Mens Friendship

The Verdict: Can Men and Women Be Close Friends?

This is a question I am asked somewhat frequently:  Can men and women be just friends? And the answer is always somewhat unsatisfying because as much as we long for a clear-cut yes or no, we all know that the answer is more like "Yes, but...."

The age old question: Can men and women be just friends?

The Research on Cross-Gender Friendships

We have our own personal stories that count as evidence for most of us:  If our best friend is a guy then we cheer on others, convinced they can enjoy these friendships, too; but if we've had a friendship end after awkward confessions of love or after one gets married then we seem convicted to whisper caution.

And the experts and research seem just as mixed.  I've been following the studies, the experts, and the opinion pieces for quite some time now-- and while everyone seems to agree that the answer isn't anywhere close to "No, these friendship never work," neither is the evidence causing a resounding "Yes these friendships are for everyone!"

Here are my cliff notes:

  • Yes, of course it's possible be friends with the opposite sex.  If we practice the three requirements of friendship-- positivity, consistency, and vulnerability (from Frientimacy) --with anyone, we will become friends with them, regardless of gender.  The more we do those three things-- the closer we'll feel to someone.
  • Yes, sexual attraction is an issue when our friends are of the same gender we also want to date. A big study in 2012 showed that in the majority of platonic friendships, there was usually sexual attraction present.  This was especially true from the men who were more likely to not only be attracted to their female friends, but also to assume those friends were attracted to them. There are countless stories of "friends" having to decide at some point whether to "risk" their friendship to see if there is "more," and just as many stories of friendships drifting apart once one of the individuals pairs up romantically with someone else. The relationships where there was no reported attraction do seem to last longer, and lack of sexual chemistry (or competition) is credited with the bonds that happen between gay men and women, and vice-versa.
  • Just because there is risk doesn't automatically mean it's to be avoided. All relationships require some risk. Furthermore, we build friendships with heightened risks all the time even in our female friendships:
    • Friendships in the workplace are crucial to our happiness even if we do need to be extra mindful of possible hazards.
    • Friendships in temporary locations (while on vacation, traveling for work, or in a summer-away program) will contribute to our joy in those places, even if we know it makes saying good-bye more difficult.
    • Getting to know the friends of our friends is meaningful to helping create a feeling of community or tribe, even if it does increase the chances of someone feeling left-out.

We don't need to avoid risks, we just need to be mindful and form friendships with as many healthy behaviors and appropriate boundaries as needed to help protect the friendship.

  • However, the deeper the friendship, the greater the need for honest awareness. There is a big range of depth and intimacy between the guys we are friendly with at work or those who are in our social circles versus those we are calling to confide in regularly and would consider to be one of our best friends. Most of us would agree that the more meaningful the friendship (read: vulnerable and reliable) the more need there is for honest communication and self-awareness as there is also greater potential for some confusing boundaries at some point, either between the two of us and/or from our current or future romantic partners.

Be honest with yourself as you reflect on the friendship, or the potential friendship.  The more self-aware we can be, the more growth we can experience and the healthier our expectations can be in all our relationships.

Reflection Questions For Personal Awareness

  • What is the level of friendship (maybe on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most meaningful, deep, vulnerable, committed) that I am comfortable forming with a guy/this guy? Based on that, what boundaries might I need to set for myself or expectations I might need to shift?
  • What are my honest feelings about the physical attraction between us? Is is important to me to not ever act on those feelings or am I secretly hoping/open to exploring that?  Would it feel safer to me if we could get beyond that attraction or is it the attraction that keeps the relationship compelling to me?
  • Even if I'm clear that I want him as a friend only, am I okay with his feelings be the same or is part of my enjoyment from knowing he likes me? In other words, if he falls head over heels with someone else, will this friendship still be meaningful to me to maintain?
  • Even if we're just friends, is this friendship limiting me in any way from dating others?  Is the friendship supporting me in my goals to find a romantic partner or is subtly, or blatantly, discouraging me from pursuing that desire?
  • Are there aspects of our friendship that would need to change or shift, in any way, if either of us got seriously involved with someone else?
  • If I'm romantically involved with someone else, am I clear what they each provide me and comfortable with the differences and boundaries of each relationship?  (One study showed that the more attractive we find our friend, the less satisfied we may feel with our romantic partner.)
  • Am I friends with guys because I'm uncomfortable being friends with women?  If so, why is that? Is that how I want it? What am I gaining/losing by that belief?

Bottom-line: Our lives can be enhanced from all types of relationships.  Our goal isn't to limit what type of love and community we can create in our lives, but rather to do so in the ways that feel the healthiest and more supportive possible. How close we each are comfortable developing cross-gender friendships will depend on a variety of personal circumstances, our ability to engage in honest conversations, our needs outside our romances, the risks we're willing to take, the opportunities that present themselves, and the motivations we're willing to examine.

Indeed, it's a question that simply has no clean and comprehensive answer other than the unsatisfying, gray, and messy answer of "Yes, but...." that we each have to wrestle with for ourselves.

What has been your experience? What tips would you give? On a scale of 1-10, what level of friendship are you comfortable developing with a man?

Want more on the subject?  Medical Daily wrote up a great round-up that highlights a lot of the studies and weaves in some great expert advice!

Men Crave Intimate Friendships, Too

It felt like a sacred gift to be invited into a weekend of male bonding. While there had never been a sign hung that had said, "No girls allowed," this year when the seven men gathered for the weekend that is becoming a bit of a tradition-- the wives were invited, too.

One of my husbands best friends, Paul, celebrated a milestone birthday five years ago by inviting this handful of men to join him for a weekend of sharing life. He graciously covers the food and lodging expenses and says, "Your presence is your gift." This year, motivated in part, because one of the men is recovering from a health crisis and needed his wife present, the wives were welcomed into the circle for the birthday weekend.  What a privilege.

We women were lucky to get in on a weekend of male bonding!

So for my blog post this weekend, I wanted to share a few of the evident truths, as they were played out in a beautiful house along the Gorge, outside of Portland:

  1. Men Crave Being Known.  Wanting to be seen, known, and accepted is a human experience, not a gender preference. Men want to be witnessed and validated and included as much as any woman I've ever met.  Our culture may model it as having to happen around a TV, sport, or activity-- but many a man has confided to me "I wish men could just get together to talk the way women seem able." And this weekend that's just what they did.  Every guy was given an hour (an hour!) to share with the group whatever had gone on in their lives since the last time they were together. I've often said that I think the need for meaningful friendship is just as crucial for men, and probably even more important for us to talk about, since our culture has given very little modeling or permission for men to share deeply. But they want to. Yes, they do.
  2. Men Know How To Process Feelings. In fact, if there is a gap in our society between those who like to share feelings and those who may not want to do it as much-- I don't think it's based on gender as much as it might be based on temperaments, strengths, or personality. These men, shared deeply about how it felt to be aging, how their career changes were impacting their identity, what it felt like to watch their children grow up, and how they wanted to change some of their life values. When given the space-- every single one of them shared life with incredible authenticity.
  3. Men Don't Need Women Prompting Them.  I want it to be clear that while we women were there... we were in the background. Only the men were given an hour.  We were witnesses more than participants.  You could sense that sometimes when our men were sharing that we wanted to jump in and help tell the story, but to the credit of all the women there: we sat back and let them stay in the leading role.  I often watch my friends jump in and "save" their husbands in social settings, or watch as men "lean back" and let their social wives carry the conversations... but sometimes I think that has more to do with habits and roles, than desire.  For in this house, the men seemed happy to have us there, but they didn't need us to help bring them together.
  4. Men Don't Need an Activity or Sport. Some experts have said that men do friendship shoulder-to-shoulder (activity or task-focused), while women do friendship face-to-face (conversation-focused). Again, I think that is more temperament-based than gender-based; but second, even if that's true of more men, in general, I think it should be seen as descriptive rather than prescriptive.  In other words, if that's true then it's because we're describing what we are seeing now, not saying that's how it has to be or how they prefer it. I've had as many women tell me that they don't like sitting and talking (Come on! Let's go shopping! Dancing! Hiking! Let's do something!) as I've had men say to me "I only watch football so I can hang out with my friends." This weekend-- these men sat through 7 hours of sharing and when given free time, kept on sharing more. No other activity required.

My sweet husband on the right with one of his best friends, Paul. They talk on the phone for at least 2 hours every week.

My husband, Greg, and Paul have been friends for nearly 24 years, most of that time their glue has been a 2-3 hour conversation that they have once a week. Every week.  They call and share life together.

Their experience is a bit like what every single man said at the end of the birthday weekend: "I need more of this in my life." Indeed.  It's rare and sacred to spend a weekend sharing and being received.

Is it awkward sometimes? Indeed!  Women find sharing awkward, too, so I can only imagine how it feels to be a guy who may not have as much practice (and cultural permission) in sharing.  But does that make it less needed or desired? Not at all. The need is as high as ever.

Oh how I wish our culture would shine a light on men's friendships in such a way that encouraged and applauded men for initiating time together, for sharing deeply and honestly, and for showing up to really be seen.

Deep and meaningful friendships is DEFINITELY not a girl thing.

Bring Back Pink

Last spring when we launched our "Feminism is a Team Sport" t-shirts, a girlfriend asked me if we had some in men's sizes and styles. "With the pink letters and hearts on it?" I asked dubiously.

I wear mine a lot, but I wasn't sold on thinking men would wear it?!?

To which she replied, "Yes!  My husband and son {in college} both want one."

I wasn't convinced. That was five months ago.

Last week another woman wrote me and said her husband wanted one and asked me where she could get him one.

I am a strong believer that we need far more men wearing pink... but add the word "feminism" on it with a few hearts and I was doubtful.  But that's three shirts requested.  My husband then said he'd wear one (Does it get any sexier?!). That's now 4.  (I need a minimum of 6 shirts to place an order. If you know a man who would consider it an honor to wear pink letters with us, see the link at the end.)

Pink is a weirdly complicated color, not just for guys, but still for girls, too.

The Shame of Pink

In college I refused to wear pink.

It wasn't some well-thought out campaign, I simply would have said that I just didn't like the color.  But in hindsight, I didn't like the color because it was girly and therefore a color that seemed as though it would somehow discredit me from being an ambitious woman.  It seemed to be a color for 4-year old girls who still believed in fairies and for the softer women who wore rose-patterns and flowing dresses--neither of which I identified.

Today I still hear similar sentiments.

I hear my friends tell others: "I swear I didn't dress her in pink when she was little," as they watch their daughters twirling and dancing in all things pink, their shoulders drooped as though they failed as mothers to keep their daughter safe from the gender-specific color.

When selling t-shirts at our GirlFriendCircles.com booth at women's conferences, we still hear "I don't wear pink... do you have this in another color?" in a tone that feels soaked with a feeling that suggests that far beyond the color is a meaning that still doesn't sit easily with them.

Interestingly, one place where it seems trendy now is among men. The color is worn mostly by those who are fashion-conscious, for it's still considered more edgy than norm. But even that trend comes with very tight parameters as to what shades and what articles are okay-- a collared pink shirt in a light pink is cool, a hot pink briefcase is not; wearing pink for breast cancer is awesome, decorating his office pink is not.

To Buy It or Not to Buy It?

I used to be a part of the unspoken boycott against pink.  I understand why some are tempted to eschew it.

When I read news stories like that of Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, whose every

In books like "Barbie: I can be a Computer Engineer" we associate pink with a girl who isn't smart enough to do her job.

page is painted pink and accompanies a hot pink laptop to sell to girls, but whose morale of the story seems to be "Leave the hard engineering to the boys," I feel the familiar urge to reject all things pink, as if distancing myself from the fear of not being seen as capable, strong, and competent.

When I first watched Ellen DeGeneres (and you really must watch it if you haven't yet seen it-- HILARIOUS!) satirically promote the "new" Bic pens for women in pink and purple

Ellen geniusly pokes fun at why women need their own pens in pink and purple.

colors, I felt mad at myself for having bought those pens, as though I had fallen into their trap. (I love signing my books in those colors!)

When I walk into a sports shop and see the "shrink it and pink it" strategy at play I feel a

I like pink but if we're cheering for our favorite team then why wouldn't we wear our team colors like the guys do?

little disillusioned because I feel like it comes with a subliminal message that we're cuter than we are sporty and strong. While I have actually come to like wearing pink, when shirts are specially designed for women in "our" color but not dipped in blue for the men, it feels like it's assumed that men are the real fans who wear the real colors and we're just not as serious.

I could go on and on with examples... examples that leave me feeling like I should be resisting this pink-washing.  Pink has been used, at worse, to weaken and shame (i.e.  telling little boys that pink isn't their color or hazing rookie baseball players by making them wear pink backpacks); but even when it's not blatantly pejorative, it still seems to perpetuate a delicate, soft, and "light" stereotype.

Why I Wear Pink

I've been tempted at times to call off the pink-- not wanting to associate myself with the stereotypes.  And yet... I don't think the answer is to eliminate a color from our world as much as it is to change its meaning.

We are the ones who determine meaning. Pink, in and of itself, doesn't scream girl.

In fact, Smithsonian.com, in an article about how this trend to associate colors with a gender, cited an industry journal in 1918 as suggesting:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

Furthermore, in a chart printed in 1927 in Time magazine to showcase the correct gender color based upon leading U.S. department stores showed that Filene’s in Boston,  Best & Co. in New York City, Halle’s in Cleveland, and Marshall Field in Chicago, all recommended boys in pink.

So pink on its own surely can't be girly.  We've made it that. And I guess the bigger issue here is why that would be a problem even if it were... why is there shame in being girly?

In college I was still trying to shape my image and it was largely influenced by what others told me colors meant.  Now as an adult, I'm determined to help be an influencer--someone who redefines the color.

I don't think every woman needs to wear it and I hope that we get more and more color options where it's needed; but I'd also like to believe that we'll get more and more women proudly wearing the color: that our kick-ass computer programmers will bravely create code on hot pink laptops, that our star athletes will keep defying what we thought possible of the color, and that strong and ambitious women will produce and achieve all levels of success in any and every shade.

I want my niece and my god-daughter to see that they don't have to one day outgrow their favorite color. And in an ideal world, where my nephew wouldn't refuse to eat off a pink plastic plate because "it's a girl plate."

My hubby and I photographed both wearing pink at an event... I love that guy.

And to that point, perhaps more important than women embracing this color, I hope that more strong men will rise up and join us in pink.  Strong men who know that there is no color in the world that can weaken them, and in fact, that they are stronger when standing with women and modeling to little boys that colors don't limit anyone.

Pink isn't an insult, it's a frickin' gorgeous color.

And I, for one, will keep wearing it on stages and signing books in it, more often than not.

#BringBackPink.  :)

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MEN'S SHIRTS (VERY LIMITED SUPPLY!)

If you know a guy who will proudly wear this shirt-- we're placing a one-time order.

We currently have 4 brave men who have ordered their shirt.  We need a minimum of 6 pre-orders.  Looking for at least two more!  :)

We're extending the deadline to after the weekend.  You can order your size here.

 

 

 

 

Friendships Don't Just Happen - for Guy Friends

From Shasta:  I've long-held that most men crave more meaningful friendships and while I don't have the same expertise and experience in teaching men as I do to women (that won't stop me from trying though! ha!) I have been long interviewing men about their friendships because I think there is a lot there that we aren't yet talking about, and need to be.

Greg Tjosvold has preferred friendship with women much of his life but is grateful to be exploring meaningful friendships with men now.

One of the men whose opinions and experiences on this subject has impressed me greatly is Greg Tjosvold, a middle-school teacher, husband, father, and author living outside of Vancouver, Canada.

Greg's story is poignant... as he comes to have faith in other men wanting and willing to grow in closer friendship with each other.  I hope that as we keep modeling men having deeper friendships and giving more permission (as a culture) to men to get together to talk and share life (without sports being the only acceptable excuse) that we will see that frientimacy is something that enhances all of our lives, regardless of our gender.

Huge thanks Greg for sharing the story of the Barley Brethren with us!  :)  Love it!

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Friendships Don't Just Happen - for Guy Friends

by Greg Tjosvold

He stopped trying to shove my head in the toilet when I started to cry. Grade 8 boys weren’t supposed to cry, but it worked.

Most of my interactions with guys have been like that. Until I was 14, I was very small for my age. I was an easy target for wannabe bullies trying to establish themselves. I was not athletic, so I was always picked last, if picked at all. And if I was on the team, invariably the captain would call me out in front of my peers for my less than stellar play. Being small gave others the chance to be “big.”

As a teen, I didn’t drink, tinker with cars, or “chase tail” - the favorite activities of most of the guys I knew in my small Canadian logging town. I was attracted to solo adventures like fly-fishing and astronomy. Those were safe for me. And so were girls.

My best friends have always been women.

In school, the girls I hung out with never attempted to give me a “swirly.” In fact they told off people who tried. I was always included by my amazing girl cousins whom my family visited frequently. My best friend in high school, a wonderful young woman of Japanese heritage, always kept a seat free and a meaningful conversation ready for me on the bus ride home. I played flute in band, but rather than shunning me, the cool girls in the band, the “Fearsome Five-some” I called them, made time for me. Girls were there for me; guys were not.

Things have not really changed much for me as an adult; by comfort and profession, I am still surrounded by women. My wife is my absolute best friend and soul mate. My BFF is a former teaching partner; I was her “man of honor.” As a teacher in the lower grades, I once found myself working in a building where everyone other than me, from janitor to principal, was a woman. And I was OK with that. I still feel safest in my female connections.

So I was as shocked as anyone when I said yes to an invitation from a colleague to join the founding chapter of “The Barley Brethren.” I am the rebel seventh – the lone non-drinker in a group of men coming together each week to share each other’s journeys over a six-pack of quality craft beer. For the first time in my life I am hanging out with guys and enjoying it.

What happened? This new adventure, this new friendship experiment, is a happy byproduct of navel-gazing, need, and Shasta.

Navel-gazing

As I approached my 50th birthday, I became very self-reflective. One of my realizations? That it is hard being a married, middle-aged man with female friends. On more than one occasion an outside observer has assumed I’ve been up to something. Or that I’m gay. Sometimes, I just don’t fit in with my friend’s activities (e.g. having a guy at a bachelorette party is lame!). Still other times, my offered friendship has left the other person's spouse feeling threatened and jealous. I’ve even had people tell me outright that married men should not have close female friends. Period.

All of these things do not just affect me; they also affect any potential female friend. While I have to believe that I'm worth it, it is a special lady indeed who is willing to take on such a challenging friendship. In light of that realization, I started to toy with the notion that, if I was going to need a new friend, it might be better (albeit scarier) if that person was male.

Need

It turns out that I did find myself needing new friends. My best friend and teaching partner moved to the other side of the continent (following her husband's employment) and I had a rather painful falling out with another very good friend at nearly the same time. The full weight of my needs for companionship and camaraderie all of a sudden fell almost exclusively on my wife's shoulders.

Shasta

Fortunately, in the midst of all of this, I came across Shasta Nelson, friendship expert, via Twitter. While her company and mission, girlfriendcircles.com, wouldn't be any help to me, her book, "Friendships don't just happen!" was a timely godsend. So much of the book resonated with me, especially:

  1. Friendships come and go. Shasta references research that shows we are now replacing about half of our friends every seven years. It was reassuring to know that what I was going through was not unusual. It's hard on the ego to admit you need new friends.
  2. There are different types of friends. For many people, I suppose Shasta's five Circles of Connectedness are largely self-evident. However, for me, it was life-changing revelation. As someone who had very few friends growing up, I just assumed that the very definition of friend was someone who was a BFF - a "committed friend" per Shasta's terminology. I distinctly remember times in my life when the phrase "Everybody's pal, nobody's friend" hung over me like a black cloud of loneliness and unworthiness. I had never really considered the importance of my "left side" friends on the continuum - how they can be the seeds of deeper friendship and who are no less important to a rich life of connection all on their own.
  3. Friendships don't just happen. I spent most of my life with the unspoken assumption that people just connected or they didn't. The book challenged me to look back at the best friendships I had in my life and understand that they were the byproduct of gradual progression. More importantly, it made it clear to me that this progression was something that could be replicated; that I could start with "contact friends" and, given time, consistency and gradually increasing intimacy, there was hope I might be able to move friends from the left side of the friendship continuum to the right.

Enter the Barley Brethren

Retired school principal Phil Ballard started the Barley Brethren to a meet a perceived need; the need for men to have the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.

Per his early notes, he envisioned the Barley Brethren as a "club of like-minded gentlemen in search of spiritual coherence. Membership in the Double B would involve a commitment to become a connoisseur of quality craft beer and would require the sharing of 'cicerone' duties for the weekly gathering. While quaffing their favorite brew, the brothers would discover meaning for their own lives while sharing in each other’s journeys. Meetings would be convened on the “MV Kairos,” a 45 ft. motor yacht."

While we couldn't come across any group photo-- this is supposedly Phil's hand holding one of the lucky beers.  Ha!

The concept of bros and booze in a man-cave should've sent me running, given my history. However, my desire to establish male friendships and the concepts in Shasta's book give me a framework for courage.

My BFF had moved (my committed friend would soon become a confirmed friend), so when a respected colleague (a "contact friend" worth investing in) asked if I was interested in joining a group planning to meet weekly (ingredient: consistency) to learn about beer ("common friends") and discuss life (ingredient: intimacy), what might have looked scary before, I now recognized as the perfect recipe for developing friendship. The fact that founding father Phil was a "confirmed friend" with whom I had lost touch over the years seemed serendipitous.

Note from Shasta: Greg, Gold stars for making the real life application to the concepts!  Love it!

Each week during the school year we meet.

Beer pours at 7:30 sharp. We spend time reviewing the beer, its history, and its characteristics. As a non-drinker, but a life-long learner, it has been fascinating learning the terminology of surrounding craft beer. I also know what sort of beer to bring to a gathering if I am asked.

The rest of the evening is a little less structured. In theory there is a go to study we listen to or read, but just as often as we just talk about what needs to be talked about. We talk, laugh, and yes, even cry about the things that are affecting our lives. Marriage, children, death, illness, work, retirement, faith... we all bring different perspectives and wisdom to what is important in the moment.

The Barley Brethren have been meeting for two years now... at least our first group. Somewhat ironically, the friend who initially invited me became the leader of a second group when the success of the idea and the need to open the concept up to more members became self-evident. (I see this friend outside the group now though.) For the first time in my life, I am hanging out with men on a regular basis. I still have my uncomfortable flashback moments... I'm overly sensitive to teasing about my beer selections, for instance... but I am so thankful for the growing friendships in the group built on vulnerability and sharing that, frankly, I didn't believe was possible among men.

Apparently friendships don't just happen. It's an important concept for guys too.

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While "just a group of guys," for more information, there is a site under construction: http://www.barleybrethren.com, they are on Twitter @barleybrethren, and here's their un-official theme song that sort of encapsulates the Barley Brethren: Brother, by Need To Breathe.  :)

From Shasta: Bravo guys!  Well done!  May your willingness to engage be contagious! :)

Men Really Need Intimate Friendships, Too

It's a great honor for me to feature today's guest post on my site--the author is not only one of the most emotionally healthy men I have ever met; a dynamic speaker, pulling people in on any stage; a wealth of wisdom on matters of purpose, spiritual growth, and energy management; a transformational consultant, leading teams to function from their strengths; and one of the most intuitive life coaches out there; but he also happens to be my husband.  And I couldn't be more proud. (We each happen think we're the lucky one in the marriage... but between you and me... I definitely was the one who won big time!) I've long wanted to share his blog with you: Soul Ballast.  You really should subscribe if you are interested in living your life with spiritual depth, aware of your strengths, and with intention, but when he wrote a 2-part series on men's friendship, I knew it was time to introduce you to him.

On my book tour I had so many men express to me (almost with embarrassment!) their desire to have friendships the way women do that I am thrilled that research is now confirming what I believed:  the stereotype of men's friendships being different from women's is often more descriptive (what they had modeled and what they thought was appropriate) than prescriptive (what they actually crave and would benefit from.)  I hope you'll share this post with your husbands/boyfriends, male friends, and sons.

Are Male Friendships Different From Female Friendships?

by Dr. Greg Nelson

My wife Shasta Nelson is one of the leading friendship experts these days, especially in the realm of female friendships.  Her book Friendships Don’t Just Happen:  The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Two Greek men having conversation in a cafe in Agiassos on Lesvos Island in GreeceCircle of Girlfriends is one of the most complete and profound explanations and prescriptions of the multifaceted dimensions of healthy friendships – why it’s important and how it can be developed and sustained in deep and meaningful ways.

As I’ve read her book and listened to her speak to multiple audiences, I’ve thought how much men need and crave this kind of friendship intimacy, too.

It’s been a fascinating experience bringing this view up in conversations with men and women.  Invariably, some people respond by saying that male friendship looks different and men approach relationships from a completely different standpoint, their needs simply are different – as one male expert puts it, men’s friendships are more “shoulder to shoulder” compared to women’s which are “face to face”.  Men bond over activities as compared to women who bond in conversation and self-disclosure.

For some reason, most likely a lot from my own personal experience as well as all my work as a coach and pastor with both genders, I’ve had a difficult time with that stereotypical and simplified depiction of male friendship.  I reject the notion that men don’t crave intimacy  (which includes the need for honest and authentic self-disclosure and empathy) as much as women in our friendships.

When I have coaching conversations with men and create a safe space in which they can share their lives deeply and authentically, I’m finding that men are as fully capable, and in fact as sincerely interested, in full disclosure and admittance of the need for intimacy and honest sharing.  They are craving the same kind of depth and closeness in their friendships as women do, but for the most part they’re simply not getting it.

Latest Research on Men’s Friendships:  How the Shift Happens

Turns out, research is now showing this craving for depth and intimacy is absolutely true about men and their friendships.  Men are in fact wired with not only this same desire but also the capability for the same kind of intimate, deep friendships.

According to a recent article in Salon (“American Men’s Hidden  Crisis: They Need More Friends!”) New York University psychologist Dr. Niobe Way studied and interviewed boys in each year of high school.  What she found was fascinating.

Until the age of 15-16, all the boys she interviewed described their friendships with other boys using the same vocabulary as the girls used about their friendships:

“Younger boys spoke eloquently about their love for and dependence on their male friends. In fact, research shows that boys are just as likely as girls to disclose personal feelings to their same-sex friends and they are just as talented at being able to sense their friends’ emotional states.

Then something happened.  From the age of 15-16 on (right at the same age that the suicide rate of boys increases to four times the rate of girls), the same boys talked about their guy friends far differently.

One of the boys described this shift the way almost all of those boys who were interviewed did:

When he was 15:  “[My best friend and I] love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other.”

But when the same boy was a senior in high school, notice the shift:  “[My friend and I] we mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do.”

Why the Shift Happens

So what is happening?  As researchers are noting, as boys get older they are becoming conditioned to disassociate from what are often seen as more feminine qualities in order to be manly, macho, accepted in the male places of our world.

For example, why is it that sports coaches or military sergeants, in trying to motivate guys, call them “girls” — as if somehow that demeaning use of a perfectly neutral term is supposed to inspire guys to be stronger, try harder, be more of a man?

So men learn early on to disassociate themselves from anything feminine–which unfortunately leads to a distancing from the experiences and expressions of need for intimacy, closeness, self disclosure, empathy, and other feelings.  Which in turn serves to isolate them from developing meaningful and close friendships with other men.

But as research continually reveals, this dissociation is actually distancing us as men from our complete selves by cutting vital parts of ourselves out.

Tragic Consequences of This Shift

Here’s the way Lisa Wade, in her Salon article, reflecting Dr. Niobe Way’s significant research, describes the tragic outcome:

“So men are pressed — from the time they’re very young — to disassociate from everything feminine.This imperative is incredibly limiting for them. Paradoxically, it makes men feel good because of a social agreement that masculine things are better than feminine things, but it’s not the same thing as freedom. It’s restrictive and dehumanizing. It’s oppression all dressed up as awesomeness. And it is part of why men have a hard time being friends.”

Two Things Men Need to ReShift and ReFocus On Who They Really Are

First, men need positive male role models to show the power and transformational experience of intimate friendships with other men – friendships built around mutual self-disclosure, honesty, authenticity, empathy, caring for each other, and yes, sharing good times with each other, too.  Male friendships are not an either/or proposition.  It’s both/and.

And Second, men need to be given permission that it’s not caving to a stereotypical feminine way of being by wanting and engaging in deeper, caring male friendships.  Men need this permission from the women in their lives and from other men.  The media isn’t helping at all!  So others need to step up and openly talk about what it means to be a male with all the multifaceted qualities men have inside them that need to be expressed and that contribute to building deep and lasting and meaningful friendships with other men.

Because the truth is, men are hardwired with a yin-and-yang of qualities:  we are both “soft” and “hard” — we crave strength and power, and we also long for warmth, intimacy, caring, and empathetic nurturing and sharing.  Men have been cultured to neglect one for the sake of the other.  But it’s both/and.

And the sooner we men embrace this truth, the healthier we will be emotionally, mentally, physically, and relationally.  We will be living in alignment with who we truly are.  And that’s always the place of greatest authentic power and well-being.

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