From Our Readers

Can Men Really Be Friends? by Warren Rosenberg

Can Men Really be Friends?

Following Professor 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.

Those responding 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:

1. Trust
2. Appreciation and emotional support
3. Deepening self-awareness
4. Sense of humor
5. Assistance in time of need
6. Empathy
7. Shared activity

Several readers elaborated on their friendships, and the following are excerpts from their comments:


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.


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.


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 was made.

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 without regret.

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.


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 vice-versa.

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!


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 environment.

Wabash’s all-maleness 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 story:


Thank you for the article on Drs. McKinney and Salter (“We Share a Way of Understanding the World,” WM Fall/Winter ’03).

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.


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!”