Sex & Relationships

Be a better buddy

Five things women can learn from men's friendships

When it comes to friendships, women love to scrutinize, analyse and empathize. Boys, on the other hand, just want to have fun. Find out how we can learn from their buddy system.

Guy lesson #1: Laughter is the best medicine – administer frequent doses

Walk by any lion’s den and chances are you won’t hear growling but the roar of male laughter. Men have co-opted humour and turned it into a language as perplexing as baseball signals. We may tell a joke just because it’s funny, but men use the phrase “two chickens walk into a bar” to communicate messages such as “I’m mad at you” or “Will you be my friend?”

“Men usually say what they feel to one another in a joking manner,” says Larry, a fire ranger. “We don’t let things get to a point where we’re ‘disappointed’ in a friend – that’s more of a girl thing.”

Dave, an actor and comedian, says guys use humour to defuse potential time bombs: “We have this way of ‘cutting’ each other that gets out whatever tension we have in the relationship without actually saying anything painful.”

Humour can be used to navigate other rough waters as well. “Guys are more likely to ease the week’s stress by blowing off steam with their compadres than confronting issues head-on as women tend to do,” says Marty, a security guard. But lest all this insightful talk tricks us into thinking they’re any deeper than a Mr. Turtle pool, the fellas do admit that sometimes the banter is really just about fun. “I still like having my finger pulled and making a fart,” says Chris, a teacher and father of two.

Guy lesson #2: Limit competition to an even playing field

As we get older, our friends become the mirrors in which we see how far we’ve come and where we’re going. While these reflections can help measure success (“We survived childbirth!”), they may also remind us of shortcomings (“She lost her baby weight and I didn’t!”). It’s when we allow these comparisons to turn into rivalries that things can get ugly.

“Women take their competitions with other women much too seriously,” says Larry. “We are competitive but in a much friendlier way.”

While anyone who’s watched men on the golf course might pooh-pooh that idea, guys are more generous with each other than you’d think, especially when it comes to their looks. “There’s a point where every guy gets a paunch or a receding hairline – both of which are greeted with joviality by the rest of the guys,” says Marty. “I’ve got the paunch and I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun earning it, I tell ya!”

So, how is it that guys can keep perspective, especially when they’re competitive by nature? The key, it seems, is to separate the particular player from the game. “Guys will compete with anybody and it doesn’t affect their friendships,” says Dave. “What happens on the ice stays on the ice.”

Guy lesson #3: Friendships are vacations, not guilt trips with emotional baggage

Sometimes friendships can seem like dating, especially when one person becomes as neurotic as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and starts boiling rabbits on the stove. What’s worse is when you’re the one doing the boiling.

I recently suffered from “Unreturned Message Syndrome” after trying to contact a pal by e-mail and telephone. When she didn’t get back to me right away, I wasn’t worried. But as days turned into weeks, I began to take things personally. Had I done or said something to offend her? I replayed our previous conversations in my head with the diligence of a crime-scene investigator, analysing every word for clues as to why she now hated me. Eventually, she called and apologized, saying that she’d been busy. At first I felt relieved, then stupid for assuming the worst. When I shared my woeful tale with our panel of guys, they couldn’t understand why I overreacted. “Men would not worry about it, assume their friend has a good reason and spend that valuable energy preparing for the upcoming baseball pool,” says Greg.

“In a situation like this it’s more male nature to think ‘What’s his problem?’ than ‘What did I do?'” says David, a stay-at-home dad and writer. “When we do get together we go back to the same stuff we did before pretty quickly. I’m sure that’s the same for women, but they worry more about the initial reconnection.”

Guy lesson #4: Save the therapy for the professionals

There’s an episode of Sex and the City in which Carrie’s companions, tired of hearing her dating woes, accuse her of manipulating their girl time into free counselling sessions. Dr. Catherine Gildiner, Chatelaine’s Ask a psychologist columnist, says unloading is a consequence of putting too many expectations on a friendship: “There’s a big difference between advice and therapy, and sometimes people miss that.” It’s a fine line that women risk tripping over while guys are willing to draw it in the sand.

“I like to hear about my friends’ accomplishments, to share their joy,” says Larry. “And I will be there if they need me, but not for every little problem that pops up.”

In times of crisis, men trust their friends will be there for them. Until then, they’d rather run with the pack than be the boy who cries wolf. “I can be miserable on my own,” says Greg. “Why not enjoy the time spent with friends?”

Guy lesson #5: Make like Simon & Garfunkel and embrace the sound of silence

If you want to know what really separates the women from the boys, it’s intimacy. According to Dr. Gildiner, “Men usually meet over something that needs to be done, such as fishing or hockey.” While beer steins, locker rooms and anything with a motor may distract guys from talking about issues, the benefit is they’re content to just let things happen naturally. “We can actually get together and not say a whole lot,” says Doug, a research assistant. “It’s not the same for women. With guys, hanging out is almost the equivalent of being with yourself – you don’t have to be polite and you really don’t have to say anything interesting.”

For many of us gals, a lull in conversation is as comfortable as an ill-fitting girdle. “Men can spend hours together without even speaking whereas women feel silence is a void that has to be filled,” says Larry. “As a result, gossip is just an unfortunate way of filling that void.”

Dr. Gildiner says that when we fill a pause with “The Tale of Marjorie and the FedEx Guy,” we may actually be saying something about ourselves. “Men have active testosterone, so if they want to be angry they play or watch violent sports. Women have less testosterone but just as much anger, so their anger takes a more verbal form: gossip.”

Not that it’s always vicious, or that men are totally immune to a rumour’s power. Dr. Gildiner says men use the rumour mill to pass on information rather than delighting in another’s misfortunes. “Women’s gossip is far more wide-reaching,” she says.

Wistful thinking

While our male subjects had no problem coming up with a laundry list of dirt on us, they did air a few female-friendly wishes of their own:

· Shop talk “My biggest envy is that women can get together under any pretense. If I have to go shopping for clothes and want some company, it can be difficult to ask a guy friend to join me… shopping is a ‘girl’ activity, it tends to be a little uncomfortable.” – David
· Close encounters “I admire the openness of women, the way they show the world their closeness. Can you imagine straight men showing this kind of affection? It’s hard enough for us to express our closeness with members of the opposite sex.” – Larry
· Jock support “Women will never tell a friend that they did something stupid. Sympathy comes first, then analysis. But guys are the first to laugh and point when their friends do something dumb: ‘Well, we told you, moron!’ And if guys break a limb in sports, we’ll help them to the hospital…but we’ll be laughing at them the whole time: ‘Nice play, Gretzky!'” – Dave
· Sound investments “There’s a reason why a married man’s life expectancy is greater than that of a single man. He learns through his partner what women have instinctively known forever – it’s good to share your troubles. An added bonus of marriage is that a man also learns that beer and Doritos are not a great way to kick-start the day.” – Marty