Men today, particularly those in modern American and Western culture, have lost sight of the value of close relationships with other men. As you have likely observed, and done yourself, most people in today’s society come home from work, pull into their garage, and are not seen again except to mow the lawn, take out the trash, or check the mail. Even those who do have “friends” will likely not have a truly deep relationship since life is not being shared side-by-side and conversations are of non-important matters such as the weather, sports, the latest vacation, and so forth. With the introduction of social networks like Facebook and Twitter our world can begin to feel very active and large. While it is easier to stay up on the latest events in someone’s life (even those you really don’t care about), the quality of our friendships become poorer and poorer. Many people I know would consider acquaintances friends though they really don’t know them except for work or seeing them at church. However, to put the proper restriction on what constitutes a friendship would likely expose them as having none. Therefore, we have watered down the meaning of friendship to match the level at which society wishes to participate. In fact, we have done this with most types of relationships. Men, it is a great thing to have friends to call and even greater to be called a friend.
Step 2 – Build Close Friendships
What does a close friendship look like?
This may seem like a basic question, but what most men want to know is “What does a proper, yet close, relationship with a man look like?” The reason we ask is because of the fear that intimacy and emotions lead to, or look like homosexuality. Homophobia still exists today and most often shows up in the friendships of everyday men. Because masculinity and love for another fellow has been deemed by society as incongruent, Emo (short for emotional) and Metrosexual guys started popping up to fill the gap between the garden variety manly-man and gays. Masculinity was set aside and a more gentle, effeminate (though not gay) culture was developed. But, until recently men were very close emotionally as well as physically and friends which you could be so close with were greatly valued. Art of Manliness has a great article on the History of Male Friendships which delves deeply into this point.
In short here are some attributes a close manly relationship will have:
- Lots of hugs – When you have a friend you want to hug him. Nothing weird about it.
- Intimate and frank conversations
- A feeling of rejuvenation after spending time together
- Insight into each other’s lives that can only come through understanding desires, personality, and past
Here in Charlotte we have a lot of guys from India. I have to admit it is pretty odd to see men holding hands and just generally being in each other’s personal space. However, it is refreshing to see men untainted by societal pressure. One of the greatest joys in friendship is that of freedom. Freedom to be yourself and the freedom from fear of not being accepted.
I don’t mean this to say that holding another mans hands or laying your head on your buddies lap is the pinnacle of male friendship that every man should shoot for. Don’t take this the wrong way. It should, however be some comfort to know that historically men can get pretty darn chummy without it meaning anything other than a close friendship.
Men bond over activities
Can building a friendship really be as simple as hanging out, working on a project, standing over a grill, or helping a friend load some furniture into a truck? While loading furniture has probably ended a few friendships, the answer is still a definite yes. My wife, Summer, will often try to set me up with other guys to be friends with, usually the husbands of some new friend of hers. Likely you have been in the same situation and know that it never works out. However, on more than one occasion, I have ended up alongside one of those guys that I have known for a few years, working on some activity, and come away thinking “That Joe fellow is a pretty good guy.” Of course that is also followed by I-told-you-so’s from the wife.
While many gents will differ on what activities can both kindle and build a friendship, here are a few baseline rules that will certainly be helpful:
- Should be conducive to conversation – Not a lot is necessary, but make sure it can happen uninterrupted for the most part.
- Projects that require team work – Working together to accomplish a task is much better than working apart. For example, moving furniture, playing music, sighting a rifle, or being a good wing-man.
- Competitive activities – While contrary to modern thinking, competition can strengthen a friendship. It provides opportunity for trash talking (which tests the sensitivities of the relationship) but more important, opportunities for encouragement regardless of whether you are the winner or looser.
- Food – Just grill something or meet for breakfast and see what happens. Many a great men’s character was built a plate at a time.
Put yourself out there
The greatest victories are those where much is at stake.
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory or defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt
It has been my experience that most men want to have a deeper kinship. However, it often feels awkward due to the exposure required of their own lives. Essentially no one wants to go first. Though without taking the first step the relationship will plateau. However, like most fears, once overcome it becomes easier.
Here are some key ways to kick off a deeper conversation:
- Ask questions (and then listen) – People usually just need an invitation to share something about themselves.
- Share from your own life – Some people are naturally more transparent than others. If you feel you need to test the waters here before diving in that is fine. Share some details from your childhood (where you grew up, what shows you liked etc.). Eventually move into more relevant events.
- Talk about controversial subjects – We generally value our stance on controversial issues and are more easily aligned with others that feel the same. You won’t know where someone stands unless you ask. You can also gain respect for someone who handles a disagreement well.
Keep the list of close friends small
If a friendship isn’t taking off don’t take it personally. At least not for too long. Move on and be patient. True friendships can’t be rushed and often don’t come about as something planned. Also, friendships, however close they may be, might only be so for a season of life. People move, leave a church, graduate, etc. This doesn’t mean the friendship is over necessarily, it may just mean the time to invest in it would not be practical. Men are great for having no contact for years and picking up where they left off with no loss of friendship.
Most importantly, keep the circle of close friends small. It’s easier to keep up with 3-4 close friends than 7-10. You will begin to feel stretched and friendship can begin to feel like a burden.
For some of you men this will be a stretch but you know deep down it’s going to be worthwhile. For others you may need to take the first step in seeing if the existing friendships will move to the next level. Usually they will. Finally, many of you may need to evaluate whether the men you associate with would make good friends and cut ties if they don’t. This can be tough and can lead to some hurt feelings. Follow your gut and lead by example here.
Or, if you want to skip right to the pinnacle of male friendship, lay your head on your pals lap and see how he responds ;-).