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Apr 05

Superficializing Male Friendships

2 Male Friends chatting in winter

Male Friends

Recently, The Federalist published a piece about male-female friendships called “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends’” which was roundly criticized for its conclusions that male-female friendship is impossible. I got this from several people on Facebook and I don’t see a need to repeat. What gets me though is how it reduces male friendship to one type that is not ideal for many guys: Others critiqued the conclusion, I’m critiquing the premise.

The article summarizes male friendship:

What then, is the average man looking for in a friend? By and large, something along these lines:

  1. Someone who shares his interest in activities such as watching movies where things explode, playing video games where things explode, or putting fireworks in things so they’ll explode. Bonus points if you enjoy yelling at football players through the television set and laughing at noxious flatulence.
  2. Someone who won’t pressure him to open up beyond his comfort level if his girlfriend breaks up with him,he loses his job, or his mom gets eaten by a yeti.
  3. Someone who cherishes the man tradition of showing affection through insults and general jackassery.

Let me look at the guy friends I’ve had and the guy-friend I try to be and compare it to these three characteristics.

  1. I don’t mind explosions but I’d much rather play Settlers of Catan or hike up a mountain than watch a mindless movie filled with explosions. I remember one time we were watching Live Free or Die Hard and one friend got up to read a book after the car took out the helicopter which almost made me do the same (except I hadn’t brought a book that day). Maybe it’s that I spent too much time running youth camps but whenever I see small scale fireworks, my first concern is safety. I know several guys who outright don’t watch any sports, watch any mindless explosion movies, or play any violent video games. We shouldn’t reduce male friendship to exclude them.
  2. The second aspect is true in my experience in that guys want other guys to respect their limits of openness. This is the only one of the three I agree with as characterizing male friendship “by and large.” Nonetheless, it applies to many non-friendship relationships too – starting with coworkers – so friendship has to be more.
  3. Then we get to the last aspect of insulting and “jackassery.” I find this demeaning to men and repugnant. I understand occasional teasing but if the main way of showing affection is this, I’m not being your friend. I know plenty of other guys who seem to agree. The world is tough enough on me that I want to have a friendship where I don’t have this. I understand other guys who enjoy this type of friendship but that is only one type of guy and we shouldn’t reduce all guys to one type.

Beyond the three points individually, if this is how you define male friendship you are missing a whole bunch of areas.

  1. First, this article misses the essential aspect of any friendship in the love of charity. He is missing the very core. Aquinas speaks of this: “Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.” Well-wishing is desiring the good for the other. We wish well for all but the specific close communication which allows us to know what is good for this specific person is an important element of friendship. This is the basis of my friendships: because my friends know what is good for me and give it to me.
  2. Second, and related, the author seems to think guys can’t love each other. The article doesn’t have “charity” once and all six times in has “love” it refers to male-female relationships. I love my guy friends. Given that “love” has been reduced to romance int he culture, I’d probably say “have charity” or “seek their good” but there seems to be no phrases of that type about guy-guy friendship. I really feel sorry for this guy if missing this implies he lacks deep guy-friends.
  3. Third, the author totally misses family. In all honesty, my sisters and one brother-in-law are some of my best friends. (I am the only boy with three sisters.)
  4. Fourth, although guy friendships are generally based around common interests and common activities – guys don’t like to sit and chat as much as women – the type of activities and interests can be far more varied than this author assumes. Some of my dad’s best friends are his curling team, a sport with no explosions. When I was in college, I become good friends with a small circle in electrical engineering who programmed and built electronic stuff (if anything exploded, we did it wrong) after class too as we enjoyed it.

I avoid close non-family female-male friendships for other reasons: I don’t want the possible scandal, I don’t always know or trust females’ intentions, and I think it can possibly compromise my heart set on God as a priest (as it can compromise the totality of a man’s heart in marriage). Nonetheless, I can see circumstances where other men might have close female friends. There are prudential reasons to avoid deep male-female friendships but please let’s not redefine male friendship so superficially to do so.