Friendly Competition

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I have never fully understood the dynamic of close friendships. I have many friends, and acquaintances, but all seem pale in comparison to the relationship my boyfriend has with his friends. My boyfriend has a group of six friends that would all take a proverbial "bullet" for each other. They all have tattoos that of the same thing, in the same spot that represents the bond, or "brotherhood" as they like to refer to it as.


What perplexed me about their relationship is that to someone on the outside, they seem more enemies than friends. They are in constant competition for the title of strongest, fastest, smartest, most artistic, best at video games, and the list goes on. All of these men are in their mid twenties and one minute they are rough housing enough to break furniture, to the next where they are having a heated intellectual discussion. Their very friendship seemed a contradiction.

I had to look into this further. Was I the crazy one? Or is this the way male friendships work?


It was long thought that competition between friends would diminish the relationship. Current research by Schneider, Woodburn, and Udvari (2005) suggested several dimensions of competition were associated with greater companionship in the friendships of boys, but the opposite was true for female friendships. The reason this competition dynamic works for men and not women was suggested by Singleton, and Vacca (2007), that the societal norm for men is to be masculine, and competition is accepted. 


So how did this strong bond amongst men form? Well it seems that even their exceptional, enduring friendship started the way most do, with physical proximity (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2005). My boyfriend is related to two of the group, had homeroom with one, and two lived within walking distance of him. Now I just can't let them see this blog, because they think themselves the exception to every the rule.




Schneider, B. H., Woodburn, S., & Udvari, S. J. (2005). Cultural and gender differences in the implications of competition for early adolescent friendship. Merrill - Palmer Quarterly, 51(2), 163-191. Retrieved from


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2005). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Singleton, R. A., & Vacca, J. (2007). Interpersonal competition in friendships. Sex Roles, 57(9-10), 617-627. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9298-x

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Another interesting thing about the closeness of relationships is that when I was younger, one of my “best friends”, Jason ‘drifted’ away from me as got into high school. Even though we were in the same grade and were doing all of the same things together, it seemed as if his world just changed overnight.

In looking back at that situation it seemed to mirror the results that Selfhout et. al (2010) individuals that are high on extraversion tended to select more friends than others that are low. As it turned out I was more of a person that was agreeable and I was ‘selected as a friend to more often than not. In looking back it really doesn’t seem that odd that there has a lot to do with personality traits when having and developing relationships that are existing (Asendorpf & Denissen, 2006). I guess to me it just seems natural that as one grows older with friends they tend to be more like our own personality types and less like the perceived “in-groups” (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2005) that we think that we want to be around.


Asendorpf, J. B., & Denissen, J. J. A. (2006). Predictive validity of personality types versus personality dimensions from early childhood to adulthood: Implications for the distinction between core and surface traits. Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 52, 486–513.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2005). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Selfhout, M., Burk, W., Branje, S., Denissen, J., Van Aken, M., and Meeus, M. (2010) Journal of Personality 78:2, April 2010 retrieved from

This is very interesting. I think it all can be traced back to our childhood. Growing up girls generally play with dolls and interact in activities that are more social. Boys are physical and tend to interact with their friends in competitive and physical activities. Males have more practice mixing competition and friendship. Men also seem much better at compartmentalizing things as females tend to be more emotional. I think woman can handle completion in a sports setting but seeing as we don’t spend too much time shooting hoops. Activities left for us to compete in would almost always lead to conflict, such as appearance. You referred to the societal norms. I think they are perpetuated by the media with the many housewife shows that feature women fighting and competing with each other. Completion is not received well by the females that participate in these shows.

I wonder if your boyfriend and his friends have similar Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator scores. Research has shown that people with similar scores on this personality assessment get along very well(Lurtz, 1999). Redmond (2011) states in the course commentary that "One empirical fact that has been found over and over again is that people with similar personalities tend to get along because they think, feel and act very similarly" (Redmond, 2011). Even though your boyfriend and his friends are competitive over things like video games, the fact that they all have an interest in these activities is a connection that they share.

It's also interesting how a person's group of friends can change. Although your boyfriend's group seems pretty solid, I've witnessed many groups of so called "best friends" break apart only to reform later or form with new members. Maybe this has something to do with proximity effect which is "the tendency for physical nearness to increase interpersonal liking" (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2005). If a best friend moves away, how hard is it to continue being best friends?


Lurtz, P. K. (1999). Partner similarity and relationship satisfaction among couples (Doctoral dissertation, Saint Louis University, 1999). Dissertation Abstracts International, 60(04), 1026A. (University Microfilms No. AAG99-26967)

Redmond, B. (2011) course commentary.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2005). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Jesse it is really funny that you mention a friend moving away, because that just happened. One of the guys in the group moved to Florida last year, now my boyfriend is dead set on getting everyone involved with the group to move down to Florida too. They still talk to each other often on Xbox, and through facetime on iPhone. I am actually really happy about the idea of moving to Florida, I have always hated the cold, so it feels like I lucked out!

What is funny though, is that my boyfriend never would have considered moving if this hadn't happened. So it makes me wonder if keeping the proximity is an intrinsic desire, or a group preservation mechanism my boyfriend is engaging in to ensure the friendship stays intact.

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