MY FRIENDS HAVE NO FRIENDS. They are men.

They think they have friends and if you ask them if they have friends they will say yes, but they don't really. They think, for instance, that I'm their friend, but I'm not. It's okay. They're not my friends, either.

The reason for that is that we are all men -- and men, I have come to believe, cannot or will not have real friends. They have something else -- companions, buddies, pals, chums, someone to drink with and someone to wench with and someone to lunch with, but no one when it comes to saying how they feel -- especially how they hurt.

Women know this. They talk about it among themselves. I heard one woman describe men as the true Third World people -- still not yet emerged. To women, this inability of men say what they feel is a source of amazement and then anguish and then, finally, betrayal. Women will tell you all the time that they don't know the men they live with. They talk of long silences and drifting off and of keeping feelings hidden and never letting on that they are troubled or bothered or whatever.

If it's any comfort to women, they should know it's nothing personal. Men treat other men the same way.

For instance, I know men who have suffered brutal professional setbacks and never mentioned it to their friends. I know of a guy who never told his best friend that his own son had a rare childhood disease.

And I know others who never have sex with their wives, but talk to their friends as if they're living in the Playboy Mansion, either pretending otherwise or saying nothing.

This is something men learn early. It is something I learned from my father, who taught me, the way fathers teach sons, to keep my emotions to myself. I watched him and learned from him. One day we went to the baseball game, cheered and ate and drank, and the next day he was taken to the hospital with yet another ulcer attack. He had several of them. My mother said he worried a lot, but I saw none of this.

Legend has it that men talk a lot about sex. They don't. They talk about it only in the sense that it is treated like sports. They joke about it and rate women from one to 10. But they almost never talk about it in a way that matters -- the quality of it. They almost never talk in terms that apply to them and the woman or women with whom they have a relationship.

Women do talk that way. Women talk about fulfillment and they admit -- maybe complain is the better word -- to nonexistent sex lives. No man would admit to virtually having no sex life, yet there are plenty who do.

When I was a kid, I believed that it was men who had real friendship and women who did not. This seemed to be the universal belief and boys would talk about this. We wondered about girls, about what made them so catty that they could not have friendships, and we really thought we were lucky to be men and have real friends.

We thought our friendships would last forever; we talked about them in some sort of Three Musketeer fashion -- all for one and one for all. If one of us needed help, all of us would come running.

We are still friends, some of us, anyway, and I still feel I will fight for them, but I don't think I could confide in them. No -- not that.

Sometimes, I think that men are walking relics -- outmoded and outdated, programmed for some other age. We have all the essential qualities for survival in the wild and for success in battle, but we run like hell from talking about our feelings. We are, as the poet said in a different context, truly a thing of wonder.

Some women say that they have always had this ability to confide in one another -- to talk freely. Others say that this is something relatively new -- yet another benefit of the woman's movement. I don't know. All I know is that they hhave it and most men don't and even the men who do -- the ones who can talk about how they feel -- talk to women. Have we been raised to think of feelings and sentiment as feminine? Can a man talk intimately with another man and not wonder about his masculinity? I don't know. I do know it sometimes makes the other man feel uncomfortable.

I know this is a subject that concerns me, and yet I find myself bottling it all up -- keeping it all in. I've been on automatic pilot for years now.

It would be nice to break out of it. It would be nice to join the rest of the human race, connect with others in a way that makes sense, in a way that's meaningful -- in a way that's more than a dirty joke and a slap on the back. I wonder if it can be done.

If it can, it will happen because women will insist on it, because they themselves have shown the way, come out of the closet as women, talked about it, organized, defined an agenda, set their goals and admitted that as women -- just as women -- they have problems in common. So do men. It's time to talk about them.