Niobe Way


On her book Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis of Connection

Cover Interview of June 28, 2011

The wide angle

Why have we, as a culture, ignored the intimacy in boys’ friendships for so long, despite the fact that research has revealed such intimacy among boys over the past century?

And why do boys lose their friendships as they grow older?

The reason appears to be that patterns and expressions of intimacy among boys are considered by our culture as girlish and gay.  In other words, to admit that boys have or want emotionally intimate male friendships, or to reveal their emotional sensitivity, is to implicitly accuse them of being gay.

Rather than questioning why emotional sensitivity and emotionally intimate friendships are given, in our culture, sex (female) and sexuality (gay) connotations, we simply ignore boys’ friendships and the ways in which they do not fit our gender stereotypes.

And that appears to be the reason why boys lose their close friendships during late adolescence: cultural pressures to becoming men are intensified during this period of growth.

In American culture, becoming a man is linked with being emotionally stoic, autonomous, and physically tough.  If boys do not follow these dictates of manhood, they are perceived as gay or girlish.  Boys, particularly those who are heterosexual, don’t want to be perceived in such ways.

These changes also occur because boys, like girls, increasingly buy into the cultural belief that having a romantic partner makes you mature and happy and that romantic relationships are more important than friendships.  They begin to believe, like many adults, that friendships should be sacrificed for the sake of romantic relationships.

Yet this belief system is relatively new.  In the 19th century United States, couples took their best friends on their honeymoons.  We now live in a culture where that would never happen.  Today friendships are considered competition in a romantic partnership—not what may foster intimacy and the health and wellbeing of those involved in the friendships.