It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Young girls are more devastated than boys when friends let them down and [are] as likely to pursue ‘revenge goals’ – small acts of getting even that are on par with the perceived slight … Girls were also more likely than boys to interpret friendship transgressions in a negative way, such as thinking that their friend does not care about them, does not value their friendship, or was trying to control them, the researchers report” (“Study Casts New Light on Relationships”; Boston College Chronicle, 12/15/2011)
I can’t imagine it surprises you to read that girls are more sensitive to friendship slights—cancelling plans, betraying secrets, being unsupportive—than are boys. The reason why isn’t totally clear. (Are girls more sensitive in general? Are our friendships more important to us? Do we personalize actions that aren’t personal?)
What has surprised researchers about this study, it seems, is how girls manifest that hurt. “There tends to be a perception of girls as being more passive than boys, but this just doesn’t seem to be true. It seems that when girls feel that something that matters to them is in jeopardy, like their friendships, they are just as likely as boys to want to retaliate and to respond with aggression,” said one of the study’s authors, Julie Paquette MacEvoy. And by aggression she means revenge, yelling, and threatening to end the relationship.
Keep in mind that this study looked at kids in fourth and fifth grade. Those are prime friendship-drama years. It doesn’t take much to prompt a “We’re over!”
When I was in fourth grade my BFF dumped me. Twice. I can’t remember why, but I feel like one time had something to do with our shared trumpet solo in a school concert. That was the end of me and the brass instruments.
If this holds for girls, it probably transfers—albeit in a lesser form—to women. We feel a friend’s betrayal pretty deeply. When things get bad enough, we consider ending the friendship. It probably takes more to set us off than competition over a holiday concert “Ode to Joy” duet, but the reaction is the same.
It’s funny, I was recently discussing with a friend the idea that, as adults, we often experience the same emotions as we did when we were kids. Irrational jealousy. Unshakeable insecurity. Total giddiness over the tiniest interactions. It’s just that now, as grown-ups (blech), it’s less socially acceptable to express those feelings. We’re supposed to have outgrown them, or at least matured enough to recognize that we’re acting like children. The chat was about why she likes writing young adult novels (you get to express the feelings you’re supposed to be too mature for in real life!) but this study reminds me of that conversation. The 4th and 5th graders were more apt to express their intense emotion and act out on it, but that doesn’t mean women don’t feel it too.
What do you think? Have you noticed that women are more hurt by friendship transgressions than men? Are you surprised that girls will act out against betrayal as much as their schoolboy counterparts?
MWF Seeking BFF is in stores now! If you see it out in the wild, will you email or tweet me a pic? Or post it on Facebook? Seeing it on shelves was the highlight of my day yesterday. Or, consider buying it online! It makes a great last-minute holiday gift.