This morning’s “Room for Debate” feature in The New York Times discusses the shrinking gap in life expectancy between men and women, focusing on the ramifications of this for Social Security and health care costs and the quality of relationships among the elderly. But it was a comment from Jane Gross, author and The New Old Age blogger, which struck me the most:
[Men] have depended on their wives to manage their domestic and social lives, have fewer friends and those friendships are more often of the “How ‘bout them Redskins?” style than deep and expressive attachments.
Lipitor and bypass surgery are keeping more men alive to celebrate their 65th birthdays. But friendship, open hearts and yes, over-sharing, if that’s what you think it is, gives women the resilience, I predict, to make it to advanced old age.
I hear this often from female colleagues and acquaintances (including one good friend who started her life as a man): men just don’t form close friendships in the same way that women do. But other than my transgendered friend and others like her, I don’t think anyone can say that for sure because few have spent time in both camps and know how each gender forms and enjoys friendships. (And even that statement assumes that there are gender-based differences in friendship styles.) I have had very close friendships with men, and I have had “buds,” just like women have their close friends and casual friends.
Even if Ms. Gross is right about the different friendship style of men and women, her description of elderly men as socially inept and dependent on their wives seems quaint. While it may be accurate in terms of many of today’s elderly couples, it will surely seem anachronistic in coming years as these traditional gender roles diminish among the young couples of today. Even if today’s elderly men lack the tight friendships that will help sustain them into old age—other than the close bond they may share with their wives, which Ms. Gross neglects to mention—all men, young and old, have a chance to do better, if they’re not already, as we move into the future.
Men, do you feel you have just as close and deep friendships as women? If not, do you see this as a problem as you grow older? And women, what’s your take on this?