Men and Friendship


This is a followup to my earlier post on friendship.  When I was writing the first one, I came across several articles that talked about men and friendship. I’m sure someone can write the women and friendship side too, but I will limit myself to my gender.

One article says that “Men are hurting, and, according to many researchers, masculinity is what is hurting them and making it hard for them to maintain friendships.” A study on the harm done by toxic masculinity points to this view.

Though I think it is less true today than it was 50 or more years ago, society still tends to signal to males that they should be stoic, not showing their feelings and still encourages physicality and aggressiveness.

A TEDMED talk by Niobe Way, author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection says that the idea that “boys will be boys” is a harmful myth. It’s a phrase that’s often used to describe the mischievous, competitive, or aggressive behavior of some boys and men. But it helps to perpetuate a stereotype and the dismissal of these behaviors.

We live in a time when there are increasing rates of suicide and violence among boys and young men. The American Psychological Association did a study about harmful masculinity. 

A less academic article in Harper’s Bazaar talks about the ways that straight men lean on women (especially wives and girlfriends) to do their emotional labor. And this article in GQ looks at another view of that writing about men whose friends are mostly women.

Even when men have close male friends, the ideas of intimacy and vulnerability in a friendship may not be even addressed. A part of this is clearly based on a desire to be seen as masculine and not wanting to cross over into femininity. And another part, I believe, is a hesitancy to ask personal questions and dig below the surface topics of a friendship. In that way, friendships remain acquaintances.

The research shows that it is very important for children (especially boys) to have enriching friendships with adults who are able to express emotions. This means beyond the relationships of parents and close relatives.

Observations such as the fact that researchers find that men don’t try very hard to maintain friendships once they’re married. Their new mal friendships often come from the workplace and remain at the workplace and maintain a “business-like” demeanor.

It’s confusing. We still use the expression “man up” (even at times directed at a woman) to mean follow those male stereotypes. And yet much research unsurprisingly finds that boys and men are nor really any different from any humans. They are empathic and yearn for close friendships more than anything else.


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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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