According to Niobe Way, male friendships are in as state of crisis, and the problem can't be solved simply by dudes watching sports together and declaring they're in a "bromance." As it turns out, mimicking what you see in a beer commercial is not enough.
Way is a New York University professor and an expert in the psychology of adolescent boys. There's plenty that needs decyphering when it comes to teenage guys, and in a new book Way says that one of the biggest things they're hiding under their surly demeanor is a desire for intimate relationships with other boys.
The New York Times reports that Way's book Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis Of Connection is already mandatory reading at several private schools. In it Way says that while boys are often viewed as unemotional loners, they actually need close friendships as badly as girls do. After conducting interviews with boys from the U.S. and China for two decades, she found that in early adolescence, they would often express that they valued having a best friend they could talk about their feelings with, not just a guy they occasionally exchange grunts with while playing Wii. Yet, when the boys got older they reported fewer intense friendships and seemed worried about being seen as girly or gay for having feelings for another guy.
Way says the fear of teen boys being viewed as effeminate is pervasive, and possibly risky. When American boys are about 15 and 16, their suicide rate is four times higher than that of girls. While losing a best friend is devestating for girls, they can at least acknowledge the pain of the friend "break up." Boys feel extremely vulnerable when they're betrayed by a friend, but they often have no one to talk to and no way to even process what they're going through. Way says:
"This is not some academic read I'm doing. The boys are aware of the power of their relationships. They are overtly saying, ‘I want him, I need him, I miss him - no homo!' And then they grow up and become depressed. Parents reinforce those stereotypes. They'll tell me, ‘My son is supersensitive but he plays sports!'"
Way's pronosis is extremely depressing. It's sick that our culture is so deeply homophobic that boys can't even admit they have strong platonic feelings for another guy without worrying that people with think they're in love (which of course, is totally unacceptable). Way makes boys' teenage years sound pretty lonely, and without close friendships, those kids grow up to be be emotionally stunted men who will never know the joy of showing up late to a dude's wedding and declaring that you love him.
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