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Sorry, ‘Buddy,’ You’re Not My ‘Friend’: When It Comes to Male Friendship, We’ve Got a Different Term for Everything

Maybe the one thing worse than the Friend Zone? The Buddy Zone

Last December, in a retrospective of her 2017 sex adventures, Broadly writer Maria Yagoda noted that along with buying some bitcoin, she stopped dating men who refer to their friends as buddies. Why? Because if someone has a lot of “buddies,” that probably means they don’t have any actual friends.

“Basically, ‘buddy’ is the kind of designation where a guy will be like, ‘Yeah, my buddy in college once blah blah blah drank two handles of Dubra or butt-chugged moonshine,’” Yagoda explains over email. “It’s a word bros use for second- or third-tier friends is my understanding — maybe to feel like they have a vast network of close pals and also maybe to feel young.”

Setting aside the fact that my first real friend was an inanimate doll named “My Buddy,” I agree with her. Referring to a friend as a buddy means that you’ve already made certain calculations in your head and the outcome is that you’re probably not planning on inviting this buddy to your wedding — or anywhere for that matter. In fact, deep down, you probably know that any time you spend with “your buddy” is confined to a golf course, an office, a coffee shop or an affinity for the same drugs. For example, I have one very good “friend” who often refers to the men he happens to share workout equipment with as his “gym buddies.”

“One of my gym buddies recently got engaged,” he told me earlier this year.

When I asked him if he considered his “gym buddy” to be his “friend,” he paused.

“No, he’s my gym buddy,” he responded. “You’re my friend.”

Officially, though, what exactly is the difference? (Mine and Yagoda’s opinion being unofficial, of course.)

According to DifferenceBetween.info, which contrasts the two terms point-by-point, “buddy” is an informal way to refer to a male friend. While “friend” is used to describe someone you hang out with who you can talk to and laugh with. Per its analysis, “Friends stand out in a group of people. Friends are someone with whom you are happy to spend time with when you’re doing absolutely nothing at all, someone who doesn’t mind driving you on stupid errands; someone who tries to help you.”

Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies male friendships, explains that the confusion around the various names for platonic male relationships speaks to a larger question about how men show affection for each other in the first place. “The interesting thing is men want to find a safe way of relating to each other,” he says. “Having various nicknames is a more comfortable way for men to express their true affection and love for each other.”

To that end, Greif thinks another reason why men have more names for their platonic relationships than women is because they have mixed feelings about being intimate with other dudes. “There’s more male-to-male ambivalence around friendships, or at least around the terminology for friendships,” says Greif.

And while that may be true in some cases, sometimes the difference between a buddy and a friend is simply a matter of how disposable they are. “There’s a difference between severing a relationship with a friend versus your drinking pal,” writes Samantha Bell for Odyssey. “When you lose a good friend, you feel their absence looming over your day-to-day for a while. But drinking buddies, whether you want to believe it or not, are disposable. Sure, you’ve had great times and rough mornings, but you’ll find that your life won’t be even close to empty without them.”

Yagoda, however, tells me that her experience with men who have buddies and not friends goes way deeper than all of this. “The people I’ve dated who speak in this way tend to be disappointments or emotionally stunted,” she explains. “But to be fair, that’s been true of everyone I’ve dated. That said, I can say with that authority that, universally, men who refer to friends as ‘buddies’ are very into sports.”