Sex Differences in Friendships

Not only do women of all ages have more friends than men, but the nature and functions of those friendships are different. Women are more likely to initiate social interactions both within and outside the family and to develop deeper and longer-lasting friendships than men (Dickens & Perlman, 1981; Wright, 1989). Compared with men, women are more socially interdependent and more likely to engage in self-disclosure (Gilligan, 1982). Their friendships are characterized by the sharing of feelings and concerns and the giving and receiving of emotional support and suggestions (Fox, Gibbs, & Auerbach, 1985; Reisman, 1981). They talk more often and more openly and intimately to their friends, using conversation to make connections and share experiences, and not just to provide information (Berndt, 1992; Dindia & Allen, 1992). The bonds and feelings of support stemming from the friendships of both married and unmarried women, in particular, help them to cope with loneliness, isolation, and emotional stress (Essex & Nam, 1987).

Unlike women, men base their friendships on shared interests and activities, such as going fishing, drinking and telling stories, and engaging in competitive sports and other "minicompetitions." Whereas women explore relationships in their conversational interactions, men are more likely to convey solutions to problems (Tannen, 1990). Men are less likely than women to confide their concerns and feelings to each other, presumably because doing so might be interpreted as a sign of weakness or provide another man with an advantage over them (Huyck, 1982). The social pressures on men to be strong and brave prompts them to be constantly competitive with other males, a reaction that women may have difficulty understanding. For their own part, men find it hard to understand why women always want to talk about their problems (Tannen, 1990).

Another difference between the sexes is the tendency of men who establish friendships with women to sexualize those relationships, behavior which is rare among women (Rawlins, 1992). Be that as it may, a greater percentage of males than females report having friendships with the opposite sex (Usui, 1984). As they grow older, however, women are more likely to have cross-sex, companionate relationships with men (O'Connor, 1993). It is interesting that both men and women describe their friendships with women as being more intimate, enjoyable, and nurturing that those with men (Rubin, 1985; Sapadin, 1988). Apparently, both men and women who need empathy and understanding are more likely to turn to women than to men.

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