Friendship building is one of the core skills of life. Yet, ironically, it is often one of the least taught.
A Series of Articles on Friendship
This week, I'm pleased to launch a new series designed to energize readers' social lives. Are you a lifelong recluse who sneers at even the thought of cocktail parties? Or a full-fledged socialite who can work a room with your eyes closed? Tune in for a wide range of insights that will fit the style of friendship that works best for you.
Introducing the Experts
As I conduct research for my upcoming book on friendship, I'm frequently taken aback by the brilliant work of many great thinkers who have gone before me. Starting this week, I'm pleased to pay tribute to them and their writings in this series.
Beginning today, I will be interviewing one expert here each week. These thinkers come to you from many fields--from sociology to psychology to neuroscience. And they speak from rich and diverse backgrounds as therapists, researchers, professors, and more.
If you know you're a "people lover" or if you desperately want to grow your circle of friends, feel free to bookmark this page or follow me on Twitter so you can follow the series as it develops. I believe it will be well worth your effort. My hope is to present the best thinking on friendship from some of the country's leading experts on the subject.
Meet Dr.Geoffrey Gref
Dr. Greif is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. He holds an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania, a PhD from the Columbia University School of Social Work, and is the author of more than 125 journal articles and twelve books. In recent years, Dr. Greif published Buddy System: Understanding male friendships and Two Plus Two: Couples and their couple friendships (with Dr. Katherine Holtz Deal). His newest book (co-authored with Dr. Michael Woolley), Adult Sibling Relationships, released in 2016.
Sarah: When I look at the titles that have been written about friendship, the great majority focus on female friendships. Why do you think that is?
Dr.Greif: People believe that women's friendships, with their greater emotional and physical expressiveness, are more inherently interesting. Also, of course, women are more likely to buy books that deal with feelings than are men.
Sarah: So books are written, in part, with the buyer in mind. That's a good point. Tell us more about how you came to this subject. Why were you drawn to write Buddy System, for example? Or to study adult friendship in general?
Dr.Greif: I have studied fathering and men's roles, and the intersection of the two, for a good part of my career. My dissertation in 1983 was the largest study of fathers raising children alone after divorce. I subsequently wrote two book on fathers with custody and one on mothers without custody. After studying a variety of other topics, I returned to men's issues and looked at the connections that men form with each other. I also had a comparison sample with women and their friendships which allowed me to draw some interesting comparisons.
Sarah: Interesting! You've interviewed a lot of men about this and other subjects then. What were some of your findings about what makes friendship between men work?
Dr.Greif: Men's friendships tend to include shoulder-to-shoulder interactions. Men get together and do things with each other, often around sports. Friendships work when men feel they can trust each other, that they are loyal to each other, and that the other guy has your back. Sarah: I often hear women talking about how much they value their friends, but some men--on the other hand--don't seem to believe they need friends. Do you think friendship is important for a person's well being or can we skate by alone and still be healthy?
Dr.Greif: All the data from large panel studies show that people with social networks do better. People with friendships have longer, happier, and healthier lives. This is not to say that some people, male and female, aren't happier without friends. It is important to not fit everyone into the same box and to understand that we are not all constructed the same way.
Sarah: I can see why it would be important to treat each person's social needs individually. Let's get a little more specific. If a man in their thirties came to you, and admitted they were struggling to form lasting friendships, what are some of the key pieces of advice you might give them?
Dr.Grief: Understand that finding someone with similar interests is important, that reaching out to others is important, that getting involved in activities and not staying home is important, and that to make friends, you have to gauge how much to share with them when you first meet them and subsequently. Some men feel comfortable with a great deal of openness and others are a bit more circumspect.
Sarah: What can men learn from women's friendship? What can women learn from men's friendships?
Dr.Greif: In Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, some women told me they don't like the drama in women's relationships. They like how men are more direct and can also let things go. Some men told me they wished they had more emotionally and physically expressive relationships like women have.
Special thanks to Dr.Grief for taking the time to share his insights with Huffington Post readers this week. Check back next week for another installment in the Making Friends series.
Read the next post in this series on friendship here. Or check out Truth or Dare: The Podcast That Boosts Your Social Health.