Cracking the Guy Code: Deciphering the unspoken rules

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In short, it exists to help men feel safe with each other.

When former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had an affair with the wife of a trusted friend and campaign aide, female voters reportedly were forgiving. By contrast, male voters were furious, downright apoplectic.

The reason? Mr. Newsom blatantly violated the Code. If a man can’t trust a friend to stay away from his significant other, then whom can he trust?

“It takes a while for men to trust other men,” Mr. Greif said. “Men in my study describe friendship as involving loyalty, dependability, trust and understanding. When you violate someone’s loyalty or trust, that’s a stab in the back.”

According to Indiana University of Pennsylvania sociologist Robert Heasley, the Code assuages men’s deep and powerful fear of ridicule.

During a recent class on masculinity, Mr. Heasley asked his male students about men making scant eye contact with each other while conversing, a Code-like behavior.

“The first kid said, ‘I don’t want anybody to [step] on me, and I’m not going to let anybody be able to get to me,’ ” said Mr. Heasley, who also has worked on long-term studies of male friendships. “There’s a safety in being shut down. The unwritten code is connected to men maintaining a distance from each other.”

Case in point: Research shows that male friends are far more likely than women to have what academics call “shoulder-to-shoulder” relationships - that is, they engage each other by doing stuff.

Side-by-side, men watch sports. Play golf. Go to the gym. Literally sit side-by-side at bars, as opposed to facing each other.

As for, you know, talking? Not so much.

“We don’t deal with the struggles in our lives, or even the pleasant stuff,” Mr. Heasley said. “We don’t open up to each other. The language we use is abbreviated: ‘What’s up? That’s cool. Hey, bro.’

“Even with humor and teasing, there’s a lot of safety. If I can put you down in a funny way, you know I like you. But I can’t say that I like you, because that would be a vulnerability thing.”

Mr. Heasley also works as a psychological therapist. Many times, his male patients will talk about having same-sex friends.

I know this guy. He’s really good. We hang out a lot.

“So I’ll say, ‘It sounds like you really like him,’ ” Mr. Heasley said. “And he’ll say, ‘Yeah, we hang out a lot.’ It takes three tries for them to get the word ‘like’ out. And ‘love?’ Forget it.”

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