It doesn't surprise me that all the women I know are crazy about the new TNT series, Men of A Certain Age (Mondays 10PM/9c). This groundbreaking dramedy explores the bonds of late-middle-age male friendships as portrayed by three talented amigos: Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher. What women love most about this show is that we finally get a glimpse of male friendships that resemble our own!
Joe (Romano) is the neurotic, recently separated, owner of a party story who is living in a hotel after having left his wife and two kids. Terry (Bakula) is a free wheeling spirit, an aging actor and yoga instructor, who has seemingly mastered the single life--for better and for worse. Owen (Braugher) is a stressed, overweight, and underpaid family man with diabetes who works in a car dealership owned by his despot father. Defying the stereotypes of male friendships, these men have figured out a way to maintain a tight threesome since their college days that continues to enrich each of their lives.
Conventional wisdom has it that male and female friendships are distinctly different; this truism is based on the convergence of decades of anthropological, psychological and sociological research. While there are some notable exceptions, overall, women are more likely than men to surround themselves with "best friends" with whom they can share their lives and feelings. Men, on the other hand, have fewer close friends; they are more likely to hang out with large groups of acquaintances or to become social isolates or appendages to women.
Women are happy just BEING together, having time to talk and share feelings. Men enjoy DOING things together--whether it's playing golf, watching a baseball game, or taking a hike. For this reason, female friendships have typically been described as face-to-face while their male counterparts have been characterized as side-to-side. Such distinctions based on gender are deeply ingrained and may even be genetic. A study of infants found that baby girls are far more likely to pay attention to facial expressions than are baby boys, suggesting that females may be more in tune with feelings and emotions from birth. As youngsters, boys tend to play in groups while women prefer best friend relationships.
Which brings us back to the show: The protagonists are three 40-something men who have maintained a remarkable friendship despite their lives veering off in different directions. Much of the dialogue takes place across the table in a local diner where they banter over coffee about the challenges they are facing in adjusting to change. They do it in a way that is both highly intelligent and highly relatable.
What is it about the bonds of these Men of A Certain Age that resonates with women?
1) While their personalities and life situations are different from one other, the men haven't lost sight that their friendship is based on their shared history (which counts for a lot), and the commonalities and core values they share as men and as human beings.
2) Even though there are signs of a technological revolution all around them, these men recognize the importance of "face time." They regularly get together for meals so they can talk and remain current with each other's lives. When Joe observes his teenage children texting, it's clear that cell phones and the Internet are still a bit of an anathema to him.
3) Just like women who freely talk about their bodies, internal secretions, and itchy parts, the "boys" are comfortable sharing uncomfortable intimacies with one another. In the last episode, Joe talked candidly about his insecurities in making love with another woman for the first time after being separated from his wife.
4) The men have come to realize that neither they, as individuals, nor their friendships are perfect. Each man has his peccadilloes. For example, Joe has a gambling habit that's caused him a lot of problems. While his buddies are aware of it and occasionally remind him that he needs to get it under control, they accept him as he is without judging him too harshly.
5) Even with the confines of a show that lasts but one hour each week (wish it were more), the men always have time to laugh. Despite economic pressures, periodic lapses in self-confidence, problems achieving balance between work and life, and coping with a stable of unstable relationships, they make time to kick back and enjoy themselves.
Whether you're male or female, of a certain age or not, you'll find yourself laughing with or cringing at their antics, recognizing once again the vital importance of friendship and wishing there were more characters like these guys.
Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.