Male Bonding

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” Elbert Hubbard

One example of the importance of male bonding comes from my own blog statistics. Out of 360-plus posts thus far, one of the consistently most read—though written over a year ago—is about the friendship between singer/songwriter Jason Mraz and Charlie Mingroni, whose experience with cancer inspired what turned out to be a hit song, “The Remedy.”

Professor of Social Work Geoffrey Greif‘s book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (2008) proposes that there are four different types of male friendships—must, trust, just, and rust:

  1. must friend—the best friend and confidant.
  2. trust friend—less close than a must but liked and trusted.
  3. Just friends—casual acquaintances.
  4. Rust friends—go way back and whether or not they have regular contact, they can readily pick up wherever they left off.

A post by psychologist/writer Irene S. Levine in her blog The Friendship Doctor compares female and male friendships using Greif’s research and commentary. Here’s a summary of the findings:

  1. Men are less likely than women to feel they have enough friends.
  2. Men are more likely to be “fixers,” whereas women are better at nurturing and supporting, often by just “being there” and/or listening.
  3. Men bond around sports activities the most, while women connect around such things as dining and watching movies—at home or out—and shopping. Both men and women say that communication is a big part of the shared activity, though.
  4. Men favor a “shoulder to shoulder” approach to making friends—common bonding activities are sports, a hobby, the military. Women, on the other hand, don’t necessarily need such commonalities in order to strike up a friendship.
  5. Men place much less of a value on frequent contact and communication than women.
  6. Men may be slightly less prone to confronting a male friend regarding his off-putting behavior and/or to losing a guy friend over an interpersonal issue.

As Greif states, there are also a lot of similarities between men’s and women’s friendships, including valuing such traits as trust, loyalty, understanding, and dependability; valuing the importance of friendship; and having a tendency to make friends through their partners and significant others.

One thing men can learn from women, Greif adds, is that it’s okay to be emotionally expressive and physically close, while women can learn from men to manage their differences with other women in a less complicated way.

(Special Note: As the barrier for straight men regarding emotional and physical intimacy is rooted in homophobia, gay men often have less difficulty with this issue. If you’re interested in info more specific to gay males, here are a couple titles: Gay Men’s Friendships: Invincible Communities by Peter M. Nardi and Navigating Differences: Friendships Between Gay and Straight Men by Jammie Price.)

A Buddy System blog post reports on a documentary about friendship among straight men titled Five Friends. The film website’s intro:

Early American writer and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard, said, ‘My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.’ Five Friends is the story of how one man sought to live that life.

Just by watching the trailer, we get a sense of what challenges the male friends face. In addition, sociologist Michael Kimmel and pastor Alan Frow comment on “the complex relational pressures acting on men and reveal the increasing importance of confronting these issues.”

Five Friends screens on occasion in various venues and is also available on DVD.

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