Differences Between Male & Female Friendships

My last post on The Benefit of Diverse Friendships explained that we become better men by having friends with a wide variety of racial, religious, socioeconomic, educational, gender/sexual orientations, nationality, ethnicity, age, and —yes, even political viewpoints. But when men are friends with a woman who is not their wife, there is a huge risk. This post explains why many guys must proceed with caution in friendships of the opposite sex. 

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

The New York Times #1 Best-Selling Relationship Book of All Time is Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships. Written in 1992 by relationship counselor John Gray, the book has sold more than 15 million copies. Dr. Gray states that most relationship problems between men and women are a result of psychological differences between the sexes. He uses the metaphor that men and women are from distinct planets and have acclimated to their own planet’s society and customs, but not to those of the other gender. He shows that we are just wired differently. 

Because Our Brains are Different

Brain studies show that male brains have more connections within the hemispheres of their brain, whereas female brains have more connections between the two hemispheres. This implies that men have better motor skills and women have better analytical and intuitive thinking. Functionally, it could explain why men and women have different perceptions, views, and thoughts. These differences in the brains begin to appear in the teenage years, practically when they hit puberty. 

Earlier in this series, New Year; New Types of Friends, I wrote a post titled The Physiology of Friendship, which explained how neurochemistry makes us either man or woman (there is amazing evidence by Dr. Michael Gurian here that the male and female brains are different). Testosterone impacts a man’s brain and his body. It makes us physically strong, courageous, and ambitious. Testosterone also contributes to prostate cancer, heart disease, and asocial aggression. Maintaining proper t-levels is critical since it causes us problems. It is also the main reason many guys must proceed with caution in friendships of the opposite sex.

Male Friendships Are Just Different

Over the years, I have read a lot about what it means to be a man and especially about male friendships. It may seem obvious that there are numerous differences and a ton of comparisons.

Dr. Robin Dunbar, an Oxford psychologist has studied friendship for over 50 years. His research on friendships between young girls and young boys says the differences start at an early age but get more defined as they get older. There’s also a comparison from Pyschcentral, a website about mental health and well-being, about the differences between male and female adult friendships. Another site provides differences from a woman’s perspective.

So here is my summation of those findings and my experience:

  • Men Like to Hang in Groups – The more the merrier, while women typically prefer to go out with one good friend.
  • Men Do Things together – We are more likely to bond by engaging in shared (side-to-side) activities, such as sports, while women tend to bond through (face-to-face) interactions such as disclosing secrets, talking, and spending time together. 
  • What Can You Do For Me? Men typically do not question the motives since our friendships are more transactional or informational. 
  • No Pressure – Men tend to keep friendship on a surface level. We do not feel the same pressure to disclose personal information in order to maintain friendships as women. 
  • Male Friendships Lack Intimacy – Not sexual intimacy but emotional openness. Male friendships tend to be more casual so our friendships are less fragile than female friendships which are more personal. 
  • We May Share Feeling with a Woman Though – Many men will not share their innermost feelings with their close male friends but are more apt to share these feelings with a wife, girlfriend, sister, or other platonic female friends. 
  • We Get Over it Quicker – Men are more likely to remain friends after an argument or a fight whereas women are not. We will punch each other in the arm and be over it whereas females carry hard feelings on much longer.
  • Men Taunt Each Other to Show Respect – Men view humor and making fun of each other as innocent fun and a way to bond. Women are more likely to refrain from taunting and humor out of fear it may hurt their friend’s feelings.
  • We Don’t Need to See Each Other Often – Men will consider someone a friend even if they do not stay in constant contact. We can go extended periods of time, months or even years, without having contact. Women assume they have grown apart, the other person is no longer interested in their friendship, or the friendship is over if they do not have regular contact. 

These are “genderalities” so these differences do not apply to all male-male and female-female friendships. But they do provide a general idea of how our friendships differ.

We Have Different Views on Friendship

Perhaps due to the differences in the ways our brains work, men and women have vastly different views of what it means to be “just friends.” Scientific American wrote an article titled, Men and Women Can’t Be “Just Friends” that suggests we may think we’re capable of being “just friends” with truly platonic opposite-sex friendships. However, men view the opportunity (or perceived opportunity) for “romance” is always lurking just around the corner, just waiting for the most inopportune moment.

The research suggests men were much more attracted to their female friends than vice versa. Males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual. But they are blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends.

Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends, because they generally were not attracted to their male friends. They assumed this lack of attraction was mutual. But it is not. Men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends. Women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends. Each view presents a danger zone, especially for men.

There’s a Risk of Sexual Attraction 

Neuroscience shows that brain structure and chemistry play a big role in how men and women view sex. 

Men have a sexual pursuit area in their brains that is 2.5 times larger than the same area in the female brain. This, combined with a 20- to 25-fold increase in testosterone production during adolescence, fuels a man’s sexual engines. An improper balance of hormones also contributes to sexual orientation, excessive arousal, and unhealthy aggression. Improper balance also leads to abuse, pornography use, and criminality toward people with different sexual identities. 

It’s easy to understand how today’s hyper-sexualized world is dangerous in many ways. Obviously, there is no excuse for inappropriate sexual behavior or abuse. But all of these remain an obstacle to most platonic friendships between men and women.

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God Buddy Focus

Last year, I wrote some Guidelines for Male-Female Friendships. That post indicated that a man’s greatest challenge was maintaining sexual purity, especially with female co-workers, friends, and neighbors. It is why guys must proceed with caution in friendships of the opposite sex. Most women genuinely believe that opposite-sex friendships can remain platonic. But some males are unable to stop thinking sex can be an outcome of a friendship.

So what is the solution? Protect your heart.

Scripture provides wisdom from King Solomon about protecting our heart:

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Proverbs 23:7

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

Once men understand the physical aspects of friendships and these biblical reminders, we can begin to see all of our close, intimate friends as valuable, regardless of gender.

The best way to get started is to be accountable to your God Buddy by:

  • Honest discussions about your female friendships. Do this before any emotional connection leads to inappropriate physical behavior. 
  • Being open about your temptations and interactions (especially the digital kind) with any female who is not your wife. Confess anything even close to an indiscretion. 

In my next post, I explain why some friendships end.


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