Heterosociality hypotheses

Why are most of my close friends women? I’ve been thinking about how to cultivate close friendships, and this questions keeps coming up.

Most of the rest were born in female-typical estrogen-dominant bodies, assigned female at birth, and haven’t taken strong steps to present as masculine-typical in ways that would override my initial impression. My closest friend in the remainder of the remainder is an androgynous guy. And an interesting symmetry: several of my female friends note that they’re mostly friends with guys!

I don’t have a strong idea why this is so, but I’ve generated a few hypotheses.

Motivational deficits

  • Hypothesis: Some mental module I have to use in order to form close friendships is motivated by desire for a sex partner rather than general desire for friendship, so I end up not taking up men on their bids for emotional intimacy (or making fewer such bids than I otherwise would).
    Evidence: While working on this post, I remembered to reach out to a few men I’d decided to see if I could become closer with. Before this reminder I’d been letting that slide while pursuing friendships with women. Suspicious!
    Response: The hack solution to this would be to just make more of my friendship plans depend on explicit systems rather than ad hoc feelings, e.g. by keeping a list of people I want to try to become closer with. The deeper solution would be to do some belief and motivation mapping and dialogue with myself to figure out what my priorities really are.
  • Hypothesis: The type of friendship I’m looking for is something most people only expect to get (or only want) with romantic partners, so people who don’t on some level see me as a potential sex partner are either oblivious to or reject my overtures of friendship on that basis.
    Evidence: A friend I was talking with said that my idea of friendship seemed more like what people imagine they’d get from a life partner than what people think of as friendship. It seems like most stories about the sorts of things I’m looking for are about people sexually attracted to each other. Exceptions are things like Montaigne’s Of Friendship. It’s plausible, since people seem to often identify as romantic but asexual or vice versa, that I the kind of thing I am looking for just is romantic, regardless of whether it’s sexual.
    Response: Hack solutions include befriending homoromantic men, or learning to present as androgynous or feminine in the right contexts in order to get around this tacit filter. The deeper solution would be to build or take up new norms around close friendships, that don’t end up limited by who I or they are attracted to.

Skill gaps

  • Hypothesis: I have social scripts for creating emotional intimacy that originated in advice and experience dating, that I can repurpose for friendship with people who are (or at least read to both of us subconsciously as) plausible sex partners, but are way more awkward with people who aren’t.
    Evidence: There’s lots of dating and romantic relationship advice out there that talks about how to build rapport and closeness, but most advice specific to friendship is about how to find people at all, not how to develop the friendship.
    Response: The hack response would be to write myself some new scripts, or spend some time figuring out how to port over my existing scripts into a homosocial context. It could be that I just feel awkward doing so, and should get over that. The deeper response is to learn how to do more of social interaction scriptlessly by visualizing what I want and then directly pursuing it.
  • Hypothesis: Women are socialized to build emotional intimacy in non-romantic relationships, so when I try to build emotional intimacy with a woman, at least one of us has been conditioned with the requisite skills, habits, and dispositions. But when I try to do so with a man, we’re both lost. (This could of course be partly biological too.)
    Evidence: Men seem to have fewer close friends, and most of those are women.
    Response: Troubleshoot my interactions with men, with an eye towards what’s missing there, but present when I interact with women.

Differing wavelengths

  • Hypothesis: People become close by becoming attuned over some combination of different channels of communication. I’m missing some sort of same-gendered socialization, and men mostly expect something over that channel, so when I can’t send it, it looks like I’m sending no signal. On the other hand, people not of my gender aren’t expecting that, so they’re more open to signals on universal channels such as explicit verbal communication.
    Evidence: I have a slight aversion response to social events that are grouped by gender - I don’t want to be “one of the guys”, I want to be a person. Male bonding activities sound mostly pretty alien and unappealing to me, suggesting that I don’t get it.
    Response: Learn how to perceive and execute male-typical bonding behavior.
  • Hypothesis: People of all genders are looking for signs of physical rapport and empathy, and I only find this intuitive if we’re trying to negotiate whether to touch each other, not if we’re just trying to talk to each other. For most people all interpersonal coordination skills are built on top of their experience negotiating physical empathy as a kind of foundational metaphor: first, they learn to send and receive feelings face-to-face through nonverbal communication, and everything else follows analogous protocols. By contrast, I tend to try to send and receive signals through more predator cognition typical modes such as trying to explicitly model how to be a good long term ally. This is why even in contexts that don’t have body language, I miss many of the cues and feel like it’s not for me.
    Evidence: People often tell me that I’m difficult to read or seem disengaged from conversations because of dissonant nonverbals I’m sending. I also don’t automatically pick up on nonverbals, I have to be already focusing on the person, and this seems unusual. I seem to have difficulty perceiving the spirit of a group. My housemates have told me that it feels less natural to join a small conversation I’m in than some other small conversation going on in the common room, in a way that seems to have to do with subtle social cues. Physically acknowledging someone’s presence when I don’t particularly want an extended interaction with them takes effortful remembering for me, but it seems automatic for other people.
    Response: The hack solution is to just special-case one-on-one interactions with potential friends as another case where I want to build some sort of empathetic rapport. The deeper solution would be to figure out why I’m not by default motivated to become attuned with the people around me, and whether there’s a way to change that at a cost I find acceptable.

Other perspectives

A female friend of mine who mainly has male friends suggested that she is friends with more men than women because she perceives herself as typically having more to offer to men than to women:

  • Her hypothesis: She expects that men will cut her more slack on initial missteps because they are attracted to her, while she expects that there’s less room for missteps with women. This makes her more willing to take risks and express vulnerability early on, and raises the expected value of pursuing friendship with men, because she expects to have the chance to make more attempts at connection.
    My response: Upon reflection, I find this one more relatable than I’d expected. I’ve recently decided that it’s worth front-loading failure in order to find high-quality relationships faster, but this probably still means that when I perceive fewer ways to provide value, the expected value of interacting with someone is lower - and I perceive fewer ways to provide value to men. I don’t really perceive myself as attractive, but I do sometimes perceive myself as able to very unambiguously provide value to sex partners, and as a result have a stronger expectation that I’ll be able to hold onto their attention in the future. This makes me more willing to share things or ask for things when I don’t have a good model of how the other person will respond, earlier in the relationship, and risk boring or offending them. The obvious fix for this is to try and be more aware of ways I can provide value to men I know.
  • Her hypothesis: Men typically don’t have access to as much emotional support as women do, so she feels like she’s bringing something of value to the table when interacting with men. This makes her more interested in exploring conversational directions that lead to emotional intimacy with men. With women, on the other hand, if the initial interaction isn’t great, she doesn’t see how she has anything to offer that will make it worth their while.
    My response:  I can also relate to this one, on both sides. As a Skroderider, I’ve often provided emotional support by serving as a kind of emotional buffer to Phoenixes, and the Phoenixes I interact with are more often (though not always) women. Or possibly the women I know are more obviously Phoenixes, since men are often encouraged to suppress emotions, while women are encouraged to express them. I also feel like I get more frequent offers of competent-seeming emotional support from women than from men.

A previous draft of this post quoted this friend verbatim, on the earlier of the above two hypotheses. Notably, another female friend of mine with mostly male friends, when reviewing that draft, assumed it was a summary of things she herself had told me.

Miri suggests another hypothesis for men:

  • Many men have told me that one of the reasons most/all of their friends are women are that they're just...well, kind of scared of other men. As in, they feel super uncomfortable displaying the sort of vulnerability that's generally a prerequisite to friendship.

4 thoughts on “Heterosociality hypotheses

  1. Aceso Under Glass

    Several male friends of mine have said or agreed with the following, which seems like a more specific version of your last hypothesis: interactions with other men have subtle undercurrents of competition. It's not awful but over time the cumulative friction leads them to never develop deep friendships with men, especially when women are right there. I originally thought the friend that told me this was blaming other people for his personal failings, until I was in a very specific context where women did the same thing. Fuck, that is exhausting, I don't blame any one for opting out.

  2. Pingback: Group cognition | Compass Rose

  3. drivebycommenter

    Do many of your friends know each other? Another factor I've noticed with men who have many female friends is that this makes it easier for them to get more female friends.

    Sometimes women are wary of being over friendly with a man, both as a precaution against abuse, and to avoid accidentally giving a false impression of sexual interest. If a man has very few female friends, this is a warning sign - why not? Does he not see women as interesting people? Does he treat women badly, making uncomfortable jokes, devaluing their opinions, or straight up trying to pressure them into sex? Or is it just that he works in tech/the military/other male dominated environment, and happens to have met more men than women?

    Having many female friends signals that you respect women and treat them as people worth building a friendship with. It means you'll have been exposed to a wide variety of women, so the new potential friend doesn't feel pressure to represent her gender as a whole. It means that you are probably safe to be around, as so many women trust you. It means that you're less likely to misconstrue any friendliness as flirting, and much less likely for any such misunderstanding to cause a problem. Or for anything to cause a problem! Your successful forging of meaningful friendships with a variety of women is strong heuristic evidence that you could forge a meaningful friendship with another woman.

  4. Orion

    " People of all genders are looking for signs of physical rapport and empathy, and I only find this intuitive if we’re trying to negotiate whether to touch each other, not if we’re just trying to talk to each other."

    This one is very familiar to me, but I had not explicitly thought about it until I red this post. Thank you for writing it out!


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