New research suggests that white, heterosexual males are the least likely to have close friends compared to their female counterparts or any other demographic group in America. Some dismiss the statistic as predictable or trivial, but the study reveals something far more profound: men in general want to forge the same close-knit bonds many women enjoy among their friends. In other words, men crave supportive platonic relationships—buddies with whom they can share their thoughts and burdens, dreams and whims.
Professor of Applied Psychology in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University and author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, Niobe Way interviewed high school boys as they progressed through each grade, noting dramatic shifts in the quality of their male relationships.
As one 15-year-old boy explained, “[My best friend and I] love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other.”
Flash forward to senior year, and the young adolescent male reported, “[My friend and I] we mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do.”
Not only do men want more friends, their well-being demands it. Long and lasting friendships help our auto-immune systems to fend off everything from a common cold to heart disease.
According to Dean Ornish, author of Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health, and physician and founder of Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, friendships are paramount: “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.”