Male Friendship: What The Research Says About Guy Friends.
I’ve been plowing through research on how humans connect to each other for several weeks now.
We’ve covered a lot of territory so far, following how people experience friendship from childhood to older adulthood. Besides looking at how life stage impacts our relationships, one of the most common themes in existing research has been related to friendship and gender.
Gender and Friendship: Bad News About Guy Friends
- Sorry guys, some research suggests that adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends of any other group living in America. Straight, white men also report they receive less emotional support and experience less self-disclosure in friendship than is reported by other groups. This is likely because often times men gravitate toward action. So when they get together, they “do things” (fish, hunt, play sports, watch games on TV, etc.) more than they talk. Men tend to experience activities next to each other, or in the presence of each other, rather than with each other. Instead of developing trustworthy ties with other men, more often (75% of the time), men confide in women instead.
So here’s a note from me: When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, is it only true because we’re measuring male friendships with female categories? Maybe men don’t even want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.
But they report they do.
- When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to identify closeness and trust as end goals. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is related to whether or not those characteristics, and self-disclosure, are present.
So men desire the same level and type of intimacy in their friendships as women, but the bad news continues: they aren’t getting it.
A few more points about male friendship vs. female friendship:
- Around middle age, men tend to maintain fewer and less-intense cross-gender friendships. This is due, in part, to how much energy they invest in careers, their own marriages, and parenting. According to men, not only is the number of friends in this stage reduced, but so is the quality of those friendships.
- Being so career or achievement-minded, however, often works against men as this encourages seeing associates as competitors of sorts rather than friends. As a result, men in the workplace share camaraderie, but often report they do not experience trust or self-disclosure.
- Women’s friendships, unlike men’s, hold steady after marriage, but–like men–they see a decrease in the number of friends after they have children. This is likely due to the energy they’re investing in maintaining their household. Still, in this stage, the few friendships they do maintain tend to be of a higher quality and they experience more trust and closeness than their male counterparts. Then as children grow older, women report their number of friends increases again.
- In later adulthood, friendships change for both genders in part due to health concerns, less physical mobility, and reduced energy which decrease one’s energy available for investing in relationships. At the same time, if the older years bring retirement and also less daily family responsibilities, someone in relatively stable health often has more time to invest in friendships. Women have historically lived longer than their partners and tend to demonstrate more resilience to building friendships to accommodate that void later in life. Men in good health may also develop more group patterns to fill their time–demonstrating an uptick in golf outings or card games, for example, but they spend more time in isolation and still experience less closeness than their female equivalents.
Other sources not linked: Gouldner, H. & Strong, M. (1987). Speaking of Friendship: Middle Class Women and Their Friends. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Monsour, Michael. (2001). Women and Men As Friends: Relationships Across the Life Span in the 21st Century. London, England: Psychology Press.
Photo source: Men on benches