How to give a male friend advice?
November 2, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Men of Mefi please explain - how do I give advice to a man? My male friend gives me lots of good advice but never asks for any from me. How do I keep the ledger balanced?

I'm a woman with a male friend. Our dynamic is that he frequently 'rescues me' with advice when things go wrong in my life. His advice is really good, and I feel better when I talk to him.

With a female friend, I would wait until they had problems and do the same for them, so there is reciprocation. This friend rarely tells me when he's in trouble although we have been close for a few years.

I feel guilty about the number of times he has given me good advice, without me ever doing the same for him. I know this wouldn't be a sustainable situation with my women friends, and am becoming worried enough that I've begun to avoid telling him when something's wrong.

How do I return the favor in this dynamic? Should I pry into his problems so that I can give him some advice? If not, how else can I 'balance' things up, other than giving him advice? I don't want to be taking all the time so that our friendship becomes parasitic.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered that he may not want or need advice on those problems?
posted by MinusCelsius at 9:08 AM on November 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

He probably doesn't want your advice, not that he doesn't trust it, but he just doesn't need it. You don't need to force it, he's probably not keeping score.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:08 AM on November 2, 2012

It's never polite to give unsolicited advice, so, don't give it.

(Since you say you are thankful for your friend's advice, I'm not backhandedly trying to tell you he's rude to offer it. I assume he knows his advice is appreciated and keeps providing it for that reason.)
posted by tel3path at 9:10 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please consider that he might not think of this as a quid pro quo thing. Your need to "balance" things is yours, not necessarily his.

Let him know you care about him and appreciate his help and insight, and want him to know you're happy to help whenever he asks. Then drop it.
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

How do I return the favor in this dynamic?

You already are.

Should I pry into his problems so that I can give him some advice?

Good lord, no.

If not, how else can I 'balance' things up, other than giving him advice?

You are the only one worried about this. If he's as sensible as you say, he's aware of the difference here, and it doesn't bother him. I am someone that friends come to for advice sometimes, and I almost never ask for the same, because that's just how I am. It sounds like that's just how he is. He likes giving advice and doesn't like asking for it (and, by extension, probably doesn't love receiving it), so the way things are right now is the way he likes them.

There's no need to balance things. There's every chance he doesn't even notice the difference.

I don't want to be taking all the time so that our friendship becomes parasitic.

You aren't and it isn't. If he wants advice, he will ask for it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:13 AM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't pry into his problems, that's just rude. If he wants your advice, he will ask for it. Perhaps you do not have any particularly unique insights into his problems. Perhaps he doesn't like talking about his problems. Perhaps he doesn't have any problems (well, unlikely, but still.) If this isn't bugging him, don't borrow trouble and don't try to fix what isn't broken.
posted by griphus at 9:13 AM on November 2, 2012

Go to other friends once in a while, don't make him the go-to. It's not bad to hold a little back sometimes. It's fine to ask more questions and try to create opportunities to listen instead of talk, if he wants to, but other than that, the only thing you can do on your end is talk less.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:14 AM on November 2, 2012

I would add that he might be the type of person who finds genuine pleasure in giving advice. He might feel totally comfortable, even safe, in the sort of relationship in which he's allowed to help without feeling vulnerable. I have friends like that.

A question to ask yourself: Might this be a bit about you? Could it be that you feel a bit exposed and are looking to "balance" the relationship in that sense? Not implying that's the case, though it perfectly could be.
posted by vecchio at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe he just plain doesn't need it.

One of my very best friends and I are also a male/female friendship - he seriously is the person I trust the absolute most in the world, and I am always asking him for advice, and for the very same reason; seriously, this guy has always been able to say THE EXACTLY RIGHT PERFECT THING all the damn time. But - he is a lot more close to the vest than I when it comes to admitting he needs advice, so he doesn't often ask. He'd ask me if he had a specific question that he knew I could help with, but for more general life-stress stuff, he goes to his girlfriend, a relative or two, and MAYBE the guy he's known for 20 years since they were college roommates. That's it.

That is not a reflection on me -- that is just simply how he's wired. So I keep things in balance by being a friend to him in other ways - I always tell him how grateful I am for his advice, I'm the one who comes up with all the whiz-bang-fun stuff to do together, I join in when we geek out over movie quotes, I remember when he does happen to say that there's stuff going down in his life and ask how it's going a week later, we have our little in-jokey teasy things.

I rarely get to offer him advice, but I show him I care in other ways, and as far as he's concerned, that's the balance. Go thou and do the same.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's probably a good idea to focus more on how to be a good friend to him in a way that he needs, rather than try to give advice to him even if he doesn't need it.

And if might also be helpful to stop thinking of him as A MAN FRIEND and just try to think of him as a friend.
posted by smirkyfodder at 9:15 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

How do I return the favor in this dynamic?

Cookies, beer, fingerless gloves, glow-in-the-dark shoelaces, whatever is up his alley. With a nice card that says "thanks for being such a good friend with such great advice, I want you to know I am always here for you anytime you need me to return the favor." And then don't worry about keeping score.
posted by headnsouth at 9:16 AM on November 2, 2012 [14 favorites]

Oh, and friendships don't have ledgers. I literally cannot associate any sort of numbers to any of my friendships outside of "years known." Don't be that person who knows how many beers they've bought someone vs. how many beers they've been bought. In a healthy friendship, there are no winners or losers, so keeping score is just petty.
posted by griphus at 9:21 AM on November 2, 2012

I don't know if sex has too much to do with it, but I am a guy, and I love giving advice.

I love being the fixer. My own struggles with taking advice aside, there is nothing more satisfying to me than to help someone through something. And I say that hands down. There simply is no conversation more enjoyable to me that speaking with someone who has a problem, personal or otherwise, and being able to walk away knowing that they are armed with a solution, or at the very least feel better about themselves and/or the situation as a whole.

I do struggle with taking advice, however, and while I have a full rational grasp that I don't know everything, I often find myself inadvertently tuning out when being advised on what to do unless I have specifically asked for advice. (Something I am honestly working on).

So, long story short, as a guy, I find the best reward for giving good advice is the opportunity to be able to give good advice. If he were me, you'd be doing me MUCH more of a service in continuing to be the "go-to" guy, than trying to step in and solve problems you perceive me as having.

(on preview, headnsouth's suggestion is good to, just don't stroke the ego TOO much.)
posted by Debaser626 at 9:21 AM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Friends means not having to balance the ledgers.

(if he felt you were taking advantage of him, he'd probably have distanced himself from you by now)
posted by jpeacock at 9:24 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is gender related, it is a dynamic that can happen in any friendship. I (female) have many female friends who I give advice to (on their request), but I don't ask or seek their advice (for many different reasons). I also have friends where there is more of an established "back and forth" regarding giving advice, and these friends are both male and female.
posted by unlaced at 9:24 AM on November 2, 2012

There definitely doesn't need to be a ledger.

With that said, the next time he is helpful to you with your advice, you can follow up with a "Thanks man, your suggestions were fantastic and you were very helpful to me. I'm always here for you to do something similiar if you need me." And then just drop it.
posted by mmascolino at 9:28 AM on November 2, 2012

How do I return the favor in this dynamic?

Consider that what "he gets" out of your friendship may be different from you, but still valuable to him. You may be providing him a way to relax, to let down his guard. You may be a hilarious and engaging conversationalist, an awesome cook. There are any number of reasons, and he may not be able to articulate them, but he clearly appreciates your company.

And, in my view, that's all you need to do: keep being you.
posted by bonehead at 9:33 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

To amplify: one of the great thing about female friends for (conventional) males is that you're outside the traditional male social structures. He doesn't have to worry about those roles and ranking games that men do all the time. Female friends can be lower stress than males ones because there are different social expectations.
posted by bonehead at 9:38 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of us do have a 'Galahad complex' and just like trying to fix things, and that's enough for us. I quote Bill and Ted "be excellent to each other".
posted by ewan at 9:42 AM on November 2, 2012

If your friend is at all like me, he won't often need your advice.

That's not because your skills and experiences are worth less, but because he (like me) has a good intuition for problem solving. I work in a position as a troubleshooter (tech support for a research lab) and I enjoy it and excel at it. I'm just good at figuring things out, and it seems like he is, too.

It drives my wife batty, but my friends often call me to pick my brain about things, and she thinks I get taken advantage of since I (seemingly) get little in return.

Thing is - I enjoy being useful and helpful. I like having new problems to solve and new things to think about, and I take pride in being someone people feel can be counted on.

And there is little worse than seeing a friend struggle and not be able to help somehow.

So, if your friend is at all like me, I think you should throw this "ledger" nonsense in the bin, and show your friend you appreciate him in other ways. But, I'd bet he'd continue to help you no matter what. It's what makes him tick.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:47 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Listening to his advice is probably all he wants in return. It's seriously satisfying when you're able to help someone with advice that they listen to and it actually helps them. It happens ever so rarely. I think you don't need to worry about balancing the ledger.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:48 AM on November 2, 2012

Yeah, a decent bloke friend won't keep a scorecard. Just keep being you, and appreciate your friendship for what it is. Maybe the occasional "Oh by the way, *blah blah* happened with that thing I asked you about last week. Thanks for your advice. It really helped", but anything more than that shouldn't be necessary.
posted by Diag at 9:49 AM on November 2, 2012

Keeping score seldom leads to anything healthy, relationship or friendship. Unless he tells you there's a problem, I'd be inclined to err on the side of "not a problem."
posted by Alterscape at 9:52 AM on November 2, 2012

In my somewhat limited experience with male friends, men like to be the "caretaker" of their female friends. I have a male friend who is always supportive of me when I'm going through a hard time, but never asks me for support with anything. It seems like the men I've known like to be "problem solvers". As far as "repaying the debt", offering to be a source of support if he needs it is the most you can give. I suspect that his satisfaction comes from being able to be there for you.
posted by strelitzia at 9:58 AM on November 2, 2012

Ask him. Sounds like he'll have some great advice for you.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:02 AM on November 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

I love giving advice (or, as my friends call it, "being bossy"). I'm female. I don't really want advice in return most of the time--or if I do, I'll just ask. (Whether I need some, like "stop being so freakin' bossy", is a separate discussion.)

Mostly what I want out of it is just friends. People who will do all those social things that I'm so bad at, like plan all the parties and invite me to them.
posted by anaelith at 10:10 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

If it makes you uncomfortable, tell him about your discomfort. Let him know you are baffled as to what he is getting out of it. Let him enlighten you.
posted by Michele in California at 10:13 AM on November 2, 2012

I am in the exact situation as the OP, except I am the male.

I give a certain female friend advice all of the time when she asks for it. She appreciates it and it puts a smile on her face. That is plenty good for me.

I would not like it if she gave me advice.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:16 AM on November 2, 2012

The funny thing is that a lot of people in this scenario have the exact opposite reaction: they want to know how to get their friend/partner to lay off the unsolicited advice.

You've got a dynamic that works for you, but it doesn't necessarily need to be reciprocal. Many advice-givers are confident in their ability to handle problems - both yours and theirs.

A good advice-giving rule is to first ask if the other person wants it. Sometimes they're just making conversation or want a sympathetic ear.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:22 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't ask for advice, you don't give it. You don't need to give him an amount of advice equal to the amount he gives you.
posted by asnider at 11:14 AM on November 2, 2012

Giving advice is probably how he expresses things like "I care about you" or "I worry about you when you're having problems" or "I want you to be happy" or "I like having you around."

So — how do you express those things?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:43 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

how else can I 'balance' things up

I don't think you need to balance things, but in terms of your desire to reciprocate I would suggest maybe taking note of small things and offering occasional thoughtful tips, gifts or efforts that show care and attention. With these caveats:

* Occasional! If someone were presenting me with gifts or doing research or footwork every time I mentioned something, I would stop mentioning things because it would feel like I was asking them to give me something, or do something for me. You need to be subtle and graceful with this.

* No big pricey things or major efforts. Again, that would just make me feel freaked out and worried about saying anything lest I get an expensive gift or overwhelming favor as a result.

I'm not a guy, by the way, but I am a person who also doesn't really want quid pro quo advice from friends just because I might happen to give them some helpful advice. However, as far as it goes, I'm personally much more comfortable with practical advice than personal advice. For example, you can be my hero if you can tell me where to shop for [specific thing] because I'm not a shopper, and hate shopping, and almost never know where to go to easily and directly buy something super specific. If you loan me a wonderful book that you know I'll like, that is just about the purest form of friendship to me. If you happened to at some point bring over a nice slice or more of your great grandma's-recipe apple pie because at one point I mention I haven't had real apple pie since forever, I wouldn't cry. A nice bottle of wine to share with you wouldn't send me running for the hills. If you wanted to connect me with a a great CPA you know who is knowledgeable about my kind of weird tax situation, I would kiss you.

So! My advice is just to keep your ears open, and when something seems natural and helpful, you can step up... but don't be driven to even up the friendship points. If your friend is like me, he just really enjoys talking with you and hanging out sometimes, and it would never occur to him that there was an imbalance at all.
posted by taz at 11:51 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some people are just really good with advice, like they were born with an extra insight gene. There's no need to balance a ledger here.
posted by zippy at 12:15 PM on November 2, 2012

Some people enjoy giving and some people enjoy taking advice. When the two can fulfill the need in the other, it's cool!

Alternately, bake him some cookies.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2012

ask if they'd like some advice. if they don't, keep your mouth shut.
posted by cupcake1337 at 12:27 PM on November 2, 2012

Yeah, this sort of echoes a dynamic that I have with one of my oldest and closest friends (for the record, we're both female, so I don't think it's so much a gendered thing.) Part of it is that I was already nearly out of college when she started, and that became a time where she really started seeking out life/career advice and I kind of naturally fell into the role of a trusted friend with some relevant experience (is your friend older/a bit more settled into life than you?), but mostly it comes down to differences in our personalities. She's really good at expressing and talking through her thoughts and feelings when it comes to a problem, and I'm...not, to the point where I don't usually ask for advice.

She did once express to me that she worried that she wasn't as good a friend to me as I was to her (again, she's quite good at articulating her feeling and a very direct person, so her statement didn't come off as guilting or anything), and I sort of responded the way a few people have responded here, saying that I didn't mind and that it had more to do with my not-so-greatness at talking about my problems. And as it turned out, it was only a few months later that I was faced with a fairly major life decision and some thorny interpersonal issues, and wound up asking for (and receiving) a lot of good advice and support from her.

So, in conclusion: (1) it's not a reflection on you as a friend or the closeness of your relationship, (2) if he needs advice that you can give, he'll ask for it, (3) my friend is awesome and I love her to bits and your friend probably thinks you're awesome, too.
posted by kagredon at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2012

Prying into his problems is the opposite of evening the score. But more importantly, there shouldn't be a score. You haven't given any indication that he is keeping a ledger, and he probably is not. Keeping a ledger is an unhealthy relationship dynamic. Friends offer friends advice and assistance when they need it or ask for it, but this kind of transactional deal you're imagining is not good.

At most, let him know, once, that you appreciate his help and you're always available to help if he needs it.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:46 PM on November 2, 2012

He probably enjoys giving advice, and presumably if he wanted advice, he would ask you for it There's a good chance he does not feel the imbalance you describe. I don't think you should pry, but you could simply say something like "You always give me a lot of helpful advice, and I hope you know that you are welcome to ask me for advice if you too ever need help." Simple and sweet, nothing more need be said.
posted by Dansaman at 4:16 PM on November 2, 2012

Nthing that he probably enjoys it.

Note: you asked this question to a room full of people who hang around giving advice to strangers, because we enjoy it.

Take whatever you will from that fact.
posted by ead at 9:29 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Six-pack of his favorite beverage = man flowers.
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:23 PM on November 2, 2012

Yeah, my so is like this with pretty much all his female buds. He really likes feeling needed and is super easy to talk to, so he listens well and is the guy with just the right advice. He does not, however, appreciate the reverse dynamic, and pretty much only shares his problems with me, his very best male friend sometimes, or his closest family. This does not mean he doesn't consider anyone else a good friend, but he's just not open in that way, and trying to force advice on him would be a fast track to cooling the friendship. If your friend is okay with it, take your cue from him and let it go.

If on the other hand you're the kind of person whe shares vulnerabilities as a bonding exercise, I can see how/why you'd feel things were unbalanced. You're exposing the underbelly and not getting reciprocal vulnerability, and than can feel like a trust/depth of friendship issue. If that's the case, decide if you're okay in this kind of friendship or not. You can't force someone to relate to you the way you want them to.

And last note: one of my so's friends pours her issues out to him often, with names and details of other people involved, and because of that, he actually doesn't tell her about his issues--he likes her but considers her loose lipped. Not saying that is your problem, but people can see things in ways you never considered. If he's a very private person I general and your very open, he may just prefer to keep his business quiet.
posted by OompaLoompa at 11:45 PM on November 2, 2012

Make sure you tell him that it worked and how-- it's always nice to get feedback on what works when you're an advice-giver, and it's very flattering.

It doesn't cost anything to be able to give advice, and some people are good about it-- it's one of those things where, if you can do it, it costs very little but can help someone else a lot. So even if you tend to think of things in ledger-balancing ways (I know I do, even if it is unhealthy), you're overestimating the cost on his part as well as what he gets out of it, I think.
posted by NoraReed at 7:21 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another thing to keep in mind is that this kind of friendship dynamic often happens because the guy is the stereotypical "nice guys finish last" friend and he might secretly like the girl, which is why he rescues her with advice all the time, hoping that one day she'll be into him as well. Evaluate the friendship and make sure it's not the case. If it is, then the best thing you can do for him is to stop asking for dating-related advice since every time you ask it might be hurting him. I'm not saying that's the case, just something to consider if you want to be a better friend to him.
posted by at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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