Male friendships, their importance, and how to develop them.
These are all things I want to touch on in this article. Male friendships are a huge deal and play an important role in life, not only to me but men at large. For the sake of this article, though, I want to start off with defining male friendships.
Male friendships: Two men who have a sense of comradery. They may spend time together, have similar interests, or relate on a deep level. They at times can have an unspoken and spoken commitment to the other individual.
Alright, now that we have that out of the way I thought I would share a great quote with you for the context of friendship!
“There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
― Mark Twain
So, that brings us to a story from my own life. I hope you stay tuned as I have put hard work into this article!
The power of male friendships.
It was not long ago that for a more than a week straight I thought I was living in a Jerry Springer TV episode. Things had gone awry in a previous relationship I had had. I was devastated, shocked, and at a loss for knowing what I should do. My whole world was turned upside down, and the very person that I had let in was now the perpetrator of pain and confusion.
During this stanza in my life, I was utterly paralyzed, numb, and unsure of what steps I should take to survive the predicament I had gotten myself into. In that horribly painful moment is when something incredible happened to me, an experience I hope to never forget for the rest of my life. I was able to lean on my friends who were closest to me, and they were my strength.
There were just a few of them, but their strength, love, wisdom, and compassion are what carried me through. I am not exaggerating or being dramatic on any level. When I reflect upon that season of my life, I am astounded by how much my closest friends energy carried me through that time.
When pondering on their support and doing research on the topic of relationships in general, I began to realize how important it is not only for me but other men to develop and grow healthy longlasting male friendships. Over in the land of TEDtalks, Robert Waldinger spoke on "What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness." Definitely worth a watch.
In this talk, he builds a context and validation for his statements through his experience as director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest-running studies of adult life ever done. The Study tracked the lives of two groups of men for over 75 years, and it now follows their Baby Boomer children to understand how childhood experience reaches across decades to affect health and well-being in middle age.(Source)
So, halfway through Robert's talk, he starts to make some statements that I found absolutely fascinating and relevant when it comes to male friendships and relationships at large. Here are some of the statements I wanted to highlight.
"So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we've generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
We've learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they're lonely.
And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matter. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective."
Did you catch that? The power of a healthy relationship is a commodity that should be sought out! I mean, I have yet to meet a person who would not honestly mind a little more happiness and good health in their life, and like stated above, "good relationships keep us happier and healthier." Anyway, let's jump back in or a couple more statements from Mr. Waldinger.
"Once we had followed our men all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn't. And when we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn't their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships.
The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.
And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don't just protect our bodies; they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people's memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can't count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don't have to be smooth all the time."
I find what Robert Waldinger stated and observed is so powerful and an essential key to think about when going through the process of finding, developing, and nurturing relationships.
This brings us to the next part.
The epidemic of male friendships.
"Admitting you’re lonely feels very much like admitting you’re a loser."
- Dr. Richard S. Schwartz
There are many men out there who live an isolated life. The sad part is though if they were to admit it openly the chances of being looked down upon or belittled are a high probability. How western cultures have set men up to act in society is not emotionally healthy or intelligent.
In "Men’s Friendships: Performances of Masculinity" Todd Migliaccio states,
"Traditional belief is that men are less able and less interested than women in self-disclosing to others, constantly struggling to develop intimacy with friends and family. Cancian (1986) argues this assumption is because the ideal form of intimacy is based on a feminine definition, thus failing to account for male interaction styles such as “closeness in the doing” (Swain, 1989).
While researchers acknowledge the existence of different forms of intimacy (Hussong, 2001; Messner, 1992), they continue to segregate the intimacy forms into masculine and feminine categories, and subsequently associate these forms with men and women, thus perpetuating the assumed friendship gender dichotomy."
He continues later on with,
"Masculinity can be construed as not solely a performance to be accepted as a man, but a performance to inform others that he is not feminine. “A male’s first lesson: ‘Don’t be like a girl’” (Doyle, p. 157). As a result, many men avoid behaviors that could be considered feminine, including establishing expressive intimacy in friendships and self-disclosing with friends."
Do you see what I am trying to expose here? I am trying to bring to your attention that there can be this unspoken law that a "real man" is not allowed to be vulnerable, have emotion, or allow anyone into his life. That as an alpha male it is quintessential that you do not expose your humanity to anyone.
I may be exaggerating that belief a bit to expose its toxicity. In a more subtle way what this view looks like on a normal day to day interaction with men is thoughts and statements like the following.
- "Why would I tell Bob that I need a hand, he will think less of me, and honestly I should be able to figure this out on my own anyway."
- "Jeff cannot see me cry; I do not want him to see that I am not emotionally strong."
- "If I ask for help I am turning in my man card."
There is often this unspoken pressure that men are not allowed to expose their humanity and needs. Do you agree with those examples I just listed above? Todd keeps expounding on the issue that I am trying to drive home here,
"In friendships, therefore, it can be postulated that a man can be expressive as long as the relationships are strongly characterized by the more masculine aspect of friendships, instrumentality. Just as there are multiple expressions of masculinity in every situation, there are multiple ways of performing masculinity through friendships: men can either decrease the expressiveness in their friendships, or overemphasize the instrumentality, or potentially engage in both. And ultimately, the importance of performing masculinity within friendships may change based on social circumstances, such as a person’s job."
The amount of hidden social pressure that exists on how a man should interact and be in friendship may be one of the primary sources in why many young and old men do not have deep relationships with other men.
So how is this an epidemic? This is how I think about it. If society expects a man to be inhuman, isn't feminine, and a myriad of other social pressures, he will never take the risk of exposing his weakness and humanity to another man because for his whole life he has been taught that it is the very thing not to do.
Let's jump back to Todd's thoughts. He states,
"While there are limitations to this study, the findings suggest that there exists a relationship between men’s masculine expectations and their friendships. Men adjust their friendships based on their expectations of men’s behaviors in society, or because potential behaviors in other areas of their life dictate greater adherence in another arena. Simply, friendship interactions are masculine performances."
"Simply, friendship interactions are masculine performances."
Have you thought about male friendships in this way? Maybe the reason many men do not have close intimate friendships with other men is because it is a direct display of their belief of how men should act. What if men are fully capable of interacting and connecting on a deeper level with the same sex but due to social stigma they subconsciously refuse to display a subtle type of weakness?
I believe many men struggle to connect purely because they do not know how, nor has there ever been an example of this in their lives from older men.
At the end of the day, this is an incredibly complicated situation with many many variables. I will say this though, from the studies that I have read, it is of the utmost importance that men develop beneficial relationships that go beyond a smile and a beer.
Which leads us to the final section of this article.
Male friendships and how to develop them.
“To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life worthwhile.” - Unknown
Now, this next segment I do want to add a disclaimer. I have not done a massive study involving thousands of men and took from that data on what are the best methods for making and developing friends.
Nope, I am not that bad ass yet...
But, what I did do is write down, and articulate tools that I have either used myself, observed others, or found.
That being said, here are some tips, tools, or tricks on how to build and develop male friendships.
+ Find common ground.
If you are struggling to find or make friends a great thing you can do to start building the foundations of friendship is finding common ground with the other man. What this looks like is asking them questions about their life, hobbies, and interests. Or you could pursue hobbies that involve other people.
"My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me." - Henry Ford
Here are a few examples of hobbies that are a great way to grow and develop while meeting other men personally.
- Rock Climbing
- Ultimate Frisbee
- Bike Polo
- Religious Groups
There are so many options out there and ways to connect with other men in an experiential way. Once you are able to find common ground with someone else, it usually get's your foot in the door per say. It allows you to facilitate spending directed time with each other.
+ Know who to befriend.
Knowing who to let in your inner circle of friends is a powerful and essential tool. If you let a drug addict which is solely focused on his own life, your needs, and ambitions will never come up in conversation.
"Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness." - Euripides
Finding other men who you not only get along with but pull the gold out in you is imperative. When filtering through people to decide whom you should let see the real you, look for qualities like the following.
- Show a genuine interest in what's going on in your life, what you have to say, and how you think and feel about things
- Accept you for who you are
- Listen to you attentively without judging you, telling you how to think or feel, or trying to change the subject
- Feel comfortable sharing things about themselves with you.
- Have qualities that you desire to grow and develop in.
- Are able to disagree with you respectfully and push you to see another angle of life.
These are just a few attributes to look for. What I am trying to highlight is that when making friends genuinely take into consideration who you trust and let in. Find those who inspire and push you to become who you know you should be.
+ Five things to build good male friendships.
In this one, I wanted to highlight five basic principles that you could use to build a great friendship.
- Share activities.
- Share interests.
- Share experiences.
- Share feelings.
- Share thoughts.
If you have someone that you can do three or four of those within my mind that is a great friend! Do not wait for others to initiate in these areas either. You are the one responsible for the reality you are living in!
+ Have fun.
This one should seem pretty straightforward, but it is so important to be able to have fun with a friend! Joking around, seeing a movie, grabbing a beer.
Here is a list of fun activities you can go do with your friends if you are looking for ideas.
- Go to a park.
- Go camping.
- Have a potluck at your house.
- Find some yard games to play together.
- Try out a new restaurant together.
- Volunteer at a local non-profit together.
- Play board games.
- Go dumpster diving.
- Throw some hatches.
- Build a table.
- Learn how to box.
I could keep going and going, but you should be getting the idea by now. There are many things you can do with your friends as long as you take the initiative and have fun!
+ Making room for the new.
It is a common mistake in male friendships to stay loyal to those who are holding you back purely because you have known them your whole life. It is a comfort zone that every human should be sobered up to.
You may have friends that you love hanging out with, but they never call you, ask questions about your life, or show interest in you. It is okay to let those friendships fade.
It is important to consider deeply the quote,
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
― Jim Rohn
If the five people are not headed towards good influences, it is healthy to let them fade away.
It may feel scary because you don't know if you will find new or better friends, and honestly, it may take a bit of elbow grease to find new male friends.
BUT... here is the thing. It is TOTALLY WORTH IT!
Think of your friendship in life like a tree. Some stick and become integral others fall off as you grow. This is purely a natural part of life.
+ Be vulnerable and honest.
"Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity." - Khalil Gibran
In my personal history once I found and established good friendships one thing I have done to deepen and continue to grow with my closest friends is to be vulnerable and honest.
Men generally try to stray away from conversations that display weakness, but it has been my experience that the very pressure men feel not to expose their imperfection is the thing holding them back from deep long lasting relationships.
It is import to note though that I do not go around talking to all my friends about my issues and struggles. NO. I open up to those whom I trust the most. BUT, that does not mean it makes it easier. Still to this day I struggle at times to expose a side of my humanity I am ashamed of. Every time I do though I do not regret it.
Closing on male friendships.
I think this is an excellent start for initiating the conversation about male friendships. I hope you found it encouraging and will take steps. I wanted to close this article with some fun stories about good friends. I asked the men of Reddit this question, "Could you tell me a time when your best friend came through for you, and how it impacted you?"
Here were a couple of my favorite responses.
1: "My father had just died, the first thing he did was get a lift down to my house to give me a hug and a cigarette as I had recently quit,
A day later he had single-handedly gathered my closest friends under a random pretense where I was able to let them know and let them know that I would probably need help dealing with it, one of them had even traveled back from uni up north to make sure I was alright for the weekend.
At the wake after the funeral, he took me out and stayed with me all night as I got blackout drunk, helped me stumble home and get me safely in bed
A few months down the line and I wasn't dealing with it well, so we both went out and got shit faced. Stayed with me all night and let me vent about how I felt bout my father and his death and everything I was dealing with, gave me some.good advice and some. Bad but that's what's friends are for eh?
I'd do anything for him in a heartbeat. It showed me the even though we are Downright mean to each other a near daily basis, when I really need him I wouldn't have to worry. And I would do the same for him should he ever need me. His gestures helped cement in me that it isn't weak to ask for help, and he helped me to stay off the path if been down before of drink and drugs, and I will forever be grateful to him."
2: "Back in grad school, there was this dude who did undergrad research in my lab. He was weird, like completely socially inept. But by that time most of my friends had graduated and moved away, so we got kind of close. I suppose he was one of my best friends at the time. Well, it was time for me to submit my thesis, and I had given a copy to all my committee for review. Everyone had signed off except my advisor who waited until the last day to do it. Apparently, she wanted to go through the entire thing with me that day. However, I had planned to do something else that morning, so she didn't do anything until I got back. So we're going through painstakingly changing things to the way she wants to put them, literally get 8 hours in and she decides she's done, not accepting it and wants me to petition the school for an extension. She said it was my fault for not being there in the morning, and that she couldn't have done anything sooner because "she had things to do."
I was devastated. I knew this would mean six more months of daily verbal abuse, expectations of holding other people's hands, and dealing with all the regulations and stuff from the different governing bodies that she was supposed to do but made me do. In my despair, I texted this guy. He told me to meet him at the local dive bar. I did, and we just chilled for a few hours, and it calmed me down. I don't know if I'd have been able to sleep that night if he hadn't taken my mind off the shit."
Well, I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas, please feel free to share them!