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Why Are Adult Men So Bad at Maintaining Friendships?

Relationships, professional expectations and a general lack of emotional labor means many men go through adult life alone

Two weeks ago, writer-editor Ann Friedman and digital strategist Aminatou Sow sold out the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles for a live taping of their podcast, “Call Your Girlfriend.”

While the event was centered around author Rebecca Traister and her new book All the Single Ladies — a reported work about the single womanhood “revolution” in the U.S. over the past several decades — it was really a testament to the strength of female friendship.

Friedman and Sow have a built a small yet beloved media brand around that very concept. Call Your Girlfriend, “a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere,” involves the co-hosts calling one another and discussing … whatever happens to interest them that week. Listening to it feels like eavesdropping on the private catch-up session between best friends (which they are). It’s a conceit as powerful as it is simple; its resonance evident in the theater full of rabid fans, the overwhelming majority of whom were women (plus “a few woke men,” as Friedman put it afterward). There was a scramble to buy tickets on the secondary market the day of the show, and attendees were obvious Call Your Girlfriend devotees — they knew the show’s segments and theme music; its inside jokes and running gags. Dozens waited up to an hour after the show ended for the chance to briefly speak with Friedman and Sow.

The event was heartfelt and the turnout staggering, but what I found most striking was how alien the atmosphere would seem to most men. It’s been my personal experience that women prioritize nurturing old friendships and cultivating new ones through adulthood, while men, either consciously or not, slip into the “lone wolf” stereotype. When I stopped playing fantasy football a few years ago, for example, I instantly lost touch with several dudes I saw on a daily basis in college. We are not not-friends, but we rarely communicate with each other, instead expecting to simply pick up where we left off whenever we see each other next. And my experience is relatively tame: A rather depressing 2015 study of men in the U.K. found British men gradually lose friends in their 20s and into middle age, with 2.5 million men admitting have no friends they could turn to in a crisis.

MEL interviewed five adult men about their own experiences losing friends as adults, why those relationships faded, why others sustained and why men tend to be so bad about keeping in touch.

Jack, 45, Atlanta

I don’t have any friends. I have acquaintances, but that’s it.

I had a couple of very good friends until I was 23. We had been friends since we were 13, and we were very, very close. We didn’t drift apart; it was immediate. The one guy idolized his older brother and wanted to follow him into law. But on the eve of him taking the LSAT, his older brother died. So he dropped everything and drove west to find himself. This was 1993, so no email, Facebook or cell phones. But he didn’t really want to be reminded of his people back home, anyway. I still haven’t spoken to him because I’m not the same person I was when I’m 23. What do you say to someone after 20-some-odd years? You’re trying to recapture something you never can.

The other guy met a girl at university who was obscenely controlling. She insisted he hang out with her friends and that his circle didn’t matter. I tried to stay in touch, but she was adamant that we weren’t welcome. Then he started to ignore me completely.

I haven’t made new friends in the meantime. Life creeps up on you. Between a wife, kids and two jobs, there’s not much else I can do. Women are socialized to maintain their social networks, whereas men are taught to jettison everything for their family.

Adrian, 28, Broken Hill, Australia

I have about 12 friends. I still have three friends from university. Facebook is useful for staying in touch, and we have a regular Skype appointment once a week, which is nice since we’re scattered all over Australia. We’ll just complain about our lives or talk about if we have anything interesting going on.

There are a few old friends whom I miss. I could look them up on Facebook, but I’m not sure how much we would have left in common. I have, however, made an effort to make new friends. I’m a competitive archer, I play Magic: The Gathering and I produce an amateur radio show, all of which make it easier to meet people. There’s a big Magic group here in town.

I have noticed when I’m making decisions about my future, my friends don’t have a big influence on that decision. A lot of it is, Where can I find work? And: Will I enjoy living in this town? The women I went to university with, a lot of them thought, Where are my friends going?

Brian, 30, Sacramento

I have about seven or eight friends. That number starting dwindling when I was 25; I had a good 14, 15 friends then. For a couple years after college we were still doing the same thing — partying a lot, going out, meeting new people. But then I figured out who were the ones I could talk to versus the people I could just drink with.

Then I got into a serious relationship, and the number shrunk to about five or six friends, most of whom were also in relationships. The girl I was with was very jealous. When I would hang out with some of my single friends, I would get a full questionnaire the next day, so I mostly avoided that.

After I became single again, I rekindled some of those friendships and made some new ones. I joined a group that would all get together, drink beer and paint, which was an easy way to meet people. And I have a doberman, so I’ve made friends at the dog park.

Male friendships tend to be more superficial; it’s about what you share in common at the time. Women are more comfortable sharing deep emotions, and when that happens, there’s more incentive to nurturing the relationship. And women are better at communicating. A guy wouldn’t text his friend, “Oh, I heard this song and it reminded me of you,” but a woman would.

David, 24, New York City

I have five or six friends I talk to on a regular basis. I probably had a good group of 10 or so friends through high school, but stuff happens. Life got in the way and everyone just scattered from New York. I keep in touch with three high school friends — we have a Facebook thread I check daily — but now most of my friends are from college.

I think men lose friends because they’re expected to do so well professionally that friendships fall by the wayside. And I think women are better at keeping in touch and making plans, and more caring and compassionate. Guys are very last minute, and tend to be more blunt and critical with each other.

James, 20, Scranton

I have one best friend, and that’s it. I was kind of a loner in high school. I had some other friends — there was a crew of about five of us — but when college came around, they all split. He’s the only one I’ve stayed in touch with.

He’s like the brother I never had. I’ve known him for seven years and we see each other a couple times a week. We had the most things in common from our group — video games, trading cards.

I’ve tried to make new friends at school, but people are very flakey, unfortunately. You ask them to hang out at least 30 times, and they say, “Oh, I’ve got work. I’ve got this, that and the other.” Why should I even bother? You see these groups of five to 10 people who are great friends, and I’m just thinking, “How does that even happen?”

It takes a lot of energy to be a friend. You get caught up in studying and work, and it becomes tiring to maintain all of these friendships. You get burned out, y’know? Women, in my experience, are more emotional and bond better than men do.