Women are pretty good at the friend thing. You will go to the bathroom, even if you don’t need to go, just to provide emotional support to each other. How does that work? Do you give a pep talk through the stall door? Guys in the bathroom aren’t even supposed to look at each other! I kid of course. Maybe that’s what happens in High School, but we all grow up, become adults, and can use the restroom independently. But there seems to be a prevailing notion that men are less capable when it comes to relationships than women. Men can hang out, play sports…but let’s keep it one-dimensional and emotionally uninvolved! Do we really suck at it like the stereotype suggests?
In a previous post I touched on authentic friendships, but I wanted to go a little deeper. A lot of men (and I’m sure some women) struggle with developing deep and authentic friendships with the same gender. I want to look at it from a male perspective, but hopefully there’s something valuable here for women and their relationships, or even some ideas you might pass on to a man who needs a little push. Why do we need authentic guy friendships, what do they look like, and how do we pursue them?
I’m Awesome All By Myself!
In that previous post I mentioned the lone ranger man. The guy that doesn’t see the need for authentic male friendships. If you’re naturally an introvert, and don’t even want to develop friendships, why should I try and convince you otherwise?
Loneliness is literally bad for your health. We all feel lonely sometimes, but unchecked, it can lead to depression and alcoholism. And it’s funny how we try and rationalize this as we get older. Feeling lonely in High School is huge. We all wanted to fit in, to have a group of friends where we could belong, and if you didn’t, you probably don’t look back on that time fondly. But whether you’ve lost those connections or never had them in the first place, justifying our lack of friends as adults is easy (and even easier if we’re married and have kids). We write friendships off as not that important. The drama of High School is over, and having friends isn’t that big of a deal. We can cling even closer to our wives and children to fill in those friendship gaps. Those relationships are important, but they aren’t substitutes.
Discounting friendships is easy when life is going well. Success at work, a good marriage, and kids that go to the bathroom in a toilet can all lead to a fulfilling life (that’s my last checkbox). But life doesn’t always look so upbeat and chipper. We hit valleys in life, where the emotional support of others can help us cope with the hard times, and also help pull us out. If you’re married, then hopefully your wife is that go to person. But what if you need to talk to someone about her? It can help to have a guy friend to turn to for advice, and if you don’t have those relationships in place, then you’re not prepared to deal with everything that life can throw at you.
And finally, you need friendships with other guys because you’re not that awesome. You have the potential to be awesome, but you’re not going to get there alone. If we can admit that we don’t have it all figured out, then we can admit there is room for growth. We can learn how to be better husbands, fathers, and friends from those men we include in our lives.
Sup Bro. How’s it Going? Good. Cool.
I think a stereotypical view of guys and their friends is hanging out, drinking some beers, and watching sports. Even if that’s not what your guys night out looks like, I’d like to challenge the idea that deep friendships aren’t just about bro time or bonding over some hobbies. Here are some ways that friendships can go deeper.
We need to be vulnerable, and that is not a manly word. It’s a “girly” word, and sometime in High School we learn to not be vulnerable. Opening up about your feelings? No. Freaking. Way. To a cute girl maybe, but definitely not to a guy. I’m not sure I blame us. That’s a really self-conscious age, and the last thing most of us wanted was our inner secrets exposed for anyone else to hear (or repeat). And for some of us this instinct to close the lid on our emotional selves has continued long into adulthood. But you’re never going to develop a strong bond with another guy if you’re not willing to be honest and say what you really think and feel. Being vulnerable means you open yourself up to hurt, and that’s why the next part is so important.
You need to trust your friends. There’s a good chance you already have friends that you can trust. That doesn’t mean you’ve been vulnerable yet, but these are friends that you might want to forge a deeper bond with. You already have a strong foundation, now you need to build on that. If you don’t, trust is something that takes time, so don’t rush it. Build on it, work at it, and do your best not to break it.
We need to listen. A strong relationship is built on mutual concern for each other, and that’s really hard to build if you only care about what you have going on. Be interested in what they have going on, listen to their concerns, and follow-up. Drop them a text and see how things are going. And just like with our women, listening doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. You’re a willing party that is interested in them, and sometimes that’s all they need.
And all of this takes time. This might be the hardest one for us to achieve. I rarely feel like I have enough time for my wife and kids, let alone friends. We might need to look at our life, our schedules, and reprioritize what we have going on. You might need to get creative, like wake up early on a Saturday to grab breakfast, or meet up after the kids have gone to bed, but make something happen. Those of us with families, if you’re fortunate enough to find another family you get along with, it can make planning time together fun for everyone.
How Do I Get These Awesome Friends?
You have to put yourself out there. This can be hard to do, especially if you’re not naturally outgoing. For me, a lot of these relationships revolve around church. I’ve been able to find some meaningful relationships here because we have similar values and we see each other on a regular basis. Whatever your beliefs are, you have to develop some friendships before they can become deep friendships. Join an organization that is important to you, take some classes that interest you, or call up an old friend you’ve lost touch with.
Developing a strong bond will not only require you to have the traits I outlined above, but any potential friend will need them also, and this will give you an idea if they’re interested in being more than an acquaintance. If your friendship feels really one-sided, they might not be the right friend for you. But if they make time to hang out and listen, then there might be something there worth pursuing.
Good Friends Are Hard to Find (But Worth It)
I can idealize what a great friendship should be, but I still struggle like most everyone does. Developing authentic friendships is a long process, so be patient. Keep moving forward, keep your eyes and ears open, and who knows what friendships might develop. Most importantly, don’t give up. New people come in and out of our lives all the time, and these relationships don’t develop overnight. Be proactive. Put yourself out there. Understand that not every friendship is going to work out, but keep trying, because the ones that do will be totally worth it.