Friendship, Age, and Gender

Scott, a blogger friend, recently wrote about friendship. In short, he suggests he doesn’t have as many close friends as he did in grad school because of modernization and the quickening pace of his and other’s professional lives.

To Scott’s credit, he’s actively thinking about how to strengthen his friendships. The post is noteworthy because Scott is a political scientist who typically writes about currency rates, U.S. and German politics, and the state of the world more generally. Also, in my experience, males aren’t as introspective about friendship as females.

Scott hypothesizes that his friendships aren’t stronger because of his and his friends’ stage of life. Demanding careers, ever expanding internet communication, shuttling children to after school activities, endless household tasks, etc.

I’m sure that analysis resonated with his readers, but I kept thinking of a missing piece.

My wife and her friends are as busy as my male friends and me. Most of them volunteer or work half to three-quarter time outside the home and do more shuttling of kids, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, pet care, and school paperwork and volunteering. Yet, they’re much more intentional about getting together; as a result, they’re friendships are deeper.

Why is that? Genetic differences? I doubt it. I think it’s because they’re more comfortable acknowledging friendships matter. Is it because males are socialized to be more self-reliant?

I have to admit, sometimes I’m envious of how often my wife and her friends get together to swap stories and support one another. She is better than I am at initiating. She’s much more apt to pick up the phone and call a friend and say, “Can you talk?” And her friends are more apt to call her and ask the same thing. They get busy too and sometimes struggle to get together, but they’re more comfortable taking turns leaning on each other. 

My male friends work long hours, and unlike many of their fathers, they also help with child-rearing and household responsibilities. I wonder is it that we’re too busy to get together or is it just not a priority because of how we were socialized? 

Will things change when our middle and high schoolers leave home? As empty nesters will we make more time for another?

Postscript: When we returned home from the Seattle half marathon Sunday late afternoon, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Our house was decorated with Christmas lights. Turns out PC and the Malumute, two of my best friends, spent hours doing what I was unable to do many moons ago. A and J were thrilled, and after they thought about it for a minute, they said, “How come they could do it?” to which I said “That’s a darn good question.” I think it’s a two part answer—a better ladder and superior patience. They would probably add superior athleticism. They both said the other guy spent hours on it which completely contradicts what I’ve written above! There goes the greater good.

2 thoughts on “Friendship, Age, and Gender

  1. Gee, thanks for writing about my post. Cool too that as a postscript you could point to an act of friendship done on your behalf! I think you have a point on gender mattering as well. Anyway, I have nothing really interesting to add, but I’m glad my post provoked interesting thoughts from you!

  2. Ron,
    I too have often wondered about friendship and its ripple effects through our lives. Because my upbringing was particularly sheltered and peripatetic, my parents antediluvian and leash-wielding, I initially thought my inability to hold down relationships with others was of course their fault. I knew so many people but couldn’t forge any dynamic with them more substantial than, say, the fleeting dance between fireflies at night. The truth is though most people can only realistically handle four or five close friends at most with a bunch of acquaintances thrown in. I suspect if we actually focused on the qualitative nature of our friendships we might not feel so lacking. But to hear it—another nudge from our consumerist natures—out there, everyone’s got this really groovy social life—full of people who not only remember to send Christmas cards, but actually mean the sentiments. These days we use the term friend terribly loosely; there is “singlism;” there’s the fear of showing up to the party alone… I think somehow society has insisted that we must appear necessary in the world, needed, our arms overflowing with our relationships as they’re similarly freighted in our professional lives…because perhaps it is important to appear loved, and to assure ourselves that indeed we are; therefore quantity is perhaps the essential and not quality, and when we walk down the streets we should chatter incessantly into our cellphones over nothing because if anybody noticed they’d see that we were at least significant to someone. Ironically this insistence on the illusion of plenty and human warmth might just be one of the ways modern society covers up the fact its continent is cracking into islands some of which will be engulfed by the ocean. (God, I do sound pessimistic and all-knowing/all-seeing.)

    …One last thought: yes, Ron, guys do seem to hedge around friendships and talking about their inner experiences more so than women, but that is not to say that the nature of women’s frienships isn’t in a state of disrepair as well. This wasn’t your point, I know, but I thought I’d just state the fact.

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