How Not to Suck at Friendship

Men Running Together
William Hereford

For some reason, women seem to have the edge on guys when it comes to, well, being friends. It shows up in pop culture riffs all the time: Ladies seem to revel in tight-knit connections, whereas dudes are scarcely social unless they’re choking down cheese doodles in front of the TV.

This seems unfair. So we asked Geoffrey Greif, the author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, what makes friendships between dudes work (for good).

Men’s Fitness: When you Google the words male friendship, you get articles with headlines like “Do Men Suck at Friendship?” Well, do they?

Geoffrey Greif: Men do not suck at friendship. Men’s friendships just look different from women’s friendships. There’s a myth that somehow because we’re not as emotionally or physically expressive as women, our friendships are less than.

So how do men’s friendships actually work?

Men like to get together, but they like to get together shoulder-to-shoulder, not face-to-face, like women do. They feel more comfortable doing activities with other guys. Men would rather play golf or watch the game than sit together in an intimate French restaurant sharing a bottle of wine.

Can shoulder-to-shoulder friendships be meaningful?

Absolutely. Shoulder-to-shoulder allows you to get into highly personal stuff. What happens is that, for many men, it’s safer to talk about feelings and insecurities if the game is on in the background, offering a distraction.

Men today spend many more hours on childcare and housework than their fathers and grandfathers did. Do you find that friendships lose out?

When you get to your late 20s and early-to mid-30s, you’re more apt to be coupled up, to have children, to climb the ladder at work, and you tend to not have as much time for your friends. In past generations, men had more “permission” to stop off at the bar with their friends on the way home from the factory or the court or the corporate suite, while their wives took care of dinner and took care of the kids. That doesn’t happen as much now. People drink less; and men actually want to be home with their kids and assume more responsibilities. They’re also married to women who say, “Hey, I’ve got a meeting at 8 o’clock. You have to be here.” These are profound social changes.

Outside of going to happy hour every day like Don Draper, what should men today do to make and maintain friendships?

Men tend to like to be around men who are at their same level of masculinity, whatever that means to them. So getting involved in activities you like doing is a good start to forging friendships. So, that’s No. 1. No. 2: Don’t wait for people to reach out to you—reach out to them. Don’t sit at home and say, “Why doesn’t Joe ever call me?” You need to call Joe first.

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