Usually, as you get older, wiser, a little more measured in your opinions and responses, you get better at – things – you know – things like relationships, for example.
But it turns out that this isn’t necessarily the case.
It also turns out that there is a difference between how men and women establish relationships and how well they manage them. Although the approaches differ considerably, there is no doubting the value of developing appropriate and effective relationships at work and in your personal life.
Who does them better, men or women, and does it matter? Who is better at a work relationship and who is better at personal relationships? Everyone is different of course, but it is fair to say that men are better at relationships when they’re younger than when they’re older. With only their creaky and aching bones to keep them company, men remember a life once lived with great enthusiasm and passion on the battlefield of youth, while women sustain, renew and develop deep intimate relationships into their twilight years.
I started to really ruminate on this subject after reading an article in The Age titled ‘Why can’t we be friends?’ and it really struck a chord with me. The article centred on a link between loneliness and longevity. It went on to suggest that men “suck” at relationships and as a result, many find themselves very lonely later on.
“A single good friend can make as much as a 10-year difference in life expectancy. I first heard about the male deficit model, the sociological theory that men are lousy at friendship, a few months after my friend Matt moved to Seattle.
The male deficit model holds that men tend to drift apart whenever the activity they share ends. Matt and I, for instance, spent hours and hours surfing together in San Francisco. But then I became a father and no longer had much time to spend in the water, and we began to see less of each other.”[i]
Imagine dying of loneliness
Check out these scary numbers from psychology today that suggest loneliness can have as much as a 14 percent impact on the length of your tenure here on planet earth.
1. “Loneliness increases chances of premature death among older adults by 14 percent.
2. Loneliness has twice the impact on premature death as obesity does.
3. Loneliness is nearly as strong a cause of premature death among older adults as having low socioeconomic status (which increases chances of premature death by 19 percent).” Psychology Today
Every year I get a little older and it becomes more challenging to manage my weight, and now I find out I might as well have a huge feed and enjoy it because you might as well have a full stomach when you die lonely.
Girls versus boys
It turns out there is a significant difference in the nature of friendships that men have, versus women. I guess that’s no surprise. When I compare the way my daughters relate to each other to how I did and still do with my brothers, there is little to suggest much similarity. The girls love to sit and talk for hours about friends and how they are each doing. If I want to know how one of my daughters is, I can discreetly check in with the other and I will almost always get a very accurate reflection of their emotional state. But boys, wow, different story all together.
Boys connect through the media of an activity
I count myself as pretty lucky. A few years ago, my intuitive wife decided I needed to join a golf club and get out of the house, meet some mates. Was she pre-empting my inevitable slide into the dimmer days of reminiscing without doing? So with an arm twisted firmly behind my back, I took the plunge, signed up, and five years later I am still returning enthusiastically each week to torture my self-esteem.
When we were young, my brothers and I would play tag-team wrestling where we tried to strangle each other to death (while smiling and laughing), or kick a football, which usually ended in a tackle and a wrestle on the ground. If someone had asked how the other one was feeling the answer would have undoubtedly been, “Who cares?” Having said that, we were very close and we did care, but you wouldn’t discuss that – you didn’t need to.
As I was writing this article a good friend called me with a list of no less than five activities to discuss. Four of the five related to sport – watching it, doing it and attending an evening where celebrities talked about it. So of course I signed up for the full season’s activities. A day later we were watching his son play rugby at school and having a chat. There, as if to affirm my understanding of how boys relate, I was amused to watch two boys who had finished playing, still rolling on the ground wrestling, strangling each other and smiling.
Why does it all go so wrong?
Well it’s not that complex. For a lot of men, their activities as they are growing up and forming relationships are very physical and time-consuming. In my late teens and early 20’s, football and basketball got me out with my mates four times a week minimum. These are all day, all evening activities, very suitable for the single gent. Now it’s golf that takes up to two-thirds of a primetime weekend day.
As you move out of your teenage years and early 20’s, things change. You’re committed to work, to a mortgage and most importantly to your partner and possibly children. Maybe you move cities or even countries. The wrestling stops. The nature of relationships change.
The world is changing. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good thing and long overdue, but every change has impacts. In Australia at least, there are societal expectations on men in relation to their commitment to and involvement in family. These are quite different to the expectations when my grandfather or even my father was a young dad. I am certainly not suggesting it’s right for men to step back from their families again, but I think back then men had more opportunities to maintain man-to-man relationships. These relationships are still important. It is a matter now of understanding how to make them work in a changed world and respecting their importance.
But what about the Girls, you say – well you tell me
I make no apology for not equally considering the parallel and complex challenges that women face as they battle with diminishing circles of relationships as they grow older, and as life and focus changes. But I am a man, so I am sticking to my turf on this one, where I may have some authority. That said, are women actually better at relationships? The (not entirely unpleasant) burden of parenthood tends to land mostly in the mother’s hands, and when this happens, maintaining and growing relationships with friends can be overshadowed by family, the busiest job of all. But given the nature and logistics of their relationships, are they more able to ease into new relationships and rekindle life-long relationships later in life when the challenges of the family subside?
For the better or the worse
Both men and women need to work on relationships with friends of the same-sex. It is important not to underestimate how important these relationships are for yourself or your partner, or for your friends. We all need to appreciate the value in these relationships, to make an effort and to support and encourage each other.
[i] The Age newspaper Extra section on August 4th titled ‘Why can’t we be friends’
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Men versus women. Who’s better at relationships, and what does this mean? Lonely old men? http://t.co/uAslHO53vt
— Peter McKelvie (@PeterMcKelvie) May 27, 2014