Inside Books: Researcher Niobe Way on How Boys Feel about Intimacy and Friendship

Niobe Way, a professor in Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology, is the president of the Society for Research on Adolescence. Her book, Deep Secrets: The Hidden Landscape of Boys’ Friendships (Harvard University Press, Fall ’10), is the result of 15 years of studying adolescent boys’ friendships.

You write that boys lose their friendships as they grow up. How does this happen?

As boys grow up, they begin to absorb more strongly the dictates of mainstream American culture that equate being emotional with being a girl or being gay. What is striking is that while boys commonly speak about the loss of friendships, they also speak of wanting to remain close to their male friends. Their desire for emotionally intimate friendships becomes increasingly difficult to maintain given the larger American homophobic context.

What in your research surprised you?

The most surprising finding I have is that boys are typically deeply vulnerable and speak in emotional and sensitive terms about their closest male friendships. My research shows me that boys are just as relational and emotional as girls and want similar types of relationships as girls have.

More than 85 percent of the boys I have spoken with in the course of 15 years of study have indicated that shared secrets are what make their friendships close and why they love their friends so much. They do not say that what they enjoy most is the sports they play with their friends. It’s amazing to me how much we continue to perpetuate stereotypes about boys that are simply not true.