Friday, October 28, 2011

Todd Kashdan - Explained: Why Men Have a Harder Time Making Friends

One of the issues many of the men I have talked to and worked with have is the challenge of making male friends - even for some of the younger guys, male friendship feels awkward and uncomfortable. I think this is partly because so many men are growing up without fathers or male role models in the absence of a father.

Of course, this is not true across the board. And in this article from Huffington Post, Todd Kashdan looks at why men have a harder time making friends.

Explained: Why Men Have a Harder Time Making Friends

Todd Kashdan - Professor of psychology, George Mason University

In my college course on the science of well-being, I devote at least three classes to what psychologists have learned about nourishing healthy relationships. Ask school children who their friends are and many list last names close to them in the alphabet. Why? Because most friendships are determined by seating charts. Schools shove future friends in your face. During the innocence of youth, proximity alone is grounds for liking someone. But things change dramatically as we get older, especially for men. Open-mindedness takes a hit. What other people think of us and where we stand in the social hierarchy is of epic importance. But there's something else that makes it hard to make friends, something insidious that few people talk about.

When men hit their 30s, many cling to their high school and college friends. And if these don't last, men have a hard time forming new friendships. I'm not talking about work-out partners and neighbors you pound a few beers with while ribs are grilling, I'm talking about confidants. People who you are willing to share your innermost self to because you feel it will be valued and accepted (regardless of what evils lurk there). Women are fantastic at cultivating these relationships. Women spend substantial time and energy to creating intimate relationships, safe havens and people that care about the good things that happen to them. Men? Not so much. With one exception: Men who get married. With wives in charge of their social life, men get a free pass to a rich social life.

Now is the time to be skeptical. After all, most gender differences are miniscule. Differences between men and women in talent for science, math, engineering and technology? Miniscule. Research on this topic shows its about motivation, not ability. Differences between men and women in empathy, compassion and love? Miniscule. Ends up being more about how these interpersonal emotions are expressed, not about gender differences in what is felt. So why should you believe that as we get older, men tend to feel lonelier with less confidants compared to women and their abundance of meaningful relationships?
Read the whole article.


Sage said...

I don't have a hard time making male friends whatsoever. About 70% of my closest friends are straight men. Although I admit the vast majority of my straight male friends are probably far from being "typical." I do however, actively choose to pass on friendships with many men especially gay men because I find I have no desire to be friends with more than a few of the gay men I meet.

NOTE: for anyone who reads this and doesn't know me, I am a 51 y.o. same gender loving (gay) man of African Descent who has no internalized homophobia nor heterosexism whatsoever. What I do have is an clear aversion to superficial, callow, pop culture obsessed, self absorbed people no matter what flavor they come in. I just find more gay men come in that flavor. Probably because I lived in the SF Bay area for years. In San Francisco I find straight men are way more mature than the average gay man.

Sage said...

As you might imagine Bill, there is sooo much i could say on this topic and covering a wide expanse of territory. I spend an entire chapter in my upcoming book on the topic of the role male friendships have played a role in my life. It is very complex of course.

Above, in my previous comment, I presented a fraction of my frustration with gay men. Straight and bisexual men don't get a free pass with me either. The bisexual male friends I have are more in alignment, energetically speaking, with my straight male friends. My experience there is generally very similar to my experience with straight men.

One thing that has not been lost on me is that as a result of facebook, I have come in contact with a lot of straight men I otherwise wouldn't have met. There is a glaring truth about this. Of all the people I have had active, energy draining conflicts with on facebook, 99% have been straight men. I attribute this to an astounding lack of tolerance on the part of these men. I'm sure it has its root in something more fundamentally psychological/social but it expresses itself, in my observation, as this profound lack of tolerance thing.

The first time couple of times I experienced it on facebook, it literally took my breath away. These men feel a very strong need to defend their opinions...and they are opinions, like they are defending their family's food supply. And if you refuse to be bullied by them, they defriend you. No discussion. No room for compromise. Nothing. AND...after they defriend you they spend the next 6 months continuing to bad mouth you on mutual friends pages and blogs. Its totally crazy. I didn't experience that kind of thing with males even when I was in grade school.

Do you have an opinion on this kind of behavior Bill? On what's going on there?

Sage said...

p.s. even though my experience with this intolerance thing on facebook has been almost exclusively with straight men, I have noticed the exact same energy on other facebook pages and blogs between men of all orientations. So I definitely don't see it as a straight man thing. I view it as a man thing. I have experienced it much less so with women, in general. One of the big differences I see with women is that they "let it go" far sooner. Men on the other hand don't.

For example, their is a very liberal progressive blog I subscribe to. The owner of the blog is an extremely articulate, opinionated older black man who is also a trial lawyer. His blog is hugely popular. In addition to his large progressive and African American fanbase, he also draws a large collection of straight, white, ultra conservative male trolls. There are members of that demographic who opposed something the blog owner wrote about SIX MONTH AGO. I'm not lying. And EVERY SINGLE DAY, for the last six months they come on this dudes blog and leave not 1 or 2 sentence rebuttals about that thing that was said 6 months ago but long 300 word manifestos. And...they are not just cutting and pasting the same manifesto over and over again. They come up with a new 300 word manifesto EVERY DAY or every other day about something dude said SIX MONTHS AGO!!! I have never met a woman who would do that. Maybe they are out there. I've never met them...

william harryman said...

Hi Sage,

Regarding your initial comment - I, too, have found myself unable to connect with more flamboyant gay men, but it really is no different for me than my inability to connect with hyper-macho straight men - I don't feel comfortable with extremes on either end (which I think is how I read your comment). I have a lot of gay male friends, both here and in Seattle, and for the most part it would not be apparent at first that they are gay men (unless they happen to be holding hands with their partners). And that is actually a good point - the gay men I enjoy being around are mostly partnered and secure in their identities, with no need to be "out and proud" (which I understand is an important political role for some gay men) - they are simply people.

On to the rather thorny second issue you pose, for which I have no clear answer - it's mind boggling.

I get some of those people at Integral Options Cafe from time to time, and they are usually defending something they hold as part of their identity. The tighter that hold, the more energetic their defense of their position.

And that may be what it comes down to for them (men or women, but men do seem to more often react in this way, at least publicly) - when a position or belief they hold on to tightly as an aspect of their identity gets challenged or refuted, they are not defending the idea or belief so much as defending their own sense of self.

Developmentally, these people are not able to take alternate perspectives - they are confined largely to a first person perspective (at least on their own beliefs) and cannot hold their beliefs or ideas as objects of awareness - they literally ARE their ideas and beliefs, so if those are challenged, they react as though they are under literal attack, with all the vengeance and inability to let it go that might entail.

At least, that is my take on it. For now. I may have more to say later.

Sage said...

Thanks Bill. I appreciate your contribution in your comment. I had come to the same conclusion about the defending of a part of ones identity aspect of it all. I always want to believe there is more to it than that. But there may not be more to it.

My gay man thing is *not* about flamboyance (incidentally BOTH the most flamboyantly effeminate and the most cartoonishly hyper masculine men I know are all gay men)

I think what it is is that these men have taken on a caricature-esque idea of what it means to be a gay man (gossipy, obsessed with pop culture, superficial, sex addicted, etc.)and have literally made this their principal self identity. Some of these also happen to be flamboyantly effeminate or otherwise flamboyant but that is definitely not true for the majority of such men I've met/known. I believe they are men who have allowed their sexual orientation to literally become their identity. They have searched (unconsciously) for what it "means" to be a gay man and have come up with these caricatures and simply superimpose them onto their personalities. In large, urban gay friendly centers such as San Francisco, Seattle, London, South Beach, etc. there is a large collection of such men. So the caricature get legitimized and recreated. It is literally, as I see it, the Stepfordization (Stepford Wives) of gay male culture, and that is what I refer to it as in professional writing I do on the subject. This is why these men seem to shallow to me. They are a creation. The real self is buried beneath layers of a manufactured self.