Emotional gap leaves men with many pals, but few true friends

September 18, 1993|By Diana Morrill | Diana Morrill,Newsday

"For American men, maintaining one's lawn is more important than maintaining one's friendships." --Larry Letich,

Utne Reader, May/June, 1991

Construction worker Ray Keenan, 30, had just lost his job. "I was depressed. But I had a good friend that was understanding -- she'd ask me how I was doing, if she could help."

What about male friends?

"I didn't really talk to any of the guys about it," admits Mr. Keenan, from Huntington, N.Y. "I mean, they knew I lost my job, what could they say?"

Not a lot, according to experts. "Men tend to keep more emotional stuff inside. When they do share emotional feelings, it's usually with a woman," says Linda Sapadin, a New York psychologist. "Women let the other person talk. Men often don't, they want to find a quick solution."

David Hochman, a 26-year-old New York writer, agrees. "Emotionally, women are more open, and it's easier to talk to them. Guys are always trying to outdo you in terms of how much information they know about a subject. With women, it's not a competition. They listen more and ask questions."

It isn't always this way, though. "I have three really tight male friends," says Joe Aplustille, a 19-year-old college student. "We talk about anything and everything: girl problems, family problems, the future -- we get deep." Without friends of their own gender, men's lives, he says, "are kind of limited; they'll miss that male companionship."

For many men, "there is a marked change in the mid-20s," says Terry Kupers, author of "Revisioning Men's Lives: Gender, Intimacy and Power" (Guilford Publications; $17.95). "Generally, this is true for men who are very focused on climbing some hierarchy and getting ahead. They become more distrusting as they move up." Men in blue-collar jobs, Mr. Kupers says, may retain more friendships than white-collar professionals, because they are "more likely to be working in order to make a living rather than to get ahead."

Male friendships may also focus more on shared activities than shared emotions. "There are very few role models for intimate men," says Mr. Hochman. "There was Robert and Jack Kennedy, but they were brothers. It's unusual to find men who are good friends with other men."

The difference between a buddy and a good friend is that "with buddies, you usually do things that exclude women -- sports or going out to a topless bar, doing something that women #F generally aren't interested in," Mr. Hochman says.

"Going out with buddies is usually to get relief from women. With good friends, it's just because you like the person, it doesn't have to revolve around activities as much," he says.

Mr. Kupers says it's important for men to have more male "good friends." "Why do men seek to be alone when they have problems? . . . In order for men's lives to change, we have to do something drastically different from our old ways. Men need to keep trying to reach out to other men even when they are rejected. Developing friends means taking risks."

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