the unique issue of male friendships.
Your take on male friendships vs. female friendships?