The Hard Facts: When Man Friends Fight

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Men no longer know how to fight. Don’t get me wrong — we know how to confront strangers when they cut in line at the butcher’s or block the door on the subway. What we don’t know how to do is have the kind of unpleasant talks that articulate feelings to real friends when those friends ignore our wives at a dinner, or don’t think to call us when we are fired. Instead, we either shrug off the slight or end the friendship.” (Can’t Guys Just Learn To Fight For a Friendship?”; New York Times, 10/26/2012)

Is this true? I’m not a guy, so I can’t speak firsthand. But from the experiences I’ve had watching male friendships–or, more specifically, watching male friendships deteriorate–I’d say most definitely yes.

I never thought I’d be grateful for friendships that involve blowout fights, or (worse?) passive aggressive fights that finally result in a sit-down chat, potentially with tears, but this article make a pretty great case for it. When women fight (warning: sweeping generalization ahead) we wallow, overanalyze and complain, and eventually talk it out. As Ben Schrank, the author of this article, writes: “My wife and her friend hurt each other’s feelings at dinners with other friends. Then they stew and obsess and vent to other friends. Next, they engage in a difficult phone call. A few days later they meet and drink wine and work on gently knitting their bond back together. And their friendship not only survives, it is also strengthened.”

For men, this isn’t so much the case. Talking it out is out of the question, apparently. “What a pleasure it would be to voice my pains and disappointments like Lauren does. I suppose that I would have to hear some guys complain to me about my insensitivity and distance, too. It would be worth it. Postfight, I would be more present for my friends and they could be more present for me,” Schrank writes. “But it won’t happen because the idea of calling a mutual friend to vent after I have had an argument with a guy is laughable. So, because I can’t take a single step down the path that my wife and her friends traverse so well, I had better not get into a fight with any of my friends in the first place.”

I’ve witnessed this firsthand with my husband. One day I’ll realize I haven’t heard mention of one of his buddies in a while and I’ll ask if they are still friends. “I don’t know,” Matt will say.

“Did something happen?” I’ll ask.

“I don’t think so,” Matt says. The conversation continues with me encouraging him to call said friend, or make a lunch date, or extend any gesture of friendship at all, and Matt basically shrugging off the suggestion. Usually I can’t even tell if it’s Matt who is ending the friendship or the other guy. Every now and then, with enough nagging, I’ll get Matt to admit that maybe it was this thing he did that pissed his friend off, or that he’s still annoyed about something the other guy did, but there are no conversations among men. At least not these men.Certainly no heart-to-hearts. Just fizzled friendships. (I should clarify that this doesn’t happen often with Matt, its just that we’ve been together for almost 12 years, so I’ve been witness to more than one faded relationship.)

Does this sound familiar? Why don’t men fight? Or, more importantly, why don’t they make up? Or is this too broad a generalization? Sound off below!

10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Hard Facts: When Man Friends Fight

  1. I hate to do this, but could it be due to sex and gender stereotyping? Social norms dictate that women get weepy and kiss and make up, but teh menz can’t have feelings or heart to heart chats unless drunk and it’s “I love you dude”. I have been with my partner for a while, and while the friendships haven’t fizzled because of anger, he’s definitely got to the point where he doesn’t see certain people any more because they don’t do the same stuff or make time to see each other.

  2. Amy

    Personally, I have been seeing this in women too… Even if you try to be gentle in expressing that your feelings have been hurt, they pull away and become “busy” to avoid talking about it….soon you have lost touch….but because of facebook, we all know they are actually “busy” hanging out with other friends.

  3. Amy

    I’m not sure but my husband and his best bud from college drifted apart despite my urgings to contact him and get together. My hubs blew me off. Then one day we got a wedding invitation in the mail from him. We went to the wedding and they re-connected but what hurt (me) was their other good college buddies were groomsmen. This man was my hubs’ best man in our wedding. A similar thing happened to me with my friend who was my maid-of-honor except we had stayed in touch. Still I can’t help thinking if my hubs had made some contact with his friend, it would have been different. However, this friend could have made that move also!

  4. Suzannah

    I think this play a part in why most guys seem reluctant to get involved in couple friendships..women can complicate a quiet exit. And re-hash the situation, where to them just `whatever`

  5. One thing i have to add is that in my experience with guys, they can not speak or see or email for months or years but then be “fine” together when they do get back in touch somehow. Its a detached acceptance of complacency that gets them through where emotions would complicate. Obviously another sweeping generalization but what else is there when discussing gender difference?

  6. I know with my dad, it’s not that they fight, but he doesn’t make ANY effort to keep up communication or keeping in touch. If he doesn’t work with them, he’ll probably never talk to them again unless they reach out.

  7. Yes, I don’t know if this is brilliance or hideous laziness. I think it could be either depending on the situation. I’ve certainly let some friendships die because they were vaguely uncomfortable and it just felt like detrimental work to engage. This is usually when there were unspoken feelings or nagging issues come up that are way too complicated and sensitive for us to discuss. Like my friend who feels super insecure about her growing success as an artist – any appreciation I show for her work makes her suspect the sincerity of my friendship – as if I am only friends with her because she is doing well. This is her stuff, not mine. It’s also complicated by her own mixed emotions about it all – for example she’s simultaneously super humble and super egotistical but not aware of it. See? What does one do with that? It’s so much work to be around that kind of neurosis that this is where the guys technique of simply walking away is sort of genius.

    There’s a chance I’m too lazy to do the work to establish long-term intimacy with someone who is just a friend without a commitment like a marriage. We don’t have a commitment from our friends though, so to invest a lot of personality work – it’s just exhausting. It requires soul searching to really know when it’s worth it for me. When I just don’t feel the love anymore, I let it be what it is.

    If we bump into each other months later I am perfectly happy to get together and feel happy about it but the drag of dealing with a daily personality just isn’t worth much work on my part, esp. if they also stop calling. Sometimes it’s best to just recognize when it’s not going anywhere and let it fade away on it’s own.

    When is it worth fighting for? I’m still trying to figure that out.

  8. amommys2cents

    My opinion, based on my husband’s habits with friends, is that men have (or have convinced themselves they have) a hard time expressing themselves and that it would be better to not even try if they can’t do it right.

    As a woman I express myself well, but I also don’t give people multiple chances as some women do with their friends. I know people are not going to be perfect but I have an issue when someone constantly does the exact same thing again and again even after it’s been talked about. I don’t try to work it out with those people over wine. They get a friendship pink slip.

  9. I totally do this. In some cases, I’ll be like “hey asshole…” and then proceed with the verbal ass kicking (okay not always quite THAT agressive, but you get the idea), but sometimes I am just like, “You know what? I’m a grown ass man, and it is not my job to raise other grown ass adults to act like grown ass adults,” and then I kinda back off a bit and see what they do. That isn’t usually my first response though, but if I’ve had to check somebody too often, I just let it go.

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