Men’s Friendship Crisis, and why Atheists Should Care

Men’s Friendship Crisis, and why Atheists Should Care March 26, 2015

At our Humanist Community at Harvard​/Humanist Hub staff meeting today, we discussed the surprising lack of gender diversity in #CNNatheists, as well as our own efforts to have well-balanced gender participation. I think we do pretty well at it (and, of our four senior/manager-level staff now, I’m the only male) but at times, there can be a lot of men at the Hub, too.

I presented a article, “American men’s hidden crisis: They need more friends!”, by my friend the very smart sociologist Lisa Wade, PhD​, as a possible explanation. Men in our society are socialized to have fewer intimate friendships. I know I was. Close friendship is really important. So, when organizations put out an open call for participation, sometimes who comes out first are the people who are most in need of connection. This neither excuses any potential bad or sexist behavior by any man, nor does it make any man a lesser person for wanting or needing closer friendship in his life. It just is.

A superb clip from Dr. Wade’s piece:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than othertypes offriendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation. Friendship scholar Geoffrey Greif calls these “shoulder-to-shoulder” friendships, contrasting them to the “face-to-face” friendships that many women enjoy. If a man does have a confidant, threequarters of the time it’s a woman, and there’s a good chance she’s his wife or girlfriend.

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surelythis is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure. Moreover, when asked to describe what they mean by intimacy, men say the same thing as women: emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them.

Men desire the same level and type of intimacy in their friendships as women, but they aren’t getting it.

Read the whole piece for more on how men can do achieve this, and why they should. But if you’re skeptical it’s an important topic:

Having a friend to whom you can disclose your feelings a major determinant of well-being. People with friends are healthier. They’re less likely to get common colds, to develop fatal coronary disease, to develop physical impairments or reductions in brain functioning as they age. People with friends are more likely to survive the death of a spouse without any permanent loss of vitality. Medical doctor Dean Ornish explains:

I am not aware of any other factor — not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery — that has a greater impact on our incidence of illness, and [chance of] premature death.

Depending on which research you consult, people with good friends have a 22-60% lower chance of dying over a 10-year period.

Maybe we atheists and Humanists would be better off if we could acknowledge reality a little more often:

1) If men show up in droves, it may be because they’re suffering, not trying to dominate.

2) This is further evidence that feminism is good– great, even– for men, not just women.

3) Giving men more training in and positive reinforcement for connecting with one another deeply will help them, and it will help the women in our community feel more comfortable…which will in turn further help many of the men.

What do you think? Is this why there are a lot of men in organized secularism? What are some other major reasons? What should we do about it? 




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