Male Friendship vs. Female Friendship

male-friendship

Are female friendships closer and more personal than male friendships?

One contradiction exists in popular gender stereotypes of friendship, one that most probably don’t realize. Female friendships are thought to be less sincere, less stable, and more superficial than male friendships. Women are seen as being in nearly constant competition with each other and disloyal to women they call friends.

At the same time, friendships between women are believed to be more revealing, intimate, and personal than those between men. But how can something be both superficial and deep, intimate and insincere? Are female friendships “better” overall for these reasons, or inferior for the same reasons?

Despite what many may think, friendships between men and women haven’t been found to be very different. Men and women engage in friendships for similar reasons and claim to achieve similar goals with friendships. The differences between the two types of friendships are superficial and usually a matter of appearance and style.

Although friendships between the genders are essentially the same, certain qualities typically characterize each form of friendship. That is, male friendships tend to include the following:

  • Team membership — men see their friendships as physically doing things together and requiring some personal sacrifice for the betterment of the friendship.
  • Jokes, insults, and verbal and physical aggression
  • “Locker room talk” — curse words, dirty stories, teasing, and more verbal aggression
  • A group of friends; three or more close friends not simply two

Female friendships, in contrast, are usually characterized by many of the following:

  • female-friendshipPhysical closeness — non-aggressive physical contact such as hugging and sitting close together
  • One-on-one communication; female friendships more typically include just two close friends
  • Openness and verbal expression of emotions, personal thoughts, and opinions
  • A sense of attachment; female friends are more likely to perceive their friendships as personal and intense

Female friendships are thought to be closer because women share their deepest feelings and engage in extended one-on-one communication more often. But male friendships are seen as more stable because men view their friendship as a team and thus work together to keep the relationship afloat.

It’s likely that whether you believe male friendships or female friendships are of a higher quality depends on your expectations and values in an interpersonal relationship.

How are your same gender friendships? How do you think gender affects friendships in general?

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31 thoughts on “Male Friendship vs. Female Friendship

  1. I think I got a circle of good female friends here and one in SA. Very different people though. And I got no male friends in SA only in Sweden.

    I just don’t know lol. I think it depends on the people more than gender since we all ain’t the same. I always kinda wondered what it would be like to be in a ‘Man friendship possy’ thought I’d hate all the constant insults. Hubby and his friends rip into each other all the time.

    lol I just got reminded of this ‘friendship’.

  2. Nkosazana,

    “I just don’t know lol. I think it depends on the people more than gender since we all ain’t the same.”

    Right. This definitely goes without saying (but since you said it, oh well :) ). There is endless variation based on the particular people involved. Sometimes people make generalizations based on gender which really depend on the individual.

    …And culture. I could speculate as to why you would have more male friends in a certain country than you would have in another country.

    “I always kinda wondered what it would be like to be in a ‘Man friendship possy’ thought I’d hate all the constant insults.”

    At first you might be taken off-guard, but you quickly learn to give right back. :)

    Re: the videos. I attempted to watch Scrubs yesterday but I just couldn’t do it. That’s like the third time I’ve tried and failed. It simply can’t keep my attention.

  3. I’ve never had a close male friend. So I guess I can’t compare.

    But I always thought male friendship was seen as stronger and more serious than the female one. I knew it wasn’t necessarily true, but historically, it just seemed so. There are so many myths and stories dedicated to male friendship. And female? Not so much.

    It seems that even today, close female friendship is seen as somewhat “strange”, at least in popular culture. At least that’s how it was when i was growing up.

    I met my best friend when we were 13. We were very close. We used to spend almost all the time in school together. Everybody thought it was strange, especially since we didn’t talk about the usual “female” subjects (clothes, make up, boys. Ok, we did talk about boys, sometimes). Kids, teachers and even psychologists thought we were lesbians (and my culture is quite homophobic, so it was seen as a very bad thing).

    On the other hand, guys who had only one or two close friends weren’t ostracized. I remember two guys, computer nerds, who used to spend hours discussing programming and other computer stuff. Sure, they weren’t popular and they couldn’t get a date, but nobody thought there was something strange about their friendship. Nobody even thought they were gay. But two girls who were close seemed “suspicious”.

    So I guess it made me believe male friendship is seen as stronger and more serious, while only certain form of female friendship is socially acceptable.

    I even blogged about it:

    http://jefflion.net/archives/461

    For example, it is seen as bad and as a huge betrayal of friendship if a guy forgets about his friends because of a girlfriend or if he chooses her over them (the whole bros before…) But it’s not the same with women and their friends: it is seen as a “normal” thing to choose a guy over your friends, as if he’s more important. Not always and in all situations, of course, but I think women are encouraged to choose boyfriends over their friends. At the end of the day, one can argue that a spouse is, in a way, “more important” and closer than your friends, but men are never encouraged to invest that much in their girlfriends, especially not over their male friends.

    PS- I don’t get Scrubs. But I love that one scene, when they sing “Land down under” during childbirth.

  4. Genders do friendship differently, much like they do many other things differently. Women’s friendships very often revolve around a currency of “secrets” … a woman’s betrayal of something another female friend told her “in confidence” can be a friendship ending event. Sometimes just the act of not telling a friend a juicy secret and having her find out from somebody else is enough of a betrayal to end a long standing friendship. Men’s friendships are not so fragile … they can simultaneously be more shallow and more enduring at the same time .. maybe because they don’t go ‘so deep’. I don’t know … all I know is that the term “cattiness” is pretty female in nature in terms of a descriptive behavior. Not sure there is a male equivalent. Men do things like have “roasts” where the highlight of the evening is to stand up publicly and say mean spirited things about the “man of the hour”. Most women I’ve spoken to about the idea of a roast say that the idea of sitting at a table where her girlfriends stand up and say mean things about her while everybody laughs out loud sounds like probably the worst possible way to spend an evening that they could ever imagine. Yet such a thing is exactly the sort of thing that men do all the time … public verbal dunkings are how guys express their mutual love. Go figure.

  5. Hi Mira :)

    “I’ve never had a close male friend. So I guess I can’t compare.”

    Why? By choice? Or you just never connected closely with a guy?

    Re: you and your friend. Things are a little different in your culture, I think. Two girls being best friends and doing everything together would not seem weird at all here. It’s pretty normal.

    “But I always thought male friendship was seen as stronger and more serious than the female one.”

    They are, but at the same time they are seen as being less personal and close than female friendships. People don’t generally think men connect with each other on such a deep level.

    Remember the study I wrote about in Love Hurts Men — More? One of the reasons they found relationships problems hurt men more than women is because men aren’t as open with their friends and family about their feelings, so they deal with them alone. So that’s another vote for men not being as close with their friends as women are.

    “it is seen as bad and as a huge betrayal of friendship if a guy forgets about his friends because of a girlfriend or if he chooses her over them (the whole bros before…) But it’s not the same with women and their friends: it is seen as a “normal” thing to choose a guy over your friends”

    Yes, that’s the general idea. But that’s the contradiction — women are so close with each other, yet they will ditch their friends for a guy? I suspect it has a lot to do with what women are socialized to value vs. what men are socialized to value.

    “I don’t get Scrubs.”

    Me either! A medical comedy show?

  6. Rob,

    “Genders do friendship differently, much like they do many other things differently. “

    Rob, oh Rob. :)

    ‘Women’s friendships very often revolve around a currency of “secrets” … a woman’s betrayal of something another female friend told her “in confidence” can be a friendship ending event. Sometimes just the act of not telling a friend a juicy secret and having her find out from somebody else is enough of a betrayal to end a long standing friendship.’

    Hmmm, personally, I wouldn’t end a friendship over the latter (though I’d contemplate ending it in the former situation, depending on what the secret). But I would consider that they’re not as close of a friend as I’d thought.

    And why not? If you have a “best” or “close” friend, you’d think they would be one of the first people you told about something personal to you.

    I don’t know about women’s relationships being all about secrets, though I’d wager they tell more secrets than men do.

    “Men’s friendships are not so fragile … they can simultaneously be more shallow and more enduring at the same time .. maybe because they don’t go ‘so deep’. “

    Good point. That’s what I was thinking it might be. It’s easier to keep up a friendship which isn’t that profound or close. Like you can see the same cashier every day for years at your local grocery store and chat about what you’re doing at the moment, what your kids are doing, etc.

    With a close friendship, there are many more points for misunderstanding and more rules to follow to keep each person satisfied.

  7. Alee, don’t confuse closeness of friendship with ‘depth’ of what is or is not discussed. I have a handful of friendships with a few guys whom I consider my ‘best friends’ … we double dated in high school … locked each other of dorm rooms in college on “lucky nights’ … stood next to each other as groomsman at our weddings … were in the room when we became fathers … and will very likely be in attendance at our respective funerals (well at least one of us will, anyway ;) And what I’ve noticed over the years is a noticeable closing and a distinct “gap” developing between male buddies … typically after men get married. It seems that pre-marriage … close male friendships include a lot of detailing about the inner workings of our relationships with women. Scoring, and lack of it, if you will. And after marriage, not nearly so much, for whatever reason. We just don’t talk about that stuff anymore … and I think that’s somewhat common with male friendships.

    I’ve had a few male friends split up with their spouses, … and it’s always pretty much a shock … like I had no idea there was any sort of problem … until they split up. Before they were married, I would know about every nuance in their affairs of the heart. Am curious if this is true in female friendships … does getting married act as some sort of “barrier” that keeps a woman from discussing her spouse relationship with her girlfriends, like she did when she was ‘unattached” and would discuss what was happening with her current boyfriend on a regular basis? I am going to guess that women tend to share just as much of their intimate lives with trusted friends after they are married than they did before. All I know is that men for the most part sort of shut that sort of discussion down after walking down the aisle. For whatever reason.

  8. It’s guy love, between two guys. I mean if you can’t appreciate the comedic gold there I don’t know. Scrubs got really bad at the end and even I had to stop watching but I do really like the show. I will give my 2 cents tomorrow…..

  9. Alee,

    Why? By choice? Or you just never connected closely with a guy?

    No, not by choice. I don’t make friends easily, and I only have a few friends. For some reason guys never wanted to be my friends, which is a shame, because I’d love to have male friends.

    The only guys I could, possibly, call my friends are my husband’s friends, my female friends’ boyfriends, etc.

    I have a theory on why I might lack male friends, but it’s completely unscientific and based on (extremely) limited anecdotal evidence.

    Re: you and your friend. Things are a little different in your culture, I think. Two girls being best friends and doing everything together would not seem weird at all here. It’s pretty normal.

    I don’t know. Could be. Then again, I’ve seen enough American (and other Western) movies in which close female friendship is seen as sinister. (For example, Heavenly Creatures). So I don’t know.

    I think it’s not about friends being close or spending time together: it’s the things they do. There are socially acceptable subjects and activities for female friends, and those unacceptable ones. I guess same goes for male friendship as well.

    Yes, that’s the general idea. But that’s the contradiction — women are so close with each other, yet they will ditch their friends for a guy? I suspect it has a lot to do with what women are socialized to value vs. what men are socialized to value.

    I think it’s because women are seen as overly emotional, sometimes even child like. So while a child might get attached to his favourite toy, it’s not a real attachment and he should mature and get over it. I guess female friendship is seen as beneficial for women, but other people (namely, husband and children) are seen as much more important for a woman’s life, and once they enter the stage female friends are expected to go in the background.

    Me either! A medical comedy show?

    The show is full of absurd jokes, which I like. It’s just… I don’t know. I guess the type of absurdity doesn’t suit me.

  10. Rob,

    “Alee, don’t confuse closeness of friendship with ‘depth’ of what is or is not discussed.”

    Well, closeness basically implies depth. How close could you be with someone who doesn’t know much about you?

    ‘Am curious if this is true in female friendships … does getting married act as some sort of “barrier” that keeps a woman from discussing her spouse relationship with her girlfriends, like she did when she was ‘unattached” ‘

    Hmmm, I don’t know. I guess it could, in some ways. Women sometimes change a bit when they have a guy (or possible guy) in their lives.

    I personally don’t tell anyone all that much about my relationships, so it will probably be the same when I’m married.

    wanderlust,

    That’s what I don’t get and can’t get into — comedy? Then again I like more serious shows. I guess I just assumed because Scrubs was set in a hospital that it would be more serious.

  11. Mira,

    “I have a theory on why I might lack male friends, but it’s completely unscientific and based on (extremely) limited anecdotal evidence.”

    That’s fine: I’d like to hear it.

    “There are socially acceptable subjects and activities for female friends, and those unacceptable ones.”

    What are some of these? I know make-up, guys, and fashion are socially acceptable (I’d go even further to say socially encouraged).

    “I think it’s because women are seen as overly emotional, sometimes even child like.”

    I thought it was men who were seen as child-like and women were the mature ones? Lol. :)

  12. hmmm….I always have a plethora of males that I confide in regularly. we connect on a level that they don’t seem to connect with other guys on….often these men consider themselves women’s men. they love women and feel very comfortable with them. they often have girlfriends or wives, but not always. sometimes they are my BFs friends and they connect with me on a level that doesn’t exist with my BF.
    sometimes they are men that I’ve dated, sometimes they are not (but maybe wanted to, but we got past it). I usually have a few close female friends too.

    I believe that women bond over having or being in a similar experience (like new moms or divorced moms/women) and men bond over shared activities.

  13. miki,

    Are these men what people would call “feminine”? Just wondering.

    “I believe that women bond over having or being in a similar experience (like new moms or divorced moms/women) and men bond over shared activities.”

    Oh, that’s a good observation.

  14. I would often call them that, but more along the lines of “in touch with their feminine side”, but nearly all are very good with women (dating etc) – One of my two best friends through mid school and HS turned out to be a gay man (later). My ex husband is a really feminine guy. In fact, we’ve speculated that he’s actually gay. My current BF is as far from feminine guy as you can get, but his closest male friends are “in touch with their feminine side”.

    have you also noticed that men bond doing things together (side by side) and women bond face to face (talking/sharing)? So women who want to be closer to their men should do things with them side by side. it works. (haha. just ask my avoidant boyfriend)

  15. miki,

    “have you also noticed that men bond doing things together (side by side) and women bond face to face (talking/sharing)?”

    Yes, I have. It’s rather interesting. I guess that’s another reason why women are perceived as being closer to their female friends.

    “So women who want to be closer to their men should do things with them side by side. it works. (haha. just ask my avoidant boyfriend)”

    Ha. I’ll definitely think about this more; it could work!

  16. I was going to comment something along the lines that Rob did. Women share more intimate details of their lives than men typically do with their friends, and I think this can be a two-edged sword.

    Because women are willing to share these things, that can be a strong source of emotional support. But sharing intimate details can also be a weapon that may be used against them if conflicts arise. It could be that this is why female relationships are seen as less stable: Female friends know how to wound each other very deeply, because they know each others’ vulnerabilities quite well.

    I’ve seen women have fights and platonic “break ups” with their friends that look to be as traumatic as romantic ones. I think this is just a consequence of more emotional sharing. You don’t often see guys do this to each other, partly because they can’t; most guys don’t get close enough to each other to risk getting hurt that way.

  17. That’s fine: I’d like to hear it.

    Ok, here it is: many men (or maybe just men in my culture, especially the younger ones) want to be friends only with women that they are attracted to. There are always exceptions, but this seems to be a general rule. Attractive girls always have guys around them who want to be their friends. On the other hand, if a guy doesn’t find you attractive, he acts as if you’re not even there.

    Like I said, this might be just my culture, but I doubt it, since the exact situation was explored in the UK show “Coupling”.

    “There are socially acceptable subjects and activities for female friends, and those unacceptable ones.”

    What are some of these? I know make-up, guys, and fashion are socially acceptable (I’d go even further to say socially encouraged).

    Gossip of all sorts is also acceptable, as well as sharing secrets about dating, men, or other people.

    But talking about philosophy or novel writing (or even politics) is not seen as “normal”. I mean, it’s ok to talk about these things (especially politics- people here are obsessed with it), but not all the time. While nobody sees anything strange about women talking about men, clothes, etc. ALL the time.

    “I think it’s because women are seen as overly emotional, sometimes even child like.”

    I thought it was men who were seen as child-like and women were the mature ones? Lol. :)

    Men are seen as immature in some things, but generally, they are seen as more serious, especially when it comes to “serious” subjects.

    … I think.

  18. smartacus,

    “sharing intimate details can also be a weapon that may be used against them if conflicts arise.”

    Yes, indeed it can. I know this quite well.

    “I’ve seen women have fights and platonic “break ups” with their friends that look to be as traumatic as romantic ones.”

    Ha. I had one of those in high school. We were writing notes back and forth to each other saying things like, “It’s over!” :)

    Mira,

    “many men… want to be friends only with women that they are attracted to. There are always exceptions, but this seems to be a general rule.”

    Hmmm, yeah, I think it’s much easier to get a guy to be your friend if he is attracted to you. And many men do act like women they don’t like more or less don’t exist.

    But then there are those (somewhat rare) women who just seem to have lots of guy friends because they are interested in the same things as the guys, whether it be a certain sport, a video game, style of music, etc.

    “Men are seen as immature in some things, but generally, they are seen as more serious, especially when it comes to “serious” subjects.’

    Oh, I see. Like in science, philosophy, etc, they are taken more seriously than women in these same areas.

  19. Another thought I have is that, since greater intimacy and sharing of feelings in female friendship make them slightly more like romantic relationships than male friendships, female friendships sometimes trend towards a monogamy of sorts. And that also leads to drama.

    One source of the drama in romantic relationships is the fact that as a species we’re fairly (though not completely) monogamous. If desirable person X can only have one lover, then there will be more competition to be his/her lover. If humans weren’t monogamous, person X could be shared and there’d be less need to compete.

    So you will see some of the same drama in platonic female relationships. I think that this happens with young females, particularly. Because they’re sharing intimate feelings with a friend, investing so much trust in her, they tend to want her all to themselves. So there ends up being competition to be her “bestie.”

    “I’m her best friend.”
    “No, I’M her best friend!!”

    This is pretty typical junior high school behavior for girls. Most get sick of the drama and find ways to avoid engaging in this as they get older.

  20. Alee,

    I think there’s something to what you’ve said:

    “Hmmm, yeah, I think it’s much easier to get a guy to be your friend if he is attracted to you. And many men do act like women they don’t like more or less don’t exist.

    But then there are those (somewhat rare) women who just seem to have lots of guy friends because they are interested in the same things as the guys, whether it be a certain sport, a video game, style of music, etc.”

    I think I’d describe it this way: When guys form friendships with women it’s usually because of one of two reasons.

    1) They have something in common, like similar interests, as you mentioned.

    2) There is a sexual attraction on the part of one or both of them. And that attraction fails to convert into a lasting romantic relationship — for any number of reasons — but there is enough of a personal connection that a solid friendship does result.

    I’ve experienced the latter. One of my best friends is a woman who initially was attracted to me. This piqued my interest and I got to know her, but I found that she was not compatible enough with me to have a romantic relationship (also, she was at the end of a bad marriage at the time when I met her, and I didn’t want to get in the middle of that!).

    Anyway, we’ve become close friends and I really like a lot of her personality. But it’s clear that we couldn’t be a couple without driving each other insane, so we’re better off as just friends.

  21. smartacus,

    “since greater intimacy and sharing of feelings in female friendship make them slightly more like romantic relationships than male friendships”

    Interesting; I’ve always seen male friendships as being a little more platonic.

    And male friendships are more likely to consist of more than two close friends. So that definitely ties into the (lack of) monogamy idea you’re talking about.

    “When guys form friendships with women it’s usually because of one of two reasons.

    1) They have something in common, like similar interests, as you mentioned.

    2) There is a sexual attraction on the part of one or both of them. And that attraction fails to convert into a lasting romantic relationship”

    But what isn’t as known is some women do that too. Or is it just me? I’ve definitely formed friendships with men based on shared interests and/or my attraction to them. Many guys who are my friends now I initially thought were attractive, so I got to know them, and it became a friendship instead of a romantic relationship.

  22. “But what isn’t as known is some women do that too. Or is it just me? I’ve definitely formed friendships with men based on shared interests and/or my attraction to them. Many guys who are my friends now I initially thought were attractive, so I got to know them, and it became a friendship instead of a romantic relationship.”

    No, I think that this is a absolutely a two-way street; women have similar motivations here. This is just the way many male-female friendships start.

    Sometimes, a factor in this is timing. There have been sitcom jokes about the “friend zone” — basically, if two people know each other well for a long period of time without any sort of sexual interaction, then it becomes hard for a sexual relationship to start. The other person starts to feel like a brother or sister, and the thought of sex with them seems weird.

    I think that is a function of our instincts kicking in. Maybe if we spend a lot of time around a person of the opposite sex without getting our freak on, our brains decide that person must be a relative, and sexual attraction decreases to prevent incest.

  23. I should have made this post about male-female friendships as well. That was the original idea, but I cut it down. But the male-female friendship is unique; I may have make a separate topic for that. To start with, some people think the male-female friendship more or less doesn’t even exist.

    smartacus,

    “Maybe if we spend a lot of time around a person of the opposite sex without getting our freak on, our brains decide that person must be a relative, and sexual attraction decreases to prevent incest.”

    Ha, I might have to look into that. Even though there are people who hold their crushes on friends for years without anything sexual happening.

  24. “Ha, I might have to look into that. Even though there are people who hold their crushes on friends for years without anything sexual happening.”

    I think that CAN happen, but it is the exception. I feel that in most cases unrequited love or lust eventually just peters out.

  25. hmmmm….I wonder about all my male friends now….I have known that a few of them were around because they USED to crush on me….but often women (well, me anyway) seem to be oblivious to that….I treat them like they don’t have a crush because I don’t….
    I dumped a girlfriend for the first time last year. she was a liar and a backstabbing irrational mentally ill person that had spiraled out of control (she lied about what was going on for a long time and I didn’t know). I was unsure of what she was capable of doing. she actually seemed dangerous (and she has a gun).
    we were very close because we went through divorces at the same time and had kids the same age. we were very very close for 4 years and then BAM! I felt very bad, but also like I had no choice. it was like nothing I had ever done before and it totally freaked my boyfriend out (that I would cut someone off like that). curiously, none of my male friends were surprised at all….

  26. I’d love to read about male-female friendship. I don’t have much personal experience with it, but I never understood why it’s seen as a somewhat controversial topic.

  27. miki, I could see you stringing along those poor men who are just waiting for their chance… :P

    Mira, I didn’t know they were controversial. But I know there is some disagreement on if they are actually friendships or romantic relationships in waiting, or if they exist at all.

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