Can Men Really be Friends?
Warren Rosenberg’s essay in the last WM, we
asked you tell us about the friendships you developed
at Wabash and later. We also asked you to rank how
much you value specific traits of those friendships.
ranked trust as most important—it was ranked
first or second on almost all the responses we received.
Shared activity was the least valued, contradicting
most research published on male friendships.
Averaged out, you
placed the traits in the following order:
2. Appreciation and emotional support
3. Deepening self-awareness
4. Sense of humor
5. Assistance in time of need
7. Shared activity
Several readers elaborated
on their friendships, and the following are excerpts
from their comments:
McDANIEL '74 DALLAS,
The man I still consider
my best friend is my “potty partner”
from Morris Hall. We have stayed in touch for
the 30 years since we lived together, even though
during that time we have never lived closer
than 250 miles, and have probably spent less
than three weeks total time together since graduation.
We may not actually talk
for a year or two, but when we do, we are still
connected. Each of us knows the other would
go to the mat for him. Each of us has sorrowed
for the loss of the other’s mom, feeling
like we’d lost someone of our own. I imagine
the fact that we nearly died together at the
start of our junior year, and our families got
to know each other during that time, created
a stronger bond than might have otherwise happened.
Friendships since getting
married are a different ballgame. It’s
tough to get as close, because the wife has
to like them too, and we both have to get along
with each other’s spouses, etc. This spousal
factor is one reason I think the all-male environment
at Wabash fosters male friendships…at
co-ed schools there are many male-female relationships
in play that not only take time away from male
bonding, but also introduce this “spousal
factor” to some degree. If your girlfriend
doesn’t like your friends, you end up
having to choose between them.
C. DEKAU '95 AUSTIN,
The article written by Professor
Rosenberg hit the nail on the head—I think
that the male relationships that I forged at
Wabash are superior to any others that I have
developed during my business ventures and relationships
in the adult world.
I currently have 13 different
Wabash men in my cell phone that I contact on
a monthly basis. I have three pledge brothers
that I talk to weekly, and one that I talk to
two to three times a day. I live in Texas and
he lives in Indy.
I should also mention that,
when I first arrived at Wabash, I was so homesick
after two weeks that I left and went home for
10 days with the thought of never coming back!
I ended up coming back and
I fell in love with the school. I was by no
means a stellar student, but what I learned
from my friends and class members was trust,
and how to keep an open mind.
I think the friendships I
forged in all male environment were superior
to those of my friends at co-ed schools. Wabash
is a place where you can walk across the mall
after being awake for all of five minutes, looking
like what the cat just drug in, without worrying
about what you smell or look like. I took advantage
of that on numerous occasions! We went to school
to learn from the best professors in the world,
not to impress the co-eds. We were free to learn
as we were, to be ourselves.
I have made friendships outside
of Wabash, but I never seem as close with those
people. I think once you are part of a Monon
Bell and Chapel Sing, you realize that Wabash
is a place like none other, and you carry those
memories for a lifetime.
WITHOUT REGRET BURT
CARLSON '59 WASHINGTON,
The two closest friends I
had at Wabash, Al and George, have remained
my friends for life. After Wabash, two of us
went on to Yale Divinity School together. One
of us went to Harvard Divinity School. I was
best man at both their weddings.
Al suffered a neural disease
some thirty years ago that first physically
disabled him, then left him unable to recognize
who I was. He lived in Wilmington, DE, and I
drove up to see him from time to time, even
after he was unable to communicate and didn't
know who I was. I still felt some kind of connection
I kept George informed of
Al's condition, including his death. Though
George lives in Wisconsin, we still keep in
touch. We talk on the phone occasionally and
exchange letters once or twice a year. We've
both been through divorces and remarriages,
second families, changes of profession, moves
to new locations, etc. He is my oldest male
friend. And, yes, we have indeed shared memories,
thoughts, and feelings.
I have not had trouble either
sustaining old friendships or making new ones.
The number is, however, limited. No more than
20. The peculiar thing I find is how friends
and I who don't see each other for years seem
to immediately pick up from last time we talked
or saw each other. There is an openness and
an acceptance. I never feel the need to explain
or justify or account for myself. We can disagree
I would add that most of
the new friendships I have made and treasure
developed during extended periods of shared
activity or stress when trust and mutual respect
were the most important qualities.
All the friends I have kept
are individuals with whom I share a deep level
of trust and respect. That never seems to change.
A "GUY" THING MIKE
GERMAN '74 SAN
At Wabash, I formed the strongest
and most enduring friendships of my life, which
continue to this day, unmatched by any friendship
- or relationship - I've had with any gay man
to date. Friendships since—and with the
strength of —those formed at Wabash have
not been as easy to form, perhaps because I
judge potential friendships since my years at
the College against those I formed there, a
tough act to follow. Sometimes I think I was
spoiled as a gay man by my years at Wabash,
but I could have done worse!
I've found that the closeness
of the friendships among fraternity brothers
at Wabash is matched at only a few other schools'
fraternities. Wabash's all-male environment
affected these friendships because the comfort
most of us might have found in women was simply
unavailable. And for those of us who were just
starting to realize that we were gay, the society
of that time and place did not allow, among
people I respected and admired at least, for
any exploration of those feelings.
I'm not surprised that feminist
psychologist Susan Basow would denegrate male/male
friendships as "less intimate and more
activity-based than female same-sex friendships."
The entire premise of feminism, as put into
practice if not admitted in theory, is that
women and their views are somehow superior to
men. Its advocates' apologies aside, feminism
is ultimately nothing more than just another
divisive "ism," which retards, not
advances, social progress and equality for all.
So it's remarkably refreshing
how Wabash student researchers Tony Unfried
and Sean Hayes ("Does Wabash's All-Male
Environment Enhance Friendships," WM Fall/Winter
'03) turned such claptrap on its head and hoisted
it by its own petard. Not content to stop with
deconstructing the basis for "the vast
majority of studies over the past 30 years"
by exposing them as "studied according
to feminine scales not geared toward masculine
ideas of friendship or intimacy," the two
go on to demonstrate that by using terms men
can understand, we fellows can be just as friendly
or intimate as our female counterparts. Indeed,
it appears after all these 30 years that it
was the women, or at least the more vocal of
them, who weren't talking our language, not
For all her learning, then,
Dr. Basow simply got it wrong. For a member
of the sex which is unceasingly cast as "better
listeners," she simply wasn't hearing what
men were saying—albeit to themselves—all
along. But maybe she was destined never to understand.
After all, closeness among men, whether described
as intimacy or friendship, is "a guy thing."
And thank God for it!
ARNOLD '52 DILLON,
I agree that male-male friendships
can be as close as male-female friendships,
but I reject what seems to be your premise—that
the development of such a male-male closeness
needs, or is even augmented, by an all-male
seems stridently outdated to me. I’m unconvinced
that a uni-sex, artificial society experience
contributes to emotional or intellectual maturity,
particularly during an age of life where one
is, perforce, developing lifelong attitudes
about the world in which one will spend the
rest of his or her life.
Here are two letters not related to Prof. Rosenberg's
McKINNEY, SALTER HARRY
R. "MAC" McLAUGHLIN, JR. '83 CARMEL,
Thank you for the article
on Drs. McKinney and Salter (“We Share
a Way of Understanding the World,” WM
As a freshman in the fall
of 1979 and a Division III major, I signed up
for Physical Science. There were probably 90
students in the class for lecture, but lab sessions
were broken down to 15-20 students per lab.
My lab section, to my surprise,
was taught by President Salter. The session
after we turned in our reports for our first
lab, President Salter asked “McLaughlin?
Where is McLaughlin?” I raised my hand.
He asked the name of another student in the
same tone, and the student raised his hand.
He proceeded to explain that my report, lengthy
at two pages, was more suited to the English
Department. He did praise the thoroughness of
the report, however.
The other student's report
contained a math equation and some other numbers,
but no write-up. He suggested the math department
was a more appropriate fit for this work, and
he told the class that our reports, though both
good work, were extremes of what he was looking
for in a report—something in the middle,
clean and concise with adequate explanation.
It was a great experience to have the President
of the College teaching a lab.
Professor McKinney was also
an instructor in the course and dean at the
time. Once, following a quiz that was not my
best work, he called me into the office explain
the concept of acceleration. I’ve always
appreciated the extra time he spent so I could
gain a better understanding.
KENNEDY '41 EAST
The article about the dog
Jumper (“Wabash Moments,” WM Fall/Winter
’03) reminded me of his predecessor of
the 1930s, a dog named Pan. Pan looked like
a cross between a Great Dane and a Jersey cow.
Wherever a group of students
assembled, there was Pan. If a classroom door
was closed, Pan would demand admission by loud
scratching. Admitted, he would flop down in
the rear of the room and go to sleep. I still
recall Obed Johnson, College chaplain and professor
of religion and philosophy, whose lecture had
the obbligato of Pan’s snores, stopping
and saying, “Somebody wake up Pan!”