I first heard about the male deficit model, the sociological theory that men are lousy at friendship, a few months after my friend Matt moved to Seattle.
According to the Male Deficit Model, friendships between men function and falter within strict pragmatic categories: "convenience friends," for example, exchange helpful favors but don't interact much otherwise; "mentor friends," who connect primarily through one man's tutelage of the other; or "activity friends," which Matt and I became by surfing in San Francisco.
The theory holds that men tend to drift apart whenever the shared convenience, mentorship, or activity ends. That's precisely what happened to Matt and me when I got married and became a father and no longer had much time to spend in the water. Our friendship only rekindled after Matt and his wife bought a fixer-upper in my neighborhood. I brought over my sledgehammer and Sawzall and we had a blast demolishing the walls of his old kitchen. Then his wife had a baby and we'd push our strollers around the neighborhood.
Typically, when I got home from hanging with Matt, my wife, Liz, would say something like, "Well, what do you have for me?" Dish, she meant – like maybe some of that marital strife.
My reply almost always was, "Well, umm . . . I don't know."
"Two hours you were gone!" she'd gripe, incredulous. "Think!"
"OK, Matt does want a new seven-footer, mostly for tube riding. Does that count?"
Then Liz would let out a big theatrical groan that said, in essence, What kind of friendship is that?
I thought it was a great friendship, if I thought about it at all. But then Matt's wife, Jodi, accepted a job offer in Seattle. Matt and I told ourselves nothing would change. Jodi and Liz even arranged a surprise "bromantic" (their word) surf trip to Baja that winter. When Liz told me, I had to laugh: It was like Matt and I were little boys, depending on our moms to plan a playdate.
But then, in perfect accordance with the male deficit model, reality set in. First, Matt canceled our farewell beers-and-barbecue session; he was too busy packing. Then, a month after the move, Matt came back to town on a three-day work trip but was too busy to drop by. A month later, he came down for a friend's 50th birthday party, and I saw him for all of 10 minutes – at the party.
Feeling stung and sensing our friendship was toast, I told Liz I was thinking about canceling the Baja trip.