Can men have deep friendships?

two kitties one with paw over other's shoulderThe team at Dove Men+Care sent me a note with the findings of research they funded through Edelman Intelligence as part of their NCAA March Madness campaign about men and friendship, among other topics. Since I’m a quant, I wanted to know the research sample and it’s pretty solid, 1,000 US men ages 25-54 years old, of varying age, income, location and other attributes.

My question when reading the research findings was whether what they find to be true resonates with my own life and experiences, specifically around the question of can men have deep friendships with other men?

As I like to use photos in every article, I pulled up my photo management system to find a few pics of me with one of my two or three best mates just to realize I didn’t have any. At all. Not even a selfie of me with another guy. Tons of pics of my kids, and a fair number of me with one or more of my children, but me and a buddy? Non-existent. Interesting, eh? And yet we do stuff all the time, whether it’s gaming, movies, dinner, a museum visit, a soccer match, or just hanging out at a coffee shop.

So I’ve had to resort to more creative imagery to get the idea across, something that by itself I find really curious. What is it about hanging out with other guys that stops me from documenting it with photos? Women post multi-person selfies all the time on social networks, but even when I’m at a conference with hundreds of other men, like Dad 2.0 Summit held just a few weeks ago in Washington DC, I seem to have forgotten that simple, albeit somewhat narcissistic step.

Anyway. On to the research from Dr. Kimmel and team. Here are a few data points that jumped out at me:

87% of men say that their male friendships are important in their life

91% of men agree they would rather have a few meaningful friendships instead of many acquaintances

90% of men agree that their friendships are built on trust, not just people to have a good time with

What interests me is the obverse of these numbers. Think about it, 13% of men don’t feel like friendships with other men are important in their lives. Who are they friends with, then? Or are they part of that subset of men who go through life essentially without any friends? And I’m a bit skeptical about the third number too, finding it a bit unlikely that truly 90% of men seek friendships built on trust, not entertainment value. Maybe I’m off-base with that one, but what do you think?

Guys are still guys, however, and I can attest to this stat too, even though I’m not particularly into organized sports: Over two-thirds of men bond with their friends over sports or fitness. Indeed, it’s surprising how many of my good friends share a passion for soccer with me, to the point where we can have long, involved conversations about teams, leagues, and the prospects of the World Cup.

Where the numbers really get damning is when we get to media portrayals of men and friendship:

74% of men agree that pop culture does not give enough credit to the support and care involved in men’s friendships

69% of men agree that pop culture downplays the importance that friendships play in a man’s life and well-being

69% of men agree that the way male friendships are depicted in pop culture can give younger guys the wrong idea about the importance of friendships in real life

68% of men agree that there is a stigma in pop culture that men are not good at forming meaningful friendships

That’s a significant finding, particularly if you compare the media portrayal of male friendship and that of female friendship. Indeed, there are so many TV shows and movies that revolve around a circle of women who support each other even through the tough times, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: men get the message that friendships aren’t that important as adults (aren’t we supposed to just be best friends with our spouse?) which is then reflected back to us in media portrayals of male friendship.

Interestingly, a Google Image Search for "friendship" reveals it's kids and women who have friends. Not men.
Interestingly, a Google Image Search for “friendship” reveals it’s kids and women
who have friends. Not us men.

The fact is, we all need friends, friends who can lift us up, commiserate when it’s appropriate, give us a hug when the going gets really rough, and be enjoyable company too. It’s the guys who will bring over a container of soup when you’re sick, offer up their couch for you to sleep on when things are particularly nasty at home and can listen to you ramble on about your favorite sports team, movie or game even if they don’t agree that are the winners. Friendship turns out to be like every other meaningful relationship in life too: we all have to practice the give part, not just wallow on the take part.

I’m blessed with a number of good, solid men as friends in my life, guys who I know do have my back and will support me if things get tough. How about you guys? Do you have a couple of good mates in your world, and if not, what’s stopping you?

Props to Dove Men+Care, Edelman Intelligence and Dr. Michael Kimmel of Stony Brook University for this really interesting research study and its valuable results.

2 comments on “Can men have deep friendships?

  1. Enjoyed the post. I think it is very important for men to have male friends. Prior to my divorce about 5 years ago I woke up one day and realized I really had no male friends. I had to go through the seperation/divorce phase without any close male friends. Oh I had some male friends but most were casual that I had met through my 19 years of marriage. Not what I would really consider close friends. We would do things as couples. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some great male friends via my church over the last few years. Men that truly have my back. I’m currently 55 years old and meet weekly with a 71 year old male mentor. I love our time together. Nothing like bouncing life issues off a good buddy. Sometime I tend to over think and get emotionally engaged on an issue or topic. Male friends can help bring balance and understanding. If you don’t have a male friend go get one. I promise you will not regret! God bless!

  2. I really love the relationships on the sitcom “friends “… the guys are shown as super supportive and devoted friends to one another. There’s one positive at least!

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