The Friendships of Teenage Boys

The NYT recently did an article about a new book called “Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection,” by Niobe Way, a professor of developmental adolescent psychology who explores the nature of friendships for boys and young men. Way argues that while teenage boys are often stereotyped as “grunting, emotionally tone-deaf creatures who bond over sports talk and risk-taking,” “their need for intimate friendship is as potent as it is for girls.” Despite this need, “as the boys grew older, the intensity of those relationships faded. Boys feared being seen as “too girly” or even gay for expressing attachments to one another, even just for feeling them.” Way believes this breeds depression in young men (around 15 or 16, the suicide rate for boys becomes four times that for girls), and grown men alike. She argues that adult men struggle to make close friendships, and rely on their wives as their only support person, which can take a toll on their relationship.

Read the whole article: Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends (NYT)

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Rogin October 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I saw the article a few days ago, and agree with most of its points. I think the fear of being labeled effeminate or gay keeps boys from expressing attachments, as you say. Guys try to play it off sometimes, saying “No homo!” after anything that could be controversial. In my experience, even when in a group of friends, boys are hesitant to say anything that could call their masculinity into question. It’s almost like expressing interest to a girl: it feels like a huge risk. You could be rejected, or at worst mocked, but on the other hand, the friendship could grow. My friends and I were almost afraid to hang out with one other friend. We always hung out in a group of 3 or more. I think having at least on close friend is important, and it’s depressing when you feel that it is unattainable.

Channing Walton October 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I can imagine this is true of some western nations, but not universally true of all cultures. For example, I’ve seen how close some Arabic men are, they are not afraid to hug or cry in each others company.

Also, has it always been this way or were things different in the past?

Wesley October 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Strange…I’ve never found this to be the case. I’ve had the same best guy-friend since we were 8 years old. We still try to grab lunch together once every couple of weeks. I hadn’t given it a second thought. I eat lunch with another guy-friend in my office quite often, and that’s been my pattern at every job I’ve ever had.

I live in the Southeast US. Perhaps we just don’t care enough about what others think down here. All the men (young and old) I know each lunch together, often in pairs and don’t ever consider how that could be perceived by others.

I don’t know about Channing’s comment…I don’t hug or cry with my male friends, but I feel comfortable talking to them about most anything.

The NYT might be reaching on this one….wouldn’t be the first or last time.

Rob October 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I guess I truly am lucky then, I have 4 best friends that I can call on at any time. My buddy Bob called me after a break-up at 4 am when he was in California and I was in New Jersey. We both, over the phone, went to separate bars and got him through the initial issues. My other buddy, Harris, lives in Pakistan and just got married, his wife and he are coming to the states and man-alive are they going to get a welcome. My buddy Issac is amazing and we are planning on going to Oktoberfest in the next 2 years to have a ball. My buddy Ahmed saw me in Philly last summer and we had a great night on the town and ran up the Museum of Art steps at sunrise like Rocky.

I also think that the Times was reaching a bit for the article. Of course, my evidence is a data point of one.

Stephen October 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I totally can relate to this! Today, I’ve been blessed with some great guy friends that to me, was pretty miraculous. But I’ve never known what’s it like to have a friend from growing up. Growing up my friends were never really all that close.

I’m glad someone gets it. This is true for a lot of men young, old, or adolescent. I hope more men and women become more aware of this issue as time goes on.

Mel October 7, 2011 at 4:37 am

Everything in the article is true. Both men and women struggle to make friends that last. I have had several “best friends” over the years, but they don’t last more than a few years, and then they either disappear, or move away, and we don’t hear from them as much, or at all. But for men, it’s a lot harder to make “connections.” Even the term sounds like a gay thing. I blame the “gay movement” for making it tough for non-gays to find real and lasting friendship among men. When women are close, no one suspects homosexuality, but no so for guys. The best example of male friendship and love is from Christ. Christian love is seen as dull or superficial, thanks to mainstream media bias, but the truth is that Christ loved his apostles, his friends, so much that he gave his life for them. Guys in the military understand this better than the general public. Wesley and Rob don’t get it; Wes is lucky to live in the South, where it is easier to find and make male friends, and Rob is kidding himself: how beneficial is it to have “best friends” that live hundreds of miles away?

Brett October 7, 2011 at 7:02 am

I think this article rings true. It makes me sad that our culture, in one way or another, continues to beat down boys and keep them from becoming the best versions of themselves. I’ve been blessed to have to have the same male best friend since grade school – age 10. Now that I’m in my 40′s and married, this friendship hasn’t waned in terms of it’s importance; in fact, I think it has grown. Were it not for the influence of my friend, who over the years has provided correction, said the hard things, been there when all else seemed gone, I’m not sure I would have made it. I certainly would not be the man that I am today. If I am blessed to ever have a son, I’m going to pray that God would give him a lifelong best friend. He’ll need one, no doubt.

Kyle October 7, 2011 at 7:57 am

This article is true in many ways but for me It’s different I’ve been blessed to have 6 friends that have grown from my best friends into my brothers. If any of us neededo anything we all would help out. Also the thing with saying no homo is stupid 1 of my friends is gay and he’s the one who hooked me up with my girlfriend and he’s still my brother till this day no questions asked. Mel the thing about the military understanding this is true cause you trust your life to another person just as he does the same to you. It is a bond and a brotherhood that lasts a lifetime.

wdylan October 7, 2011 at 8:38 am

I actually completed my own research paper on this very topic back in the late 90′s and have to say that the conclusion, or should I say hypothesis, that Niobe came to is strikingly similar to my own. What I failed to consider myself, the point that Channing added to this discussion, was the variations of this phenomena in non-western cultures. However, whether it be family pressure, peer pressure, or the combination of other factors that lead to environmental conditioning, the statistics regarding male teenage suicide rates are unfortunately accurate.

On the brighter side of things, it has been an observation of mine that this conditioning has seemingly begun to fade at an increasing pace over the past decade as stereotypes of previous generations tend to be replaced by the values of a new generation. Also, there seems to be remarkable differences in the pace of this shift in different geographic locations within the US itself – metropolitan areas showing signs of greater degrees of an apparent evolution of thought compared to very rural communities.

That shift between the demographics of our society is, however, something that I am concerned about due to the dramatic socioeconomic changes that have already, and continue to, increase due to an alarming transfer of wealth due to the recession. Basically, the bulk of our population is shifting from a moderately stable middle class to an increasingly unstable lower class which encourages many to reintroduce previously suppressed stereotypes. I think that historically toleration and acceptance has largely been influenced in a positive way by those that fall somewhere in the middle, while it has continued to remain a challenge among those skirting on poverty due to a lack of quality education and general dissatisfaction and has continued to exist in the upper class due the historical significance of the institution of “family” and the desire to maintain social status, protect wealth, and in many cases treating offspring strikingly similar to the process of raising a prized “show-dog” that must be bred, trained, and groomed in a very strict manner to ensure family reputation.

Regardless, if the middle class continues to dwindle, my fear is that any progress that we have achieved in reducing teen suicide will ultimately evolve in the exact opposite direction. I hope that I’m wrong about that reverse evolution, and to a greater degree I hope that we will never even have the opportunity to test this theory on a large scale.

Comgrats to those that are oblivious to this, consider yourself fortunate. As far as myself, I had the unique opportunity to witness this from both sides as a teen – my family considered by many to be at one end of the socioeconomic scale while many of my friends, due to the nature of the community in which I was raised, fell at the extreme polar opposite end of that scale.

Please excuse typos, this “novel” was submitted via smartphone…LOL. And feel free to tear my theories to shreds, I appreciate all of the unique perspectives you each bring.

Ian October 7, 2011 at 8:49 am

@ Wesley, eating lunch together isn’t what this article is talking about. I met one of my lifelong friends in middle school and we are still friends today. I’m 24. I remember crying one day when I was 15 because I felt as though I wanted to be closer to him emotionally but couldn’t. That “couldn’t” is the barrier… at least where I live in the culture of the northeast. There’s just this weird line that guys are expected not to cross, or you’d be perceived as being “gay” for your friend. Young boys learn this early on, while it’s perfectly okay and expected for girls. Later in life I noticed he dropped it a bit and would constantly compliment me about my strengths and tell others in my presence the qualities he admired in me. It hit me when I felt weird doing the same for him, like it was expressing too much. But why should it be weird? I should be able to do the same. Keep in mind that we’re both thinner, intelligent guys that don’t fully fit the masculine stereotype portrayed in this country, so the constraints might have been harder on us. But either way, it has an emotional impact. I’ll never be able to get rid of it completely, but I’m working on it. Just think, Italian guys kiss each other and are still masculine. It’s all in your perception.

Ken October 7, 2011 at 10:09 am

I suppose this article was based on research which is derived from a sampling of a population – and you assume there was a sufficient data base from which to draw valid general conclusions. But, of course, the nature of the research is that there are always exceptions, extremes, and “classic cases.” So, some of you guys that disagree strongly with the article and describe great male friendships – are probably wonderful exceptions. From my limited perspective, after leading men’s groups for a couple of decades, the article is accurate. Maybe some of our (men’s) difficulty in forming friendship is in our wiring – girls start exhibiting “relating behaviors” young – while boys generally seem to do so less… “naturally.” I didn’t even start to “get” friendship till I was around 18 (I am probably an extreme). But, then, I did start forming friendships with a vengeance. And, I have been blessed with several very intimate male buddies. In one of those friendships, I had more than one person ask “are you and Chris gay?” (We weren’t.) And, another one of those buddies became uncomfortable because, he commented “I think this is starting to look gay.” Why, I had no clue. — And, yes I do, feel this is an exceptionally “homophobic” period in our history. In Victorian America, “unquestionably straight” men unselfconsciously expressed affection for each other in terms and behaviors that are very “embarrassing,” even shocking,” by our current “standards” for “appropriate” male friendship. Many of their friendships sound “romantic” to us. It’s interesting how at any given time in history the existing culture “feels” like “reality” and the way “reality” “ought!” to be. An interesting related book: “Dear Friends – American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918″ by David Deitcher. Another good book (probably out of print): “Men & Friendship” by Stuart Miller. Very interesting topic!

Julio G October 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm

This topic is EXTREMELY cultural, so it’s hard to give much of an opinion. However, as a Uruguayan living the the U.S, I feel that I have a decent vantage point.
I have noticed that (in my area, Northern New Jersey, specifically Morris County) many men are cold to each other. It is very hard for many of us South Americans, because in the Southern Cone nations, it’s not uncommon to kiss a man on the cheek as a greeting; however, many people here find even hugs to be uncomfortable. I am lucky enough to have friends who hug and don’t care when I slip up (it’s happened a few times, really embarrassing every time). Without that, it would have been close to impossible to build as deep and trusting a friendship as I have.
The great evil in our society is Homophobia. Men need to realize that they’re not gay unless they’re actually GAY. I have an Indian friend who likes holding pinkies when he walks with a friend, and he’s been called gay numerous times for it. He really doesn’t care, nor should any of us. We all know what we are, right? If you’re gay, then they just called you what you are, no big. If you’re not, then the greatest revenge is to go home to a girlfriend or wife. Either way, public opinion is completely worthless, especially when the price you pay is closeness to your friends.

chris October 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I say “I love you” to my best friend from high school when we part ways sometimes. I’m not embarrassed to say it and I’m also not gay.

ed October 9, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I’m 19, from the UK and can honestly say I’ve never had any trouble hugging me pals not since I was about 14 when I made my first real bestfriend,(I think up until then I just had a couple friends bit looking back now we weren’t really close) and now i consider myself really lucky with the friends I have, we always hug and tell each other we love each other, nothing gay about it! Iv been in this little circle of mates for about a year now and I was a late joiner – the others have been friends for years! I dunno, maybe we’re different! Maybe I’m just lucky! And to be completely honest…. if someone was uncomfortable hugging there male friends incase people think they’re gay, I think they should probably take a serious look into their sexuality!

ed October 9, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Oh… just a little side note, the little group I mentioned is boys and girls… I dunno if that’s important!

Sam December 5, 2014 at 1:16 am

That’s some old BS. I wonder if these people actually know any teenage dudes these days? Acting gay is pretty normal for guys, they’ll playfully flirt with each other, slap each other on the ass ect. It’s not that these people are actually gay, they just act like that to make each other uncomfortable and puff up their own egos, and especially to show off to girls. Anyways, male on male friendship might be getting kinda scarce because there are so many weak ass men out there today, who are scared of other men and can only tolerate being around women or being alone. It’s up to these people to make choices to be friends with each other, you can’t blame the culture, that’s just a poor excuse. Oh, and that “grunting tone deaf sports and risk bonding?” You just described some of the core aspects of male friendship. Things like sports and risk taking (I don’t know about the grunting) ARE how men bond, and things like that ARE how we express love for one another. There’s nothing wrong with that either, I wonder if the authors of these books have ever actually had a male friend before? Talking about crap like expressing emotions and BS, make me see that this person obviously has no idea what they’re talking about.

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