By Jeffrey Zaslow
For twenty years now, every Thursday night, I play poker with the same five guys. We don’t talk about our children. We don’t share our deepest feelings. Actually, we don’t share any feelings at all. We talk about the cards, the betting, the bluffing. Or sports.
That makes us typical men. Researchers describe men’s friendships as “side by side.” We do things together. We play golf. We go jogging.
Women’s friendships, on the other hand, are “face to face.” They talk. They’re emotional. They touch each other. In research labs, women have even proven themselves better than men at maintaining eye contact.
Women tend to take their friendships very seriously. They’re more likely to measure their worth by what their friends think of them. They’re more apt to be devastated when a friendship is waning. Men are better at shaking off friendship setbacks. We can help the women in our lives by encouraging them to go easier on themselves, and on their friends, when they reach such crossroads. But at the same time, we ought to embrace what women have discovered about the rewards of friendship.
Having just spent two years writing The Girls from Ames, I now know that men can learn a great deal from women’s friendships. As men, we tend to seek emotional support from the women in our lives – wives, sisters, mothers, platonic female friends. We assume that male friends will be of little help. How much richer might our lives be if we could share our emotions more easily with other men?
A host of studies show that women who have close friends lead healthier, happier and longer lives. Women seem to know, innately, that they will need women in their lives as they age. They tend to get more friendship-focused in their forties, fifties and beyond.
As men, we let our friendships dissipate as we get older. Studies show that because our bonds are often more superficial, and based on activities or our work, when we stop playing a sport, quit our jobs, or move out of town, we let our friendships go. It’s unfortunate. It can leave us lonelier. After women are divorced or widowed, they often have a network of close friends who are there to help. Men can feel more lost, because when their spouses die, they’ve lost their only confidants. That may be part of the reason why men feel compelled to remarry – and why they tend to do so more quickly than women do.
Yes, we men can turn to our wives, mothers and sisters for love and support. But there are times when another man will better understand what we’re going through. We shouldn’t be afraid to go deep – and I’m not talking about scuba-diving together.
I wouldn’t want to play in a touchy-feely poker game. (Does one even exist?) But I think I’d like it if my poker buddies and I would talk more about our lives as fathers and husbands.
Maybe eventually, we could even muster up the courage to acknowledge what our Thursday-night friendship means to us. And then who knows what might happen? We might see the benefits women have seen all along. We might start living longer and healthier – and we might learn how to better relate to others. Anything’s possible.
Jeffrey Zaslow is the author of The Girls from Ames and the co-author of The Last Lecture. He also writes the column, Moving On, for The Wall Street Journal.