A Man’s World

In all the time I’ve written about having work BFFs, I’ve taken for granted one vital piece of information: I work with almost all women.

Every job I’ve held has been in an office inhabited predominantly by females. Such is the blessing (and, sometimes, curse) of working in editorial. Well, maybe not if you work at Popular Mechanics. Or Esquire. Or Field & Stream. Or Playboy. But if you hope to make your living at a women’s magazine or website, you better not have a girl-hate-girl complex.

In a largely female environment, finding a work BFF—or at least an office ally—is almost inevitable. Us women, we like to team up. Our business styles are historically embodied by collaboration and consultation. This style lends itself towards establishing relationships.

But what happens when you work primarily with men? Such is the case for many of my friends in business and finance. They want a work BFF—recall that those who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job and those with three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives—but find it tougher to connect on a personal level with their male colleagues.

I haven’t experienced this firsthand. But one friend told me her problems befriending her male coworkers are twofold:

{Side note: Over the weekend I watched the Friends episode where Chandler is in a box. This is just now occurring to me because the reasons he is in there are “threefold.” I really do love that show.}

1. Her coworkers love to talk about sports and cars. When they aren’t talking about work, it’s the local football team or some fancy new car thing that I can’t even specify here because that’s how little I know about cars.

2. Whenever she does start having friendly banter with her male colleagues, it toes the line of flirtation.

Of course, not all men talk solely about sports and cars. And, again of course, some women would love to talk about sports and cars. It just so happens that my friend is not one of them.

It should also go without saying, even though I’m about to say it, that not all conversations between men and women have a flirtatious undertone. But certainly in some cases the flirty repartee can develop and quickly become problematic.

My friend finds both of these factors—the guy-talk and the flirting—frustrating, but she deals with it. (To be quite clear, there is no sexual harassment here, just chatter that some might classify as flirtatious.) When she can, my 28-year-old friend chooses to hang out with her one female coworker, a 22-year-old with whom she has more in common than her 30-something male counterparts.

I’m not sure how I’d handle making work friends in a predominantly male workplace. Do you work with mostly men? How do you navigate office friendships?

13 Comments

Filed under BFFs and Work, The Gender Gap

13 responses to “A Man’s World

  1. This is so interesting. I worked for years at a “mixed” environment with both men and women, enough that I had close BFFs from work who were women. Then I moved to a job where I was one of three female professionals out of about 80. It was all men, all the time. I was routinely the only woman at a dinner table with ten men. Events would be announced with dress code cited as “blue blazer” – basically women were just not even part of the mindset. I had a couple of male friends there, but it was not to the same degree of comfort that I had shared with previous female work friends. And, tellingly, I left that place after 3.5 years and now work in a start-up where I’m one of nine female employees. Not a coincidence!

  2. Ana

    I’ve had a work-BFF that was a male before. We were so on the same wavelength from the first day about the work environment, our co-workers & supervisors, and we ended up being really close friends, talking about our families, marriages (both happy, fortunately), thinking about having kids, etc…. Thankfully there are indeed guys who don’t talk (too much) about sports & cars (I married one of them!), and I am so totally un-flirty that issue #2 never crossed my mind. It does get tricky trying to expand to out-of-work friendship though. It worked out that we were both married & we ended up being couple friends, but otherwise I can imagine that the friendship wouldn’t have lasted.

  3. I can definitely relate to your friend’s experiences. My group is split pretty even between men and women, but all but one of those women is at least 10 years older than me. Many have kids who are just a few years younger than me, and almost all are married and live in the suburbs (the one who is my age used to be my work BFF, but we had a falling out and are now frenemies). I get along with these women very well and really like them, but we’ll never be BFFs.

    There’s a few guys who are around my age that I really like, but they do either leave me out (which is annoying, since I l0ve talking about sports) or are looking for something more than a work BFF. I spent a good hour talking to one of the guys not long after he started working in my group and finally figured out he was flirting with me, so I made sure to mention that I’m not available, and now our conversations aren’t much more than a simple “Hi, how are you?” Sigh.

    It is possible to be work BFFs with a guy though. I had one of those when I started working at my office years ago, and it was awesome. I was single at the time, but he was in a pretty serious relationship and let me know about it within about 5 minutes of us meeting, so flirting never happened. And neither of us ever saw each other that way anyway. We had a lot in common and had a blast together. Everyone, of course, thought we were dating (that kind of thinking can be a problem with male/female friendships in an office I guess), but he got engaged and married after we met, so obviously not. He works at another company now, but we still meet for lunch at least once a month.

  4. I can’t really relate to your friend’s experiences because everywhere I have worked has been predominantly female, but I *do* think that you and I might need to get together at some point for a FRIENDS marathon. I have all the seasons and haven’t watched them since college.

  5. Amanda

    Once again, you’ve hit a topic that really resonates with me. I’m a mechanical engineer, and I am vastly outnumbered by men at the company I work for. It gets lonely. There are other women, but most are significantly older than me (I’m easily the youngest professional female in my workplace). There is one close to my age and we were work-BFFs for awhile, but she turned out to be psycho and I’d say we’re now frenemies. She was already pretty good friends with a few of the other younger female employees before I came on the scene, so I feel like those girls are “off-limits” now as well (although I couldn’t really see myself being close friends with any of them).

    I get along fine with my male co-workers, especially the few close to my age. I generally get along better with guys, and most of them are older than me and married anyway (and I’m in a relationship), so the flirting hasn’t really been an issue. But as far as actually being friends with them…not so much. We go to lunch and they talk about cars and sports and I zone out, and sometimes they do leave me out. There was one lady who worked here for about a year, and she was definitely a potential work-BFF. She’s about 10 years older than me and in a different stage of life (married with 2 small kids), but we would go to lunch and hit a shoe sale on the way back to work. I’d talk to her about my boy problems when we were the only two women at lunch with a group of guys talking about video games. She would actually notice and comment when I made an effort to dress up and look cute (my workplace is pretty casual, and the men here are oblivious to fashion). And then she quit to stay home with her kids.

    So I am back to square one. It’s kinda crappy to not have that go-to friend when I decide I want girl talk and office gossip over the Indian buffet, instead of the boring lunch I brought, or to inspire me to wear something cuter than jeans and a polo.

  6. Maria

    I work in a company of 10 people. All are male except me. It is fine most days. Everyone is friendly, and get along great with my boss. But, somedays I crave a female coworker to chat about girl stuff with. I have to get all of that outside of work and I have to work extra hard to keep up all of those friendships. It seems all of my friends have a work bff, and many of those relationships have spilled over to their out of work lives.

  7. Emily

    I work with women and men, but my office BFF is a man. We are both married with kids, and get our families together out of the office frequently. But yet we are suspect. People have suggested that we should not travel together (and travel is a job requirement) because something might happen. News alert: if I’m going to have an affair with this guy, wouldn’t it be easier to do it in our home city? It’s a totally innocent relationship- he is like a big brother to me. But people have a hard time accepting this.

  8. I also work in a male dominated industry and my office BFF is a man. Sometimes I wish my office BFF was a girl because there are some things that guys just don’t get. Although our relationship doesn’t get flirty people tend to think that we are more than friends because we carpool together and sometimes we argue. I think its just hard for some people to believe that men and women can be friends. Its annoying because I am married but I am not about to let other people’s opinions affect who Im friends with.

  9. I didn’t work in a male-dominated place, but my work best friend did end up being a guy. He gave me some of the best dating advice I’ve ever gotten, actually. And he was fun to eat at restaurants with, since we’d go to the hot dog place and share fries and onion rings, which the girls don’t always want to indulge in. Great post!

  10. Julia

    Intra-office friendship with men is easy. Two words: Top Gear. Get the most recent season, watch it, learn much. Know all the in-jokes; be a potential office hero.

  11. Lorrie Paige

    Like Jen, I too can’t relate because I’m self-employed, working alone at home, which is another reason why it’s hard for me to find friends, as many people find them in their workplace.

    Jen, all the seasons of Friends, eh? I have all the seasons of Sex and the City (TV), and I’m waiting for the future trilogy set of SATC: The Movie, to get a boxed set like the complete TV boxed set that I have (I hear there will only be 3 SATC films, with the last one, I heard, began filming this past May).

  12. Anonymous

    The thing you have to remember about male-dominated offices is that men will act in a friendly manner with people for work purposes, but that doesn’t mean they’re really friends with you in the way you think they are.

    There may be exceptions, but for most of the ones I’ve worked with (and there have been a lot), it’s not a “friend” situation in the same way it would be with women. And they know the distinction, too, between “work friends” and “friend-friends.”

    I actually heard one say the other day that he was mystified that a woman we both worked with thought of him as a “friend-friend” instead of just a work friend because, even though they had had some relatively good conversations, he just didn’t think of it as anything more than workplace bonding for team-building purposes.

    ‘Course, he’s kinda clueless anyway, but still….. different worlds.

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