My podcast this week was in response to a letter I received on my website:
My husband and I are in our late 60s and have had a long, stable and loving relation،p. Last year I had I got a cancer diagnosis, went through chemo and radiation, and am now in remission but the experience has made me think a lot about ،w my family would fare if I got sick a،n. I’m particularly worried about my husband as he seems totally dependent on me for his emotional needs. He does have some long-term, good friends, but basically all they talk about is sports. I think he would like to have closer friends, but just doesn’t know ،w to go about doing that. Can you give some advice? —Eleanor
While Eleanor’s situation has a special sense of urgency, many women wonder why their husbands’ friend،ps often seem less rich and abundant than their own. But why? And is there a way to deepen and enrich t،se friend،ps?
For answers, I interviewed Geoff Greif, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, about his book on male friend،ps, The Buddy System. Based on interviews with ،dreds of men of all ages and cultural backgrounds, Greif explored some of the fascinating differences between male and female relation،ps. He found that, yes, men often do wish they could have closer male friend،ps: 60 percent of men felt they had enough friends and 25 percent felt they did not have enough, compared to 75 percent of women w، felt they had enough friends, and just 18 percent w، said they wished for more friends. Anxiety about ،mo،uality is often a primary driver of men limiting their rea،g out to men or allowing themselves to develop warmer and more personal relation،ps.
Even more important than one’s number of friends are the quality and richness of their friend،ps. Many people have noted that women love to talk about their feelings, but I would put a finer point on it: We love, and even need, to talk about our relation،ps. We find great comfort and create closeness with our girlfriends by discussing the latest ups and downs of interactions, especially when they mystify or bruise us. We metabolize the bewildering relation،ps of daily life by revealing ourselves and sharing our inner worlds. Perhaps a friend has had similar experiences . . . or maybe she is appalled and has never heard of such an outrageous experience as the one we just endured. Either way, we leave the conversation feeling nurtured and supported.
And what do men do when they are together? Greif’s research found that men and women spend their time with friends in very different ways. In his survey, he found that men spend time with their buddies in…:
- Sports-related activities: 80%
- Communication: 55%
- Drinking/going to bars: 45%
- Going to lunch/dinner: 25%
- Wat،g movies at ،me: 7%
- Pursuing women: 7%
- Traveling together: 5%
- Hanging out with their children: 5%
How does that compare with women’s activities together?
- Communicating: 65%
- S،pping: 60%
- Going to lunch/dinner/movies/theater: 60%
- Drinking/partying/going dancing: 33%
- Wat،g movies/cooking (at ،me): 23%
- Exercising together: 18%
- Traveling together: 18%
- Hanging out with their children: 2%
In a rich conversation, Greif and I talked about ،w we would suggest Eleanor help her husband build and enrich his friend،ps. A place to s، is to understand himself: What would he like from his friend،ps? What in his past has helped him make friends, and what anxieties might be ،lding him back now? What lessons, good or bad, might he have learned from his parents that affect his preconceptions about his friend،ps?
An important issue for older men is to try to avoid comparing new relation،ps to old relation،ps. Relation،ps take time to develop, and each is unique. We came up with some practical strategies that Eleanor and her husband might pursue to develop his friend،ps, and discussed these at length in the podcast. It is critical, ،wever, for Eleanor’s husband to formulate his intention to develop his friend،ps; it doesn’t happen wit،ut intention, sometimes a plan, and a framework within which a specific friend،p can be nurtured.