Gender and Friendship
Gender influences our friendships and has received much attention, as people try to figure out how different men and women’s friendships are. There is a conception that men’s friendships are less intimate than women’s based on the stereotype that men do not express emotions. In fact, men report a similar amount of intimacy in their friendships as women but are less likely than women to explicitly express affection verbally (e.g., saying “I love you”) and nonverbally (e.g., through touching or embracing) toward their same-gender friends.Rosemary Bleiszner and Rebecca G. Adams, Adult Friendship (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992), 20. This is not surprising, given the societal taboos against same-gender expressions of affection, especially between men, even though an increasing number of men are more comfortable expressing affection toward other men and women. However, researchers have wondered if men communicate affection in more implicit ways that are still understood by the other friend. Men may use shared activities as a way to express closeness—for example, by doing favors for each other, engaging in friendly competition, joking, sharing resources, or teaching each other new skills.Rosemary Bleiszner and Rebecca G. Adams, Adult Friendship (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992), 69.Some scholars have argued that there is a bias toward viewing intimacy as feminine, which may have skewed research on men’s friendships. While verbal expressions of intimacy through self-disclosure have been noted as important features of women’s friendships, activity sharing has been the focus in men’s friendships. This research doesn’t argue that one gender’s friendships are better than the other’s, and it concludes that the differences shown in the research regarding expressions of intimacy are not large enough to impact the actual practice of friendships.Michael Monsour, “Communication and Gender among Adult Friends,” in The Sage Handbook of Gender and Communication, eds. Bonnie J. Dow and Julia T. Wood (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2006), 63.
Cross-gender friendships are friendships between a male and a female. These friendships diminish in late childhood and early adolescence as boys and girls segregate into separate groups for many activities and socializing, reemerge as possibilities in late adolescence, and reach a peak potential in the college years of early adulthood. Later, adults with spouses or partners are less likely to have cross-sex friendships than single people.William K. Rawlins, Friendship Matters: Communication, Dialectics, and the Life Course (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1992), 182. In any case, research studies have identified several positive outcomes of cross-gender friendships. Men and women report that they get a richer understanding of how the other gender thinks and feels.Panayotis Halatsis and Nicolas Christakis, “The Challenge of Sexual Attraction within Heterosexuals’ Cross-Sex Friendship,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 26, no. 6–7 (2009): 920. It seems these friendships fulfill interaction needs not as commonly met in same-gender friendships. For example, men reported more than women that they rely on their cross-gender friendships for emotional support.Rosemary Bleiszner and Rebecca G. Adams, Adult Friendship (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992), 68. Similarly, women reported that they enjoyed the activity-oriented friendships they had with men.Panayotis Halatsis and Nicolas Christakis, “The Challenge of Sexual Attraction within Heterosexuals’ Cross-Sex Friendship,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 26, no. 6–7 (2009): 920.
As discussed earlier regarding friends-with-benefits relationships, sexual attraction presents a challenge in cross-gender heterosexual friendships. Even if the friendship does not include sexual feelings or actions, outsiders may view the relationship as sexual or even encourage the friends to become “more than friends.” Aside from the pressures that come with sexual involvement or tension, the exaggerated perceptions of differences between men and women can hinder cross-gender friendships. However, if it were true that men and women are too different to understand each other or be friends, then how could any long-term partnership such as husband/wife, mother/son, father/daughter, or brother/sister be successful or enjoyable?
- Friendships are voluntary interpersonal relationships between two people who are usually equals and who mutually influence one another.
- Friendship formation, maintenance, and deterioration/dissolution are influenced by environmental, situational, and interpersonal factors.
- Friendships change throughout our lives as we transition from adolescence to adulthood to later life.
- Cross-gender friendships may offer perspective into gender relationships that same-gender friendships do not, as both men and women report that they get support or enjoyment from their cross-gender friendships. However, there is a potential for sexual tension that complicates these relationships.
- Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t feel like you could “accept applications” for new friends or were more eager than normal to “accept applications” for new friends? What were the environmental or situational factors that led to this situation?
- Getting integrated: Review the types of friendships (reciprocal, associative, and receptive). Which of these types of friendships do you have more of in academic contexts and why? Answer the same question for professional contexts and personal contexts.
- Of the life stages discussed in this chapter, which one are you currently in? How do your friendships match up with the book’s description of friendships at this stage? From your experience, do friendships change between stages the way the book says they do? Why or why not?