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Who's the Friendlier Gender?

My husband's reaction to his good friend's crisis gave me pause

I was awakened by a phone call one night at about 2 a.m.; it was one of my closest friends. She'd lost her job that day and was feeling hopeless. So as not to wake my husband, Phil, I jumped out of bed and ran to another room. I talked (and listened) for two hours. Julie's story was classic: She'd been an ad agency executive for 13 years, but her boss's nephew had come in for an interview, and that was all it took. The kid was in, and my friend was out.

See also: Can men and women just be friends?

As she told me the story amid sobs, she sounded very frightened about her future. I did my best to calm her and promised to meet the next day.

Marlo Thomas; columnist; relationships; phil donahue; celebrity

Actress Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue attend "The Columnist" Broadway opening night on April 25, 2012. — Getty Images

When I got back to bed, Phil asked, "Who was that?" I said, "Julie got fired. She's in really bad shape." Phil was quiet for about 30 seconds, then rolled over and said: "You women are great. I don't know one guy who would call another guy at two in the morning to talk about a work crisis."

That surprised me. Really?

About two weeks later, Phil went on a fishing trip with four of his buddies. They had gone fishing together before, though this year there was a twist. One of the pals was getting a divorce. When Phil got home, it was the first thing I asked him about.

"How was Jim?" I said. "What did he say about what happened?" Phil shrugged and said, "I don't know — the subject never came up."

I was stunned. The subject never came up?! They go on a fishing trip, one of the guys is busting up his marriage, and all they do is … fish? If my girlfriends and I had scheduled that trip — and one of us were breaking up with her husband — we never would have reached the lake.

There's an old saying about relationships: Men take charge; women take care. I don't know if that is always true, but I do know that for many men, being decisive — taking some sort of executive action — often seems the most effective way to (as they might say) push the ball down the field. Women take action, too, but in most cases we leave no emotional stone unturned in arriving at our decisions. And if that means convening a focus group of our dearest pals, so be it.

When I thought more about this, I realized that male friends have told me about their most personal crises — maybe that their wife was cheating on them or that they were having an affair themselves. But why did they come to me? Was it because they couldn't tell a guy buddy?

I asked a few men, and most of them said they were more comfortable confiding in women because (a) they felt they wouldn't be judged as harshly and (b) women are the keepers of secrets. I liked that response because it belies the myth that men don't express their feelings. Of course they do. They just look for the safest place to do it — and sometimes that's with a female buddy and not a male buddy. I guess that's what Phil meant.

But I think men and women both want the same thing from their friendships: to know they can seek refuge in someone nearby, whether it's a tearful call at two in the morning or a quiet afternoon casting for trout.

We each need loving support from time to time, and in good relationships, we are each happy to offer it. As I reflect on my marriage of 32 years, I realize that Phil's shoulder has been there for me as often as mine has been for him. That not only has made us good spouses — it also has made us great friends.

Award-winning actor, author and activist Marlo Thomas blogs at marlothomas.com and writes humor at aarp.org/marlo.

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Video Extra

Marlo Thomas invited good friend Bette Midler to her New York apartment to talk about her new book, Growing Up Laughing, as well as their favorite causes, why it’s important to give back and Marlo’s new website.

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