in: People, Podcast, Relationships

• Last updated: July 8, 2024

Podcast #1,002: The Fascinating Differences Between Male and Female Friendships

Friendships are a central part of the lives of both men and women. But from personal observation, you’ve probably noticed that the dynamics of male and female friendships aren’t always the same. You may not, however, have been able to articulate what those differences are or have known what’s behind them.

While there’s still a lot of facets of friendship that haven’t yet been researched, Dr. Jaimie Krems, who runs UCLA’s Social Minds Lab, has a lot of interesting insights about what we do know about how and why men and women approach friendship differently. Today on the show, she explains why men and women form friendships and the differences in the size and nature of their social circles, how long their friendships last, and what they look for in friends. We also discuss why men have a greater tolerance for their friends’ flaws than women do, why men and women would want to be friends with each other, and how each sex experiences friendship jealousy.

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Read the Transcript

Brett Mckay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Friendships are a essential part of the lives of both men and women, but from personal observation, you probably noticed that the dynamics of male and female friendships aren’t always the same. You may not, however, have been able to articulate what those differences are or have known what’s behind them. While there’s still a lot of facets of friendship that haven’t yet been researched, Dr. Jaimie Krems, who runs UCLA’s Social Minds Lab, has a lot of interesting insights about what we do know about how and why men and women approach friendship differently. Today in the show she explains why men and women form friendships and the differences in the size and nature of their social circles, how long their friendships last, and what they look for in friends. We also discuss why men have a greater tolerance for their friends flaws than women do. Why men and women would want to be friends with each other, and how each sex experiences friendship jealousy. After the show’s over, check at our show notes at All right, Jaimie Krems, welcome to the show.

Jaimie Krems: Thank you for having me.

Brett Mckay: So You are a social psychologist who researches friendship, but you do it through an evolutionary lens. How’d you end up doing what you do?

Jaimie Krems: Well, I studied classical archeology and, translated Latin. It was like solving a puzzle. Thought that was cool. Booked bands, played poker, living in Philly. And then I let myself get bored and found books by Steven Pinker. And I thought, oh my God, I’m not alone. Other people think about the world and the mind like this. And I came to evolutionary psychology. Worked in Rob Kurzban’s lab at Penn, Robin Dunbar’s lab at Oxford, and Neuberg and Kenricks at ASU. And I thought, this is the way to make the world make sense. As for what I study, it’s in part because two of my best friends had a 26-page, two-hour G-chat just about how much they hated me. And I found it, ’cause one of them was a moron and did it on my computer. So I wanted to understand friendship dynamics for quite some time.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, friendship dynamics amongst women, particularly. A lot of your studies are on what friendship dynamics look like with women, but you also in the process look at how it differs from men and That whole thing about finding the G-chat about how your friends hated you. If you have a sister, you probably encountered this as well. I remember growing up, my sister, there was, something like that happened. She found out that this girl that she thought was her friend was just dogging her. It was terrible. It was devastating. It was not nice.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, I cried so hard. My friend that I was on the phone with, I was crying to her. She couldn’t understand a damn word I was saying. Now I completely understand. Oh, like their parents never loved them. They were jealous. That’s fine. They’re still unhappy today. I sometimes go on Facebook and check. And so, yeah, thanks to them, I get to work at UCLA.

Brett Mckay: There you go. Okay, so I wanna talk about your research on how men and women socialize and form and manage friendships. So let’s start with this question. From an evolutionary perspective, why do men form friendships?

Jaimie Krems: So I don’t think that we can really pull apart why men and women do these as to two totally separate things. So the function of friendship seems to be about social insurance, and that’s for both men and women. So John Tooby and Leda Cosmides have a really great idea that friendship solve the problem of accessing resources and other support when people are most in need. So if I asked you, Brett, you’re a bank, you have some money to invest in, one person, would you rather invest that money in sort of a Ryan Gosling in the beginning of in the beginning of the notebook or a slick suited rich Ryan Gosling and crazy stupid, love.

Brett Mckay: The rich guy, the slick. That’s what I’d probably invest in.

Jaimie Krems: Absolutely. And that’s what banks do. And so the paradox is that people in need often don’t get what they need. Banks invest in the rich folks and people invest in those likely to repay it or reciprocate. But we need help when we’re in need and friendships might be the way that we solve this problem. These relationships where another person has a stake in my continued welfare means that when I am in need, they’ll invest in me. And so I survive helping them when they eventually face their own times of hardship because I have a stake in their continued welfare.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, Tooby calls this the banker’s paradox. So it’s when you’re most in need of help, people are least inclined to want to invest in you because people want a relationship that’s more benefit than cost. But if you already proved yourself to be a valuable friend, then people they’ll stick with you because they see value in continuing the relationship. So it’s worth incurring that cost. All right, so friendship builds our credit for hard times. Why isn’t family enough support? Like, why not just rely on grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles and cousins?

Jaimie Krems: That’s a great question. Some people do think that friends act like family. A related explanation, the alliance hypothesis of friendship, suggests that it’s more about having support in conflict. So on this view, friendship is in part the output of cognitive mechanisms designed to assemble support for future agonistic conflicts and fights. And so in a conflict between two of my friends, I should preferentially support the friend who’s more likely to support me in the future, helping that person win their conflict and survive to support me another day. Whereas our siblings might be around to do that, our parents and our grandparents will eventually die and likely die before we do. So we might need to generate more kin, generate more other folks who have a stake in our welfare, who are going to maybe be at the same life stage as us and live longer than our elderly kin.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So friends are insurance. It’s just social insurance for us.

Jaimie Krems: That is the general idea. There’s some idea that women’s friends act as sort of kin replacement given a long history of patcher locality. So men stayed in the same place, women left their community and married someone else and went to that community. And so being without family, women really needed to replace those kin. And that might be why their friendships are so close. By contrast, men may have been sort of co-fighters in intergroup warfare and group defense. And so they benefit more from the numbers. And that’s really where it differs. But even then, friends can act and probably do act as social insurance. Among hunter-foragers in South America, for example, illness, injury, it’s inevitable. And it would have been in our evolutionary history. And so you can imagine that looking at these folks, when they do get ill and injured, they might often die. They’re less likely to die if they have good friends.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So generally what social psychology has found is that women’s relationships or friendships, they’re more intense in their didactic. Usually it’s just like one-on-one. Men’s friendship networks tend to be, they’re larger and they’re looser?

Jaimie Krems: Exactly.

Brett Mckay: They’re not as close. So yeah, kind of flesh that out. Why the difference between how those friendships manifest themselves?

Jaimie Krems: Yeah. So you’ll hear me say this a lot, but we don’t have a good answer to this. We don’t have an agreed upon this is why. It could have to do with the function of what men’s friends do versus what women’s friends do. So men’s friends are co-fighters. They help one another in intergroup warfare and group defense. They can help one another gain status. Women’s friends tend to be more along the lines of alloparents. They might help raise one another’s children. So part of it could have to do with function. Part of it could just have to do with function and the time constraints of group structure. So because women spend so much time, or maybe have to spend so much time, creating any one friend and investing in those really close and like you said dyadic intense relationships, they don’t necessarily have time to spend on a lot of other friends. So it could be that the way that women’s friendships work, being close and dyadic like that, force the fact that they can only have so many friends, whereas men are allowed to put more eggs in more different baskets.

Brett Mckay: Okay, so just to recap there, men have that looser larger, they want a lot of friends who are just kind of buddies, chums, it’s the intensity of the relationship is not going to be as much as women who prefer the close dyadic relationship ’cause women are looking for an alloparent. And I think it makes sense if you argue, okay, well, the reason why men form these clubs or gangs or coalitions, if it’s to fight in war, if one buddy dies or gets eaten by saber toothed tiger, it’s like, well, I guess replace him with another guy who can do the job. If a female friend, like an alloparent, you’re trying to replace your kin, if that person goes away, that’s a problem ’cause you can’t, it’s hard to replace.

Jaimie Krems: Not only is that person hard to replace because you must have built up a lot of trust to put this tiny packet of your genes that we call our offspring in their hands, they can also be dangerous to replace if you lose them not through death. So because women’s friendships are so intense and emotionally open and so on, we talk a lot of shit. Much more than men do, we talk about people we don’t like, what we don’t like, how much we don’t like them. And that information can be ammo for the friend that we told. And that could be very dangerous if the friendship ends as well.

Brett Mckay: Okay, so it’s kind of like you’re afraid that they’re going to blackmail you. Like you got information on them and they got information on you and you wanna keep the relationship together because you don’t want them talking about you if it goes south.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, and honestly, that’s kind of a difficult situation to be in because for women, this kind of self-disclosure is almost required to ratchet up the closeness of the relationship. And then if the relationship dies, that same self-disclosure can come back to bite them.

Brett Mckay: It’s interesting. So on average, I mean, okay, it sounds like that’s a big cost. That’s like a reputation cost. For women, is there a greater benefit than cost in female friendships? Like is it worth it to have female friends?

Jaimie Krems: So I mean, you had Joyce Benenson on, she’d marshal the evidence and say, nah, I don’t think so. She’d say that female friendships are probably on average costlier than beneficial and costlier than beneficial than in comparison to males. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think that there can be a lot of benefits from female-female friendships, protection against predators, protection against male coercion advice and guidance, especially in friendships where two women are not necessarily at the same life stage and we don’t really study those friendships very much. So I do think that there are benefits, but I could just be blinded by the fact that my own best friendship is a lifeline.

Brett Mckay: Let’s talk about some of the other differences between men’s and women’s friendships. What about the length of friendships? Are there any differences between men and women and how long their friendships last?

Jaimie Krems: So the data right now suggests that women’s friendships, or really girls’ friendships, are shorter lived. So girl-girl versus boy-boy. We don’t know what this looks like across the lifespan. It could be that, your adult wife’s friendships are going to be just as long-lasting as yours are, but in girlhood, she would have experienced more best friends than you did. We also don’t know what this looks like across cultures, and we also don’t know the average time to unfriend. We don’t have sort of a survival analysis of male and female friendships, or cross-sex friendships. But what I can tell you is that if you ask a room of even awkward scientists, tell me about a time that you lost a friend, all of the women’s hands shoot up and they want to tell you about this acrimonious split they had and this horrible person that they’re no longer friends with. And the men sort of act like dogs hearing a high-pitched noise, like, lose a friend. Do you mean like, we don’t talk anymore or? So there does seem to be a difference even in how people, at least in my generation and those folks older than I am, have experienced friendship loss.

Brett Mckay: That tracks, ’cause I look at my own life, I can’t think of any friends that I’ve lost because of some kind of acrimonious dispute, something happened. They just kind of rusted out, like, we moved or we just, our lives went in different directions and this contact went away. It was nothing, no hard feelings. When I talk to women I know, they’ve all got stories of like, oh, I had this roommate and she did this and we were best friends, but we’re no longer best friends anymore. And like, that does not compare.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, hard feelings. And we do move more than ever now. That is something that might affect both men’s and women’s friendships and the ability to stay friends. And so that’s interesting to hear that that’s really what did some of your friendships end.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, I would say that’s what did most of them end. Either I moved or someone else moved. What are the theories? Why do, with the research we’ve done, I guess it’s just been done on girls, maybe young women, why do their relationship tend to be shorter lived than men’s friendship? Like what are the theories?

Jaimie Krems: So there’s sort of these paradoxes in female friendship the way that I see it. One paradox is that female-female friendships are at once like the paradigm of friendships. Girls are so close and emotionally intense and open and affectionate with one another. This is how all friendships should be. Versus other folks say female-female friendships are actually an impossibility. There’s so much, they’re rife with actual envy and jealousy and hatred that they can’t ever really be friends. The second paradigm is that they are so emotionally intense and close and open, but we also know from the data that they’re fragile and shorter-lived. The third is that they seem to be strictly egalitarian. There are these rules in friendships among women that, or at least girls, that you really can’t strive for higher status than me. You can’t compete against me. So they’re strictly egalitarian and non-competitive, but in reality, there’s a lot of competition going on there.

I mean, the term relational aggression, which some people often use as indirect aggression or social aggression, was really coined to be able to characterize the kinds of aggression that takes place characteristically in female-female relationships. So it could be that they are unable to tolerate the sort of everyday issues in friendships, the turbulence that men are more likely to look at and either not be bothered by or reconcile from. And in fact, there’s some really cool evidence suggesting that male-male friendships are more likely to experience issues and get back together than female-female friendships. As to why that happens, again, the best idea that we have right now is that insofar as women’s friendships need great trust because of a long history of evolutionary functionality, of alloparenting, so we have to really trust this person to be able to take care of our offspring and our future offspring, we don’t brook any turbulence. Whereas among men, yeah, he might be a dick, yeah, he might have run over my bike, but in the end, more is better than fewer because we might have to come up against this other coalition.

Brett Mckay: Speaking to the tolerance that men have for their friends, for their foibles and the intolerance that women have, I think Joyce Benenson did a study on roommates and she found that men and men roommates, they just tolerate each other like, yeah, the guy ate my Cheerios and I was pissed for a little bit, but then I just got over it. Women, they’ve got a bigger problem with that.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, the emotional reactions there kind of suggest that women often see other women, even their friends when things go awry, as the other woman’s mere existence is costly. And I think Joyce would trace this back to a sort of behavioral ecology idea in our primate ancestors that every extra female added to the group could, take my mate, could mean that I’m carrying this infant and now I have to walk further for food. They’re costly to me. Whereas every extra guy added to the group doesn’t cost other men in the same way and provides a benefit in group defense.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So that’s interesting. So women, I mean, tell me if I’m wrong on this, women, even their best friends, women might still see them as a potential competitor.

Jaimie Krems: Absolutely. At least in the women that we’ve studied. So that’s typically college students and then in developmental psychology. When we talk about men’s and women’s friendships, we can compare men and women. We can compare some women to other women and some men to other men. But all of this relies on having data. One of the problems in this area of research is that we have a lot of good data from girls and boys because people are interested in studying friendships in girls and boys. But as soon as girls and boys grow up, they hit puberty and they can have romantic relationships. It’s as if researchers flee for the romantic relationship hills and just want to study those relationships. So we don’t have great data beyond some young adults and certainly not in, say, mothers or in older adults. We’re starting to get them, but we don’t have great data on male-male, female-female friendships across the lifespan for me to actually tell you this is what’s going on.

Brett Mckay: Interesting. It would be interesting to get that data because I think you could theorize that maybe some of the conflict among college aged women, underlying that even unconsciously could be competition for mates. And then later in life, when each person is married they secured, each secured their mate. Maybe friendship tension goes down. So are there studies being done on that today? Like looking at friendships, how they change over the lifespan?

Jaimie Krems: So I mean, if you went to the big social psych conference of any talk about a relationship, seven out of 10, they’re gonna be about romantic relationships. Fewer than one out of 10 on average is gonna be about friendships. This is starting to change at UCLA. We’re starting to change this. We’ve developed the UCLA Center for Friendship research. There are multiple faculty that want to understand friendship and solve the problems of friendship, but it is not a well studied phenomenon. Not nearly as well studied as you’d imagine it would be. Certainly.

Brett Mckay: Do men and women today look for different things in potential friends? And what would evolutionary psychology tell us about that.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, so a lot like the research on mating or romantic relationships, we often talk about the things that are different between the sexes. I should emphasize the fact that the biggies, the things that everybody wants in friends, they’re the same kindness, intelligence and so on. I’ll also note that in my lab we’ve actually figured out that that doesn’t hold the way that you might think it does. So we want our friends to be really kind. And we don’t want our friends to be mean. Except not really. We want our friends to be really kind to us, less kind to other people than they are to us. And sometimes we even want our friends to be more vicious than they are kind when they’re behaving toward people we don’t like. And that does hold for men and women. But at the same time, yeah, men and women also face some sex specific challenges.

And to the extent that their same-sex friends help them solve those challenges, then men and women should look for different things. So what we’ve found is that women tend to look for friends who provide emotional support, intimacy and useful social information. They also tend to rate intrinsic traits like being supportive, trustworthy, and respectful more highly in friends than men do. Whereas men tend to prioritize male friends, physical formidability, high status and wealth, their sort of Wingmanship or ability to afford access to potential mates as really important compared to women. And they also rate instrumental traits more highly than women do. Traits, like being able to provide material benefits.

Brett Mckay: Okay, so dudes prefer competent dudes, dudes with skills with high status that can help them out. So hunter gatherers wanted male allies who were big and strong men today still respect strength in each other. But today guys wanna be friends with a guy who can help them fix their car. Or maybe they have a large professional network maybe they can help you find a job, start a business, meet women, et cetera.

Jaimie Krems: They do. And there’s some preliminary data that suggests that even the way that men and women use their friends kind of reflects this. So women will use their best friend as a study buddy, as a wingwoman, as a, you name the challenge. They’re gonna take their best friend with them. Men kind of use the right guy for the job. They have one guy for studying, one guy for wingman, one guy for the basketball game.

Brett Mckay: That’s interesting. That makes sense. I’ve seen that too in my own life. It’s like this. So completely anecdotal, but I’ve got, I don’t have a problem with having a friend. This is my weightlifting friend and this is my church friend and this is my, I don’t know my book friend. I have no problem. And I think when I look at the women in my life, they want a friend who can do everything.

Jaimie Krems: So this relationship scientist, Eli Finkel talks a lot about how in the modern US in particular, we put so much pressure on our romantic relationships to do everything for us and even take the place of our friendships. And it’s kind of the way that the data suggests women are thinking about their friendships. They want one best friend to be a Swiss army knife.

Brett Mckay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. Okay. So men, large group of friends, looser, they look for friends that are competent who can do things for them. They help them out. Women typically tend to have close didactic, intense, emotionally intense relationships. I’m curious, is there any research on male best friends? So like, men tend to have like a large group of friends they go to, but men have best close didactic relationship with one of those friends every now and then. Is there any research on that?

Jaimie Krems: So we often include male best friendships in our studies, if only to look at the differences between male, male and female-female friends. And there’s some developmental work on boys friendships. But what I think you’re asking is more about research into sort of the potentially distinct qualitative nature of male and female best friendships. And there we really haven’t paid attention to men as much as we have to women. And in fact that attention is sort of doubly small so to speak, because we’re not looking at adults friendships. What I can tell you anecdotally is that, so again more than ever people are moving. And when couples move later in life, which happens a lot in academia, there are a lot of women who essentially try and find play dates for their husbands. They would just like him to have some friends. Put him on a kickball team, sign him up for a film thing, go make a friend. So I feel less bad about working and going to my friendships and tending to all my friends. We don’t know why it’s harder for men to maybe make friends in later life as it seems to be. We have no idea ’cause we haven’t paid attention yet.

Brett Mckay: Just listening. Why is it hard for men to make close friends? I know a lot of men might join a club or like a CrossFit gym and they’ll have maybe some superficial relationships and that can be fine. Some guys might be fine with that. But for the guys who want a closer friend, I think it’s just harder for guys because they might have less time than some women because they’re working and then they’ve got family responsibilities and then they’re doing kid stuff. We had Jeffrey Hall on the podcast. He’s at the University of Kansas.

Jaimie Krems: Oh He’s in Kansas. He’s a great dude.

Brett Mckay: He’s done this research on how long it takes to make a friend. And it just takes a long time. I forgot the number, but it was just a really long time.

Jaimie Krems: 200 hours.

Brett Mckay: 200 hours. When you think about that when you’re in high school, in college it was easy to acquire that 200 hours ’cause you’re with these people at school every day. And then you got to hang out with them after school doing your extracurricular activities, hanging out on a Friday night, to get 200 hours with somebody. That’s really hard when you’re a working adult.

Jaimie Krems: I mean, it could be, but let me say this. People, especially young folks, spend a ton of time on apps trying to find people to have sex with or date. We don’t spend the same amount of time trying to find our friends.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. That’s true. That’s a good point. Okay. So dudes can have best friends. We just don’t know a lot about it because there just hasn’t been a lot of research on it. So that’s, if you are a podcast listener and looking for a PhD project, there it is. Go for it.

Jaimie Krems: Come here to UCLA. We are the world leader in studying friendship. Me, Matt Lieberman, Carolyn Parkinson, Naomi Eisenberger. We want to understand what the heck is going on. So Come support our research, be our grad students. Figure this stuff out with us.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. So something else the research has shown about male and female friendship is that it tends to be homosocial that is, men are friends with men. Typically women are friends with women typically. Have you done or have you come across any research on heterosocial friendships? So like when men and women are friends with each other?

Jaimie Krems: So we’re doing some of that work in my lab. There is not a lot of great work on this. There’s some work by Hannah Bradshaw that’s really cool about guys girls. So what do people think of women who are primarily friends with men? Women don’t like them. There’s some cool work on the way that people pick their cross-sex friends. So for men in particular, it might be the case that when they’re looking for friendship, they’re sort of looking for backup mates. So they want the same thing in their prospective girlfriends as they would in their female friends. So there is some work there, but this is another place where we don’t do it. I’ll say part of the reason that we don’t is honestly that, and in, in much of my work I specify same sex friends because I don’t want there to be a presumption of romance or future romance.

Brett Mckay: Okay. That makes sense. So we gotta find out if is, is Harry right and Harry met Sally? Can men and women be friends?

Jaimie Krems: I mean I think that’s probably easier when men are already investing in their offspring and especially if they’re friends with a woman who’s investing in hers. There does seem to be a sort of fundamental trade-off that people face in investing their energy in mating and parenting. And so the more that you are investing your energy in things like parenting, maybe you are not going to be on the prowl or on the lookout. And it could be easier to be friends. But yeah, that will remain a question that people ask forever. I don’t think we’re even close to solving it. I just think people will automatically say Absolutely not. And absolutely. Of course. What kind of sexist are you that you don’t think women can be friends with Men?

Brett Mckay: Well, going back to this idea of why men and women would choose to be friends with each other. So men, they might be friends with a, a woman as a backup mate. So, well if I can’t get this one girl, then maybe I can go for her. But I think some other benefits of having a female friend, like a female friend could give you like advice on how to approach a potential mate. She could have an in with she’s like the friend of the girl that you like. And so you can figure out like, well what should I do to get, I don’t know, Jennifer to like me. That that could be useful.

Jaimie Krems: Absolutely. I mean they likely have knowledge that the other sex doesn’t have, including the very specific knowledge that you’re talking about. Does Jennifer like me? Some other folks have talked about that women can potentially be the people that men talk to about their emotional lives. That’s a possibility as well. But folks like Amanda Rose would question whether or not men even want to engage in that kind of emotional talk or benefit from it. Just because we know women want to and seem to benefit from it doesn’t mean that men want to and/or benefit from it. So it’s another place we need to be really careful about telling people what to do with their friendships. Not that you are, but a lot of people try to.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. We’ve been alluding to this throughout the conversation. Sometimes when we approach friendship, even academically, we view the female idea of friendship as the ideal. So it’s like, well friends should disclose things and be really intimate with one another emotionally. So all even men should be like that. And it’s like, well maybe guys don’t want that. Like, what’s going on there? Why do we, why do you think we put female friendship as the ideal of friendship?

Jaimie Krems: I mean, that’s a really great question. I don’t think we always have. Certainly I should say so. Aristotle would talk about friendship and he’d just focused on men ’cause he didn’t really think women could be friends. And other researchers have put forward this idea that well women can’t really be friends with each other ’cause there’s always this underlying competition or envy or hatred. So now we more often see something different that women’s friendships are privileged. We see that in movies, we see that in books. And honestly, part of me wonders if that’s not just because that’s what sells. Women are the ones who are buying books. And so we write about female friendships. When men’s friendships are featured it’s Sam and Frodo or Jean and Finnis. This is a long-winded way of saying, yeah, I wish I had an idea. I really don’t know. And it would be kind of lovely to explore the media landscape of male-male and female-female friendships to show what are people even putting out there and consuming. Maybe that’ll help us figure out what it is that people are trying to say our friendships should be. I don’t think that’ll really answer the question of why do we tell people to be like women’s friendships.

Brett Mckay: Jean and Finnis? That’s from a separate piece.

Jaimie Krems: It is. Yeah.

Brett Mckay: That’s my wife’s favorite book she loves that book.

Jaimie Krems: Really? No Way. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite books as well.

Brett Mckay: Going back to male female friendships. So these are heterosocial friendships. Okay. So men might be friends with women because they’re a potential backup mate or a female friend might help him secure a mate. Why would women want to be friends with men?

Jaimie Krems: So there are a few reasons, and we even see this in some non-human primates. So folks like Franz Dal have written about this. One is for protection. So if I’m worried about the coercion or physical attacks from other men, or I’m a woman, I’m worried about that from men. Having another woman might not necessarily be as effective in protecting me from that male’s physical aggression as another male in my corner. So that’s one reason is that we get some of those benefits. But the same way that you said, well men might want to have women friends because women have access to information that men don’t. The flip side is true as well. Men might have some information about even simply their friend group that the women won’t have in that larger social network.

Brett Mckay: One thing I’ve heard anecdotally why some women like to be friends with dudes is they’re like, well there’s just not the drama. Is there any research about that?

Jaimie Krems: So I would say that there is, but it’s only tangential. So Joyce Benson’s work on that. So a a six month female-female friendship is gonna have more issues and fights and sort of more turbulence than a six month male-male friendship. And part of this is related to the research on how women aggress. So I can roll my eyes at you. I can say, oh, it’s so brave of you to wear that. I can say when I said we’re all going for ice cream, I didn’t mean you Brett [laughter] There are these somewhat more subtle ways of aggressing than punching one another in the face. And women tend to aggress like this aggress in ways that are more subtle and sometimes covert. So when a woman is talking to another woman, it’s almost like there’s a secret language behind the words that we can decode. In fact, I have some work on this with respect to disgust faces, women tend to make disgust faces at other women they don’t want around. Men don’t tend to do this. Women tend to notice, or at least infer that other women’s disgusted faces directed maybe at them, maybe not means that that woman is gonna try and avoid me. And the more worried I am about having friends, the more I think that that woman’s disgust face potentially at me. It makes me sad and unhappy.

Brett Mckay: I wanna talk more about female aggression. We talked about this idea that the female friendship is like the best, it’s the ideal. ’cause it’s close, it’s intimate, you’re being vulnerable and that somehow women are less aggressive. But like the research shows that women are just as aggressive as men. They just do it differently. Talk us more like what does female aggression look like with each other?

Jaimie Krems: So first I should say that we’ve been sadly loose with our language and research about this and given people the idea that women don’t punch, they only gossip, which is not entirely true. And given people the idea that when men aggress they punch, they don’t gossip, which I think we all know isn’t true. So what’s really going on here is that women are way more likely to use tactics of aggression that we’d call indirect aggression, social aggression or relational aggression than they are to use physical aggression. Those tactics of aggression are really characterized by hurting other women where it hurts, which is in their relationships. So yes, there’s the exclusion and the sort of asides that you say it just loud enough to make the other women overhear how much you hate her. But really what indirect aggression is often aimed at doing is harming other women’s relationships or even potentially precluding other women’s ability to form relationships because we say what a horrible friend she is, how selfish she is that she has an STD and you shouldn’t date her.

Brett Mckay: Okay. So the indirect stuff. So it’s basically like, I mean if you’ve seen mean girls, is it like that? Is that, is mean girls?

Jaimie Krems: It really is. Yeah, And it… Think, I haven’t seen that movie in a long time, but there are a lot of instances of aggression among women that many men might not even realize were acts of aggression. And it’s not to say that men don’t do that as well. They certainly do. They certainly gossip. They certainly derogate one another and try and harm one another’s reputations. Women seem to be attuned to avoiding the costs of engaging in competition and aggression toward other women. So they do it in ways that is more likely like implicature, deniable, kind of the same thing when you’re like, Hey, officer, is there a way we can take care of this ticket here? So no one can point out that was a bribe. That was aggression. You’re trying to hurt me. Let’s coordinate and hurt you.

Brett Mckay: What’s going on there? Like what are the theories? Why do men prefer the direct conflict and women prefer the indirect social conflict?

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, so I don’t know that I’d say women, men necessarily prefer direct conflict that they’d rather punch each other than gossip.

Some of our data suggests that if another person pisses a man off, the most likely thing he is to do is nothing. After that, then maybe he’ll avoid the guy or exclude the guy. Punching is pretty low on the list. Granted, that’s in modern America. So everybody’s more likely to do nothing than avoid, unlikely to punch. Women really are much more likely to use indirect aggression than direct aggression though. And the logic, and this is some work by Anne Campbell called Bjorkqvist, is that women are really attuned to avoiding the costs of aggression. So they don’t want to engage or start physical aggression, and they don’t want to engage in aggression that is overt and can end up in retaliation, that would, kind of physical retaliation. In fact, Anne Campbell studied girl gangs and found that, yeah, when there’s physical aggression its among women, it starts because somebody maligned somebody else’s reputation. So why don’t women, or why are women so attuned to avoiding the costs of physical aggression? Again, this is Anne Campbell’s work, but some of the ideas are that women are more expensive, so to speak.

We have these large, expensive gametes. We have a high possibility of having a child if we want to, versus men’s sort of small, cheap gametes, their sperm, and it’s harder for men to find a mate than it is for women to find a mate. So we really don’t wanna ruin our ability to pass on our genes. That’s one idea. And that seems to be the idea that is taken hold the most, is that women are trying to avoid aggression ’cause we’re potentially more fragile, but much more than that, we’re more expensive.

Brett Mckay: Does that change throughout the lifespan? I guess there probably hasn’t been research on that. Does that change when you’re 50, 60, 70 years old?

Jaimie Krems: I mean, it should. If it’s about protecting your reproductive potential, or if you’re a mother, I should have said part of what Anne Campbell also says is that women avoid aggression that could be physical or lead to physical aggression, because as mothers, we’re much more important to the survival of our offspring than fathers are. So if that is the case, and it’s really about protecting our future reproductive potential, or protecting our current young offspring, then we should see more physical aggression among women later in life. I don’t think there’s any evidence that we really ramp it up. So something else must be going on that sort of boosts men’s aggression. Mechanistically, that might even be testosterone. But we really don’t have a good handle on why women aggress the way that they aggress. I think we do now have a very good handle on the fact that women and men aggress differently.

Brett Mckay: Okay, whenever a new friend, like a new person comes into the friend group, and that other person could possibly become the new best friend of your best friend, that can cause a lot of bad feelings like, oh, my gosh, this is a threat. It can cause jealousy. There’s been a lot of research done on romantic jealousy. You’ve done some research on friendship jealousy. Tell us about that research there.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, so friendships are really valuable. They do a lot of important things for us. Robin Dunbar would point out that having friends is the next best thing you could do for your health next to quitting smoking. And so we should be attuned to the concern that we’re gonna lose our friend to somebody else. Yeah, our friends only have so much time in the day. And we want them to spend that time helping us than somebody else. But it’s particularly we want that friend’s support for us over other people, their other friends, particularly for best friends. And so what we find is really simple stuff that people feel jealous when their friends might make new friendships, but not just when their friends sort of that friendship fizzles out or the friend moves away. People are more jealous when their closer friends might be usurped by other people versus their less close friends and acquaintances.

And people are really attuned to cues that their best friends are replacing them with a new friend. So for example, we ask people, how jealous would you be if your best friend started a new romantic relationship versus a new friendship? And if people are only concerned with spending time with their best friend, then they should be more concerned when they form a new romantic relationship ’cause our new romantic partners take up all of our time. But if it’s really about replacement and replacing the function that this person serves for you, and vice versa, they should be more jealous when their friends make new friends. And that’s, in fact, what we see people are more jealous when their friends form new friendships, particularly new same-sex friendships.

Brett Mckay: No, you actually, there’s a, in this study, you started off this paper with a quote from an author named Andrea Lavinthal. And she says this, most girls won’t admit this, but they’d rather you hit on their significant other than their best friend.

Jaimie Krems: Oh, yeah. So I think that’s from a New York Times article when I read that paper back in the day. And it was really hitting home the point that particularly for women, their best friendships might even be longer lasting than many of their romantic relationships, which again, it, I hate using the word problematize, but it problematizes or challenges this idea that female friendships are exclusively short-lived. There might just be a lot of them until we find the friend one. But that does seem to be the case. So when we do find sex differences, we find that females report greater jealousy at losing their best friends and close friends than men do. We also find, and this is a small effect, I don’t know if it’s real, but when men are asked to think about their friends as being on part of a team, and how they’d feel if their friend sort of left their team for another team, they tend to be more jealous there. That increases men’s jealousy, not compared to men, compared to women. Women are just more jealous at losing friends in general, not acquaintances, but friends.

You can amplify men’s jealousy by saying, hey, he’s your teammate and friend, and he’s going to the other team.

Brett Mckay: Yeah, that makes sense. So okay, the idea of men prefer large, loose kind of club networks. Another guy coming in being a friend, even a best friend, that’d be, hey, it’s great, we got another pal we can go fishing with. But if that guy, if your best friend decided, I’m gonna go, I don’t know, join the other team or something, that’s more like you’ve betrayed us. What are you doing? You betrayed the club.

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, it’s exactly that way. And I should say, thinking about jealousy or friendship jealousy this way is totally different than how most people have thought about it so far in developmental psych or other more traditional areas of psychology or sociology. Some work suggests that feeling jealousy at all is a symptom of internalizing Western capitalistic ideals where you see people as things, and that’s moronic. Other work seems to suggest that, yeah, okay, young people feel jealous when their friends make new friends, but if they’re normally developing, they grow out of that because no one friend can fulfill all our needs.

So if you do feel jealousy in adulthood, when your friends make other friends, you’ve developed abnormally. And still other work seems to suggest you just don’t understand friendship, or there’s something wrong with you, personal deficits, you must have low self esteem if you’re jealous when your friends make new friends. Our functional and evolutionary look at it is just this emotion is beneficial. And on average, people that felt jealousy when their friends made new close friends, and acted accordingly in sort of positive ways to maintain their friendship, probably did better than people that didn’t feel that jealousy at all.

Brett Mckay: Okay, so if you started feeling friendship jealousy, you start doing, hey, I wanna invite you, let’s go out, let’s go do something like you try to be more proactive to nurture that friendship?

Jaimie Krems: Yeah, we created a list of sort of 44 items that we call friend guarding behavior. So everything from punching the interloper to being really vigilant, maybe you sort of stalk your existing friend on social media and see if they’re hanging out with this other person.

But in between, there are these behaviors that are probably more characteristic of adults, like saying, hey, I’m really close to you, let’s make sure we spend some time together and invest in this friendship. That can be a way that people guard their friendships and their friends against affection.

Brett Mckay: But then this could go like, malad… Not maladive, like maybe antisocial, not pro social, it’s like, well, you start telling your best friend, I’ve heard this about her gossiping and starting rumors and things like that, it could go that way, too.

Jaimie Krems: So I mean, in that sense, that kind of gossip or exclusion is antisocial or aggressive toward the person that you’re negatively gossiping about or excluding. It might still be an effective form of friend guarding, though.

Brett Mckay: Yeah. Okay. And to recap, women feel more friendship jealousy than men do, on average?

Jaimie Krems: They do. The one exception, and again, this is a small effect, is that men tended to be comparatively more jealous when their acquaintances made new acquaintances.

Brett Mckay: Wait, what’s going on there?

Jaimie Krems: So I mean, it could just be again, about the numbers. So men are using their networks to benefit them in ways that women aren’t necessarily. And so the loss of a network member for a man might be more costly than an acquaintance network member is to a woman.

Brett Mckay: Well, Jamie, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?

Jaimie Krems: So they can visit my lab website, the Social Minds Lab at UCLA. I’m Jaimie Krems on Twitter. And very soon, they will be able to hear about some of our research or maybe even see some public-facing talks at the UCLA Center for Friendship Research if they’re in the LA area.

Brett Mckay: Fantastic. Well, Jaimie Krems, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Jaimie Krems: Thank you so much. This was great.

Brett Mckay: My guest today was Dr. Jaimie Krems. You can find more information about our work at our website, Also, check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic. Well, that wraps up another edition of the AoM Podcast. Make sure to check out our website at, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you think of. And if you haven’t done this already, I’d appreciate it if you’d take one minute to give us a read on the podcast or Spotify. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. And until next time, I’m Brett McKay reminding you to listen to the AoM Podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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