Sunday, April 11, 2010

"'s a mistake to judge men's interactions by assuming we need to be like women."

Stuart Schneiderman sent me his interesting post entitled, "Men and women: Imperfect together" that discusses a WSJ article on the topic of guy friendships by Jeff Zaslow. Zaslow is the author of The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship. a book about female friendships and in the WSJ article, he describes how male friendships are different:

...though I envy women's easy intimacy, I also know it wouldn't work for me and my friends.

I've played poker with the same guys every Thursday night for 18 years. We rarely talk about our lives. We talk about cards, betting, bluffing....

In his research, Dr. Greif found that men generally resist high-maintenance relationships, whether with spouses, girlfriends or male pals. When picking friends, "men don't want someone who is too needy," he says. A third of the men in his study said they learned positive things from female friendships, but 25% had a negative impression of women as friends, citing issues such as "cattiness" and "too much drama." And women are more likely than men to hold grudges toward friends, according to Dr. Greif's 2009 book, "Buddy System"...

But again, it's a mistake to judge men's interactions by assuming we need to be like women. Research shows that men often open up about emotional issues to wives, mothers, sisters and platonic female friends. That's partly because they assume male friends will be of little help. It may also be due to fears of seeming effeminate or gay. But it's also an indication that men compartmentalize their needs; they'd rather turn to male friends to momentarily escape from their problems.

I think both ways of having friends can be positive (or negative), having someone to listen to when you are having difficulties can be important, but having a friend who would help one escape problems sounds great too.

What kinds of friendships do you value?

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Blogger Nick said...

The 18 year poker playing doesn't pass muster with me, I don't think that's typical. Mind you, it could be that these aren't real friends. I have guy friends I can share things with. It's true, you don't want to be needy, but it seems to me guys often share things in a quid pro quo way. If one guy shares and the other doesn't well then the first guy, if he's self-aware, won't go there again--the other guy doesn't want to take it to that level.

Maybe there's a generational aspect to this as well. Us younger folks (don't feel that way but guess I qualify) don't have much fear of being seen as effiminate in this day and age. If you want to be effiminate, you can go dress up like a lady and do the drag scene, no need hitting on the neighborhood dads.

3:28 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

"What kind of friendships do you value?"

The kind I can afford.

4:45 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

Men are more socially cooperative and have more durable friendships than women.

Quote: "Traditional views hold that women are more socially co-operative than men, but researchers from the Université du Québec à Montréal, Harvard University and Emmanuel College in Boston found female same-sex friendships are significantly less tolerant, more volatile, and likelier to degrade based on a single negative incident than male same-sex friendships."

What kind of friendships do I value? True friendships, where the persons are valued not as means to an end but as ends in themselves.

5:14 PM, April 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am friendly with a guy who was a therapist who has been working on a film with a few people on the subject of male bonding. He claims there is such a thing and it is not merely have a beer and cheer a football team together at a bar. He has done numerous interviews and I believe the film is now finished.
One thing I noted the other day online: male bonding among guys who have wives and/or girlfriends in prison and who share rides to visit. A shared interest, that. So facile dismissal of male bonding may be offbase.

5:58 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger blahga the hutt said...

"Maybe there's a generational aspect to this as well. Us younger folks (don't feel that way but guess I qualify) don't have much fear of being seen as effiminate in this day and age."

Which means you're being feminine and you don't even realize it. Congrads, you've been successfully brainwashed...

6:59 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

there is a perception that men are knucle-dragging neandertals with very little emotive capacity whatsoever.

whithout characterising my maleness for fear of offending some "sensitive" types, it will suffice to say that i am a therapist who deals in all manner of interpersonal relationships and challenges, and the friendships i have with my male friends are of the intimate and deep sort.

and the associations i have with most women are of the superficial sort.

7:03 PM, April 11, 2010  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

i missed the brainwashed bit.


maybe that`s why i don`t like poker and strip clubs so much.....

7:04 PM, April 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great topic. I think there are large cultural factors here. Americans tend to view friendships through the lens of extroversion, because that trait is common in our country. In places like Japan and Britain, a larger percentage of people are introverted, and society is less geographically mobile. Their cultural customs reflect that. Friendships take longer to form but, in my opinion, tend to be deeper when established. There is also a clear line between Friend and Acquaintance in those societies.

In our country, male friendships tend to revolve around common interests, and there is much less talking. Exchanging a few words about the job or the mortgage might constitute a meaningful exchange between male friends. I do agree that I tend to be more comfortable discussing personal subjects with women, which is why I appreciate having a female physician.

But I have to admit that I find large doses of female companionship somewhat draining, for all of the reasons listed. That's why I think mens groups like Rotary or bowling leagues can be really helpful, by allowing men to interact in a meaningful but controlled way.

8:55 PM, April 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luckily, I have a few enduring male friendships dating to elementary school years. Great guys, great friends. We live in a mobile nation. If we did not, perhaps I would have even more 40 / 50 year friendships. Some friends just slowly disappeared after they or I moved. In this country, I'd say that's about normal.

Like ZZ, I have a female GP. She's a great doctor and I prefer having a female physician. Some folks may have a field day with that, but since I have to be poked and prodded from time to time, well, there is a much greater comfort factor if the hands are connected to a female.

5:16 AM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

Yes, men are not failed women.

Yes, poker and strip clubs are crude male stereotypes; you can be a man without doing these things.

Conversely, the Mars-Venus attitude that men and women are intractably different is silly.

"...though I envy women's easy intimacy, I also know it wouldn't work for me and my friends."

I think the author is misreading "easy intimacy." My observations of female friendships are that a significant portion of them feature the nice-to-your-face, bitch-behind-your-back type of behavior. It looks like easy intimacy, but it's really socially forced cooperation.

Boys aren't raised to be conflict-avoidant to the degree girls seem to be (at least not until this latest generation of government schools) so I am not surprised I see this. I also see a lot more women spending friendship energy on people they don't like.

There's also the evolutionary aspect, that gatherer females are under pressure to keep society together but also to compete with each other for the best mates - a fundamental paradox.

7:32 AM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

Here's another article discussing this issue (written by a woman, FWIW):

"A few weeks ago, Jane Wilcox and her live-in boyfriend had a blowout argument over a kitchen sponge that was left in the sink. There was ranting and accusations of shoddy housekeeping. He packed a bag and prepared to spend the night in a second home on their property. She called one of her boyfriend’s buddies and asked him to come over and calm him down.

When the pal arrived, the two men took beers out to the porch. “They sat huddled together like they were planning a NATO conference,” says Ms. Wilcox, 52, who lives in the mountains outside of Phoenix. “I would watch and see them both nod, as if they understood each other. One would lean back and take a heavy sigh, the other would follow suit. Then they’d huddle into each other again.”

The topic of their big discussion? Motorcycle oil."

Does the author dare to mock motor oil when typical female discussions center around the personal lives of celebrities they'll never meet?

The article continues with rote generalizations:

"It’s no big secret that men don’t share their emotions easily. Numerous research studies—and millions of baffled women—can attest to that."

What kind of sexist statement is this? Unfortunately the whole article is unsourced (the numerous studies are not discussed) claiming men are emotionally numb and guilt-ridden.

Again based on my own experience, many "baffled women" just don't want to accept the facts in front of them. He didn't call? Maybe he doesn't want to go out with you again. He's not talking about his "feelings"? Maybe he thinks you don't care about them and just want to maneuver him into a vulnerable position. He doesn't pick up after himself? Maybe your pettiness about clean-and-tidy has discouraged him (this I have seen firsthand).

I've come to suspect that a large proportion of marriages today - maybe even a majority - feature fundamentally incompatible people, and that is why we have all these cultural tropes of marriage like laconic husbands, angry wives and lack of sex. This would also explain the divorce rate.

7:41 AM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger Ern said...

What kinds of friendships do you value?

Well, the people who are my friends:

are responsible - they don't spend themselves into bankruptcy, they show up on time, they don't consume drugs, get drunk, etc.

don't think that they are more important than other people, so they don't insist on having everything their own way

make reasonable allowances for the imperfections of others

don't think that they know what's best for other people

10:29 AM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

topher, well said. the patronising of men by some women is appauling, and the points you drew from the article illustrate this clearly.

i will say to a woman who feels this way about how men behave; get a cat.

or a yappy little dog that gets sick all the time, so you can be continually taking it to the vet.

12:16 PM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

Does is really do any good to share your emotions?

I ask this quite seriously.

Yes, it's nice to occasionally vent, but what can the other person do? Are people who emote really happier or more well adjusted?

A deeper question is whether "opening up emotionally" solves anything at all, or simply makes things worse.

What's missing here is distinguishing between opening up about a specific issue and trying to seek genuine help and simply opening up for the sake of opening up. (All too often, men "open up" about a single issue and their female companion sees this as an opportunity to do a complete emotional dump. I've been there and so has every man I know. It's so common, there are many jokes about it--and us men laugh painfully at them.)

5:47 PM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger TMink said...

Joe, that is a great question. Opening up our feelings to the right person who responds empathically is HUGE. It gives us a more cohesive sense of self. Healthy personality depends in part on empathic attunement in the caregivers. It may be the sine qua non of healthy development.

Emotional diarrhea is another thing entirely!


6:28 PM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...


As I said above I see a lot of projection in the typical "men aren't emotional" trope. I've never heard a woman consider that her man isn't sharing his feelings because he's not emotionally comfortable with her, but that is the truth in a considerable number of cases.

10:16 PM, April 12, 2010  
Blogger TMink said...

I have never heard a woman say that either. Never. It is always viewed in terms of the man's deficit and never in terms of the environment.

Some women confuse agreeing with them and listening to them, as well as sharing feelings with agreeing with them.


8:14 AM, April 13, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...


One other important fact is that when women make blanket statements like "men are pigs" or "men won't share their feelings," by men they really only refer to the ~20% of men that women are generally attracted to. A median woman is attractive to a median man, but the converse is not true.

Of course, then you have to understand that a large reason women ARE attracted to those men is the emotional distance and "bad boy" image...but if he changed to be the way she wanted, she wouldn't be attracted to him anymore because he'd be a henpecked wuss and too "clingy"...

and then you realize the solipsism of the whole exercise.

10:41 AM, April 13, 2010  

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