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What Women Want in Their Male Friends

A new study shows boys with higher empathy have more female friends.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
June 9, 2016, 8:10pm
Photo by Bruno Bayley

Most women don't want to do boring "guy stuff" like watching pool on TV, gaming for hours, or being strangely competitive about taking shits. Right? We—and by "we," I mean all women, universally—just like to sit around sharing secrets and getting DEEP. Ergo: We need friends who will want to join us in doing that.

As stereotypical and only vaguely true as that sounds, a new study has revealed it to be based on fact. Researchers examined the influence of empathy on both same-sex and opposite-sex teen friendships and found that girls are way more likely to become close friends with boys who show greater empathy.


The researchers, from Australian Catholic University, looked at the friendships of 1,970 high school students in Queensland and New South Wales. They assessed the ability to both understand and experience the emotions of others. On average, boys who were high in cognitive empathy attracted 1.8 more female friendships in comparison to those with lower empathy. Funnily, boys weren't too fussed either way—empathy didn't matter to them when selecting their female friends.

It's similar to what Kathy Werking, at Eastern Kentucky University, found in her research: that most male-female friendships resemble women's emotionally involving friendships than they do men's activity-oriented ones. The number one thing male and female friends do together is talk one-on-one. "Males appreciate this because it tends to not be a part of their same-sex friendships," noted Werking. "Females appreciate garnering the male perspective."

What can be inferred from this is that women want friends they can actually talk to and feel a real connection with. Those are the friendships they'll pursue, naturally maintain, and cherish. This mirrors the fact that women will put qualities like altruism before attractiveness when they're picking a potential love interest.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. One man notorious for having a flock of female friends is VICE Executive Editor Sam Wolfson. He once asked the question: Why are all my friends girls? And concluded that—aside from the fact we can be truly horrible, and he enjoys being horrible with us—it was because his female friends "give astute insight and in return want assurance for their unusual insecurities." And what do you know—Sam did this empathizing-sympathizing test and came out with a score of 54 out of 80, which means he has above average levels of empathy.

Is this just coincidence? Maybe not. Staff Writer Joe Bish has no close female friends or ones he sees often. His score was 43, only an average score of empathy.

Why does any of this matter? In terms of teens, Professor Ciarrochi, one of the researchers who conducted the recent study, said: "This research suggests it's critical to identify and teach young people the skills they need to develop supportive friendships."

And probably because having a close friend and someone you can talk to is linked with lower rates of depression and to people actually feeling alright about themselves and not having a crushingly lonely existence. "Deep" friendships are pretty great, actually.

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