By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
Friendships aren’t just about those you sit with on the school bus or play alongside on your childhood baseball team — they are a core component of the human experience, experts say.
But making and retaining deep, meaningful friendships as an adult is hard, especially for men, according to research.
Less than half of men report being satisfied with their friendships, and only about 1 in 5 said they had received emotional support from a friend in the last week, compared with 4 in 10 women, according to a 2021 survey from the Survey Center on American Life.
The falling off of friendships between men begins around middle and late adolescence and grows starker in adulthood, said Judy Yi-Chung Chu, who teaches a class on boys’ psychological development at Stanford University. And those who do maintain friendships with other men say they tend to have lower levels of emotional intimacy than women report.
“Boys don’t start emotionally disconnected; they become emotionally disconnected,” said Dr. Niobe Way, a researcher and a professor of applied psychology at New York University.
All humans have the innate capacity and desire for close, emotionally intimate connections with others. We need these relationships for survival as babies and then to thrive as we get older, Chu said.
Research has shown close friendships protect our mental and physical health, she added. And men who prioritize those relationships are fighting off one of the most harmful things to human health — loneliness, said Dr. Frank Sileo, a psychologist based in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
“What (men) are at risk of losing is this sense of not being alone in the world or not being alone in their experience,” Sileo said. Research has shown “disclosure of emotional distress improved (men’s) emotional well-being, increased feelings of being understood and resulted in less reported loneliness,” he added.
Just as many men strive to eat right, exercise, succeed in their careers and raise children, men should prioritize developing friendships as adults, he said.