Men’s Friendships: Important But Neglected

How men’s friendships develop has roots earlier in life, and teenage boys are observed to struggle, states Janet Olsen, Michigan State University Extension. She cites Niobe Way, author of  Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (2011), who indicates that some of their obstacles “include cultural messages and norms about masculinity that begin to play a larger role during early adolescence in how boys view both themselves and each other.”

Boys report that they risk being labeled as ‘girly,’ ‘gay’ or ‘childish’ if they express a desire for close relationships with other boys and if they share vulnerable feelings with them. Boys also struggle with cultural norms about maturity as they move through adolescence. This is in response to messages that boys and men are supposed to be self-sufficient, independent, stoic and able to take care of themselves – as opposed to having characteristics that reflect community, connections to others, caring and empathy.

And thus boys become men and continue to face such challenges—but most do have friends. Geoffrey Greifs book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (2008) proposes, in fact, that there are four different types of men’s friendshipsmust, 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.

Another typology, based on various studies, is the Male Deficit Model (Daniel Duane, HuffPost). This one includes convenience friends, mentor friends, and activity friends. And, “The theory holds that men tend to drift apart whenever the shared convenience, mentorship, or activity ends.”

Men’s friendships, furthermore, may have an increased tendency to crumble in mid-life, as Billy Baker‘s viral Boston Globe article from last March showed. “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness,” states Baker. “As men grow older, they tend to let their friendships lapse. But there’s still time to do something about it.”

Similarly, research by Robert Garfield, author of Breaking the Male Code: Unlocking the Power of Friendship (2015), and his associates has revealed that men don’t always maintain their same-sex friendships—but that over 60 percent wish they had them.

What does Garfield believe can men do to overcome the “guy code” in order to forge and keep better friendships? How can they break “free from the societal and gendered traps he calls ‘dementors,’ such as brutal machismo and homophobia” (Publishers Weekly)?

Garfield encourages men to practice the Four C’s—“which include learning how to make good connections in close relationships, share heartfelt communication, develop a strong practice of commitment, and learn to manage conflict” (Kirkus Reviews).

In a pertinent article ( Garfield breaks this down as follows:

  1. Making Meaningful Connections: “Men are often more comfortable talking about surface issues, work-related concerns, or informational matters instead of discussing more personal issues…”
  2. Honing Your Communication Skills: “If your friendship is important, shouldn’t your guy friend be getting your best efforts at sharing your feelings and listening to them with empathy?…”
  3. Practicing Everyday Loyalty: “Your commitment to a friend is better demonstrated by staying in regular contact…”
  4. Learning Friendship First Aid: “No close relationship is immune to conflict. Men, nonetheless often try to ignore the tensions and hurt feelings between them…”

Commitment is also emphasized by Baker, by the way, who reports that psychiatrist Richard Schwartz (co-author of The Lonely American) “and others say the best way for men to forge and maintain friendships is through built-in regularity — something that is always on the schedule.”

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