Why we should end the gender divide in friendships.
Remember that book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"? It felt like it was everywhere. And it kind of was.
The book was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than two years. And while it's viewed with a skeptical eye by many experts who say the book reinforces gender stereotypes, the whole idea that men and women are inherently different clearly resonates with many folks.
While it might feel like gender differences can make us aliens to each other, there are some clear things we all have in common as humans. Like the need for friendship.
Recent studies show that gender differences even influence the way that we form and sustain friendships.
According to a study published in PLoS One, female friendships are more emotionally intimate, and bonding time is more "face-to-face."
In the study,researchers found that women prefer to foster friendships one-on-one through conversation, which creates a lot of opportunity to get close. All that talking about thoughts, feelings, and other mushy stuff really builds up intimacy.
On the other hand, male friendships tend to be more activity-focused and shoulder-to-shoulder instead of face-to-face.
The stereotype of men bonding through watching Monday Night Football on the living room couch sippin' a beer is rooted in some truth. When comparing friendship intimacy levels in men and women, a UCLA study found "men were more likely to prefer doing some activity with friends, were more likely to engage in activities with their best friend, and were more likely to talk to their best friend about activities. Women's friendships appeared oriented toward personal sharing of information; men's friendships showed an emphasis on joint activities."
The problem is that the kind of bonding that happens while watching a flatscreen doesn't establish the same kind of intimacy as a one-on-one gab session over a bottle of wine.
The result? Men tend to rely heavily on romantic relationships for that super-close feeling of connection.
There's nothing wrong with having expectations that your romantic partner would fulfill your real, human need for intimacy. The problem is that men tend to get the message from society that they can only have a close emotional relationship with their romantic parters. This makes men prioritize romance in a way that many don't; a 2013 Citibank and LinkedIn survey found that 79% of men would need "a strong, loving marriage" to feel they were "having it all" while 66% of women felt the same.
That ends up putting a whole lot of pressure on romantic relationships to fulfill their need for emotional intimacy. That means that when a breakup happens, men without these strong, intimate friendships tend to feel more alone and isolated.
Since the way women often form their platonic friendships places less pressure on getting their connection needs met from one romantic relationship, the feelings of isolation from a breakup are usually less extreme.
With more Americans than ever staying single for longer periods of time, that means more people are at risk of feeling isolated from their communities — especially after a breakup.
For the first time, there are more single than married adults in the U.S. It's great that people aren't feeling the same pressure to marry as they used to, but the rest of the our societal norms around friendship love and connection need to catch up.
It's time we change how we view male friendships. That means no more "bromance" jokes.
I mean, when you think about it, it's a little weird that we have a different label for close male one-on-one friendships. And notice that the word choice likens their close bond to a romantic one. We don't have a comparable term for female friendships, so why should we for men?
Let's normalize close, one-on-one friendship for men and boys.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the stereotype that masculinity means holding back your feelings, unless it's with your partner. Great friendships aren't just fun; they're good for your health. We all deserve health and happiness that we can enjoy — together.