Self Improvement — 26 July 2009
Men can benefit from close male friends

Today’s women are invested in cultivating and maintaining close friendships with other women, while men are less inclined to do so with their male counterparts.

Women are puzzled about the absence of emotional and personal exchanges between men whom they consider their good friends. Men are often puzzled by women’s abundance and intensity of emotions they share with their women friends.

Perhaps the health and survival benefits women reap from the emotional support they gain through friendship with other women propel them to hope that men can also reap these rewards.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, disagreed with his predecessor Socrates’ view that friendship between men is rooted in need. He divided friendships into three categories: friendships based on utility, friendships for pleasure and friendships of virtue.

Lorraine Smith Pangle in her book ”Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship” explains Aristotle view: “To be friends, men must feel reciprocal goodwill and wish the good for each other”. In a friendship based on utility, Aristotle sees no love between friends, just a self-serving benefit.

Friendship of pleasure offers a closer connection. “In enjoying one another’s companionship for its own sake, then, friends of pleasure come closer than friends of utility to loving one another for their own sakes: The presence of the friend is cherished as an end in itself, even if the friend’s complete good is not sought as an end in itself.”

Virtuous friendships are committed, long–term and have the greatest psychological benefits. In this type of friendship, Aristotle says, the friends love each other for their nature and character not for what they provide for each other.

Both men and women appear to have friends for utility or pleasure and perhaps fewer ones of true virtue.

Many men have a utility connection through work. For example, firemen, policemen, soldiers, and many other groups helping others during duress do develop the camaraderie of interdependence, shared hours in the “bunkers” and intense reliance on each other that may also lead some to a friendship of virtue.

Other groups of men are recreational, pleasure friendships in which they play a sport together, join a fraternity at college, and belong to civic or business groups. Though these endeavors may have their own virtue attached, their purpose is communal- not personal.

Perhaps the virtue connection is what women receive from their friends when they get together to share, admire, support and love their friends, and what they wish men to have as well.

“Friendship between women seems to be fundamentally different to friendship between men”, says researcher Gindo Tampubolon of the University of Manchester. “Its much deeper and more moral. It’s about the relationship itself rather than what they can get out of it. And women’s view of friendship has something to do with how they express themselves and form their identity. Men on the other hand are more fickle with their relationships and seem more interested in ‘what’s in it for me’.”

Perhaps men’s programming to be providers also limits them from having the time it takes to form deep friendships. They act to provide and earn respect. Emotional closeness to other males may also frighten some men’s self-view of their masculinity.

As a man,

• Realize that pent up emotions are a physical and emotional health hazard.
• Consider cultivating a closer connection with one or two men you already like, trust and respect.
• Resist the discomfort you may feel about sharing emotions and caring for another man. It adds – not detracts about your masculinity and manhood.
• Begin with an activity-oriented connection and share a few emotions. If they are received well with caring and respect- you may have the start of a truly virtuous friendship.
• Risk opening up to receive the affirmation of your worth.
• A caring supportive emotional friendship with another male will enrich you to become an even healthier happier being.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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