Jan 18

Friendship Breakups Affect Both Women and Men

Friendship breakups suck.

Because when friendship works, it’s great. Take Amy Poehler‘s viewpoint: “Only hang around people that are positive and make you feel good. Anybody who doesn’t make you feel good kick them to the curb and the earlier you start in your life the better. The minute anybody makes you feel weird and non included or not supported, you know, either beat it or tell them to beat it.”

So when it doesn’t work…well, Amy has spoken. As have such friendship-themed writers as Carlin Flora, Irene S. Levine, and Susanna Sonnenberg–all mentioned in my posts earlier this week—who point their interest not only toward the viable friendships but also the friendship breakups.

Women: Friends No More

In her review of Irene S. Levine’s 2009 Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, psychologist Diana Zuckerman notes: “We don’t expect to marry our elementary school sweethearts, and it is equally rare for our best friends from childhood to be there for us forever.”

Similarly, later-formed friendships don’t always last either. Levine says that the most common cause of friendship breakups has to do with drifting apart. Some of the other reasons are less benign, however.

There are times, for example, that a friend is simply no longer deemed worthy; in fact, your friend may be “toxic”—one of our popular terms du jour. What then?

Feminist psychologists have suggested that a toxic friendship is often one in which a women’s own personal growth and individuation is sacrificed at the expense of the demands of the other person. Sometimes choosing oneself rather than the friendship is important for future personal growth and individuation. But women have a difficult time separating from each other because emotional connection is so highly valued and broken friendships are seen as failures.

In its review, Publishers Weekly summarizes the book:

Levine cites studies indicating that women’s friendships are more intense than men’s, nurtured through shared intimacy and reciprocity. But friendships are not static, she explains—over time, they can wax and wane and end. Levine’s seven stages of grief are loosely reminiscent of the Kübler-Ross grief model, but include new elements: ‘Self Blame,’ ‘Embarrassment and Shame’ and ‘Relief.’ Full of hints for being a consistently thoughtful friend, for resuscitating your closest friendship or knowing when to end it, this book is part etiquette guide, part grief manual. Whether your friendship sputtered because of physical distance or your best friend slept with your boyfriend, Levine deftly assures us that although the pain can be strong, the sorrow will pass.

Men: Friends No More

Last August Men’s Health reported the results of a survey they conducted that found three commonly given reasons for guy friendship breakups:

You don’t have anything in common anymore (34 percent), he’s a bad influence (28 percent), or he did something unforgivable (39 percent). ‘Everybody makes mistakes,’ says Al Bernstein, Ph.D., author of Emotional Vampires. ‘But when those mistakes start happening repeatedly, you have to make some hard decisions.’

Bernstein offers some further advice for the male-friendship-troubled:

  • If you’re the one who’s unhappy, see if you can talk it out with your friend.
  • If that doesn’t work, another option is to detach—then wait to see if he winds up getting the hint. If he does, you’re done.
  • If he doesn’t get it, however, it’s time to directly address the need for the breakup.

One more thing, Bernstein adds: expect some hurt feelings. And that’s on both ends.

Jan 17

Male Bonding: The Importance of Men’s Friendships

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 Greifs book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (2008) proposes that there are four different types of male bonding, or 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.

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 male bonding and female bonding, 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.”