>Women's friendships have a different flavor to those of men both quantitatively and qualitatively. From childhood on, girls prefer to have one or two intimate friends while boys play in larger groups (Rose & Rudolph, 2006). This is not to say that boys never engage in two-person interactions. In one study, boys and girls spent about equal amounts of time in dyadic interactions but for girls these exchanges occurred with a fewer range of people and were more extended in time. Boys moved from one partner to the next, spending less time with each of them (Beneson, Apostoleris, & Parnass, 1997). In a study of young people at summer camp, researchers examined network density: the proportion of a child's friends who were friends with each other (Parker & Seal, 1996). Boys and girls began with the same network density but by the end, boys' network densities were considerably larger than those of girls. Over time, boys' circles of friends expanded leading to greater interconnection while the girls' networks became increasingly restricted. Girls' friendships are more exclusive and more intense.
A key part of the intensity of female friendships is their intimacy. As one teenage girl put it "girls can talk to each other, boys keep things into themselves, they don't tell no one nothing" (Brown, 1998). For women intimacy means self-disclosure - confiding private details and experiences to another person. Self-disclosure can be broken down further, however, into descriptive self-disclosure (in which we share facts about our lives) and evaluative self-disclosure (in which we reveal the emotional impact that these experiences have had on us). Men's friendships seem to include a comparable degree of descriptive disclosure but less evaluative disclosure than women's (Cross & Madson, 1997). Men are especially reluctant to disclose negative emotional experiences such as depression, sadness, anxiety, and fear, whereas discussion of these vulnerabilities is the mainstay of close female friendships. This sex difference does not seem to be linked to different motivations - men express just as much interest and desire to have close relationships as women do. But studies of their actual patterns of self-disclosure suggest that they reserve it for women rather than sharing it with men (Dindia & Allen, 1992). In men's friendships, intimacy revolves around experiences that are relevant to their shared interests. They discuss public-domain issues that they have in common such as sport, business, and government. Men believe that these common interests and activities are the most important factor in their friendships. Women are more likely to talk about personal topics such as feelings, relationships, and problems (Bischoping, 1993; Caldwell & Peplau, 1982).
When things go wrong, girls and women turn to their friends for emotional empathy and advice. Women provide a sympathetic ear and are more focused on supportive listening than on problem solving. Men react to stressors by distracting themselves or putting the problem out of their mind: " A problem shared is a problem doubled" seems to typify their view. To men, unburdening to a friend not only advertises an inability to solve their own problems but entails divulging errors of judgment - weaknesses that gave rise to the problem in the first place. But women's reliance on female friends carries its own hazards. When faced with a problem, women find it hard to resist co-rumination; they re-run and re-analyze the stressful incident from every possible angle, entertaining different solutions and different possible futures. The tendency to dwell on negative incidents contributes to women's higher rates of depression (Hankin, Stone, & Wright, 2010; Rose, 2002).
Because time and energy are finite, all of us face a necessary trade-off between the size of our friendship group and the intensity of each friendship (Geary, 2010). But women and men have solved it in different ways. Women have opted for intensity and men for size. When asked to make direct choice between their preference for a larger number of friends or a higher intimacy with each of them (defined as emotional support and willingness to help solve personal problems), men go for number significantly more than women (Vigil, 2007). Men report having more friends than women, while women invest more time in their fewer friendships; they spent longer than men talking to their best friends, specifically about personal feelings and relationships. Make no mistake: men need and value friends. The proccupation with dominance ... does not mean that men are social isolates (Baumeister & Sommer, 1997). Nor is there anything second-rate about male friendships: boys and men report just as much satisfaction with their relationships as women (Lempers & Clark-Lempers, 1993; Parker & Asher, 1993). But they reflect a different set of priorities.
A mind of her own
Anne Campbell; 2013