In the course of my own research on female friendships, I serendipitously
found the perfect mentor to teach me about male friendships and the differences
between the two: Geoffrey Greif, DSW, a professor at the University of Maryland
School of Social Work and author of the new book, Buddy
System: Understanding Male Friendships (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Dr. Greif studied 386 men and 122 women, whom he interviewed
in depth about their definitions of friendship, how they made friends, how they
maintained them, and whether they had ever lost friends. These questions and
answers represent just a few of the lessons he learned and that he shares in
greater detail in his excellent book:
Q: How do male and
female friendships differ from one another?
Through listening to men and women and studying what they
tell us about friendships, certain tenets about friendship can be cautiously
put forth. We must be careful though about making sweeping generalizations
about women’s friendships, just as we must be careful about making
generalizations about men’s. Great diversity exists in the friendships of both
- Women are more apt to
say they have enough friends and that friends are important; they are less apt
to say they didn’t have time for friends. Although the majority (60%) of men
say they have enough friends, 40% do not have enough or are unsure, a greater
number than women. It may be that some men are pulled by work and cannot find
the time to balance friends, work, and family. Or, it could be as we have heard
from some men: that they have a hard time connecting with other men in a way
that is satisfying to them on a friendship level. They may feel they do not
have enough must friends. (Grief uses
four categories to describe friendships: must, trust, rust and just).
- Women are more apt to
help each other than are men, by being supportive, encouraging, and “being
there.” Men, on the other hand, are more apt to give their friends advice and
offer their perspectives. Both mentioned the importance of listening and
talking. Men tend to be fixers, and
see getting something concrete accomplished as a way of helping, whereas women
are more comfortable with emotional support, which sometimes involves listening
without giving specific advice.
- When with friends, women
spend more time shopping, going out to dine with them and going to the movies,
as well as staying home with friends to cook or watch movies. Communication,
as part of the relationship, is frequent for both women and men. Men, who gave
fewer distinct responses to this question, are much more apt to be involved in
sports-related activities, either as a participant or viewer.
- To make friends, women
may reach out to others a bit more than men, and they are less concerned with
finding commonalities as a basis for friendships. Men mention sports more
often than women as a basis for making friends. To feel comfortable, men may be
slightly more apt to need a socially acceptable arena for having a friendship
begin, like a similar hobby or sports. This would be a shoulder-to-shoulder approach to friendships, as opposed to women
perhaps feeling slightly more comfortable making friends without a specific
activity or commonality being at the center of the friendship.
- To maintain a
friendship, women put a much greater value on frequent contact than men. Men
often mention being able to pick up again with a friend after little contact,
whereas women place a greater value on staying in touch. Women appear to need
more communication in general than men. Emotional connection is important to
them, and it is often manifested by staying in frequent contact.
- Women are more apt to
lose friends and more apt to try to get them back than are men. We have
learned already that men are often less concerned about slights than women and
so they may be slightly less apt to lose a friend because of someone’s
Q: How are male and
female friendships similar?
- The words used to define friendships are similar. Being
understood, trust, dependability, and loyalty are key features of friendships
for both genders.
- The percentage of people who said they had a friend of the
opposite sex is similar.
- The importance of friends, although slightly higher for
women, is very high for both men and women.
- Women and men both make friends through their spouses and
- Women’s friendships can also be effectively grouped using
the must, trust, just, and rust categories. These categories of
friendships are discussed in depth in the book and help us understand our
relationships with friends.
Q: What can men learn
from female friendships?
Men can learn that physical and emotional expressiveness can
exist in a friendship without it meaning that a man is gay. Women are much less
concerned about this level of expressiveness than are men who often pull back from
other men. Men are socialized to compete with and not pursue other men as
friends. Unless it is sports, music, or war, emulating men, having a “crush” on
them, and being physically close, is not universally acceptable.
Q: What can women
learn from female friendships?
Men tend to have less complicated friendships than women.
Some women, when directly asked, said they wished their relationships were more
upfront and less emotionally demanding. They like the fact that men are able to
resolve differences more quickly and move on.
“Cultural relevance is key,” cautions Dr. Greif. “Different
sub-groups in America
view friendships, women’s and men’s roles, and community connectiveness in
vastly divergent ways. Anything that can be learned from men or women must be
understood within such a context.”
In your own experience, which friendships do you think are
stronger or more meaningful, male or female? Who takes the gold and who takes the silver?
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