While men have friends, what I see mostly is the friendships are long-lasting, strong, and semi-rare in actual interactions. This is especially true for married men, with their obligations with work and family, and the responsibilities for keeping the house and body in order. Here’s what I see and hear from other men regarding their interactions with other male friends:
- Very strong and long relationships
- See infrequently (things like hunt camp, fantasy football drafts, annual homecoming game, etc. are most common)
- Low priority compared to wife or kids or work
- Athletic events or hobbies usually solitary (gym time, running, mechanical tinkering)
- Male neighbors are important since we see them more often
- Regular daily interaction with coworkers, but not very many tight friendships there, most don’t last if one changes jobs
- Sibling friendships are all over the board, from tight nit to essentially strangers
Obviously, your experience may vary, and I’m not so sure wives and women are much different, but men are notoriously more introverted. Both Salon’s Men’s Hidden Crisis and The Atlantic basically comes to the same conclusion – men have a harder time doing regular male friend stuff. From the Atlantic article:
As I conduct my own informal polls, I find that many men—particularly the Boomer and beyond variety—are simply out of practice [AMD: of maintaining male friends]. Part of this is due to the fact that women are generally the social planners in the house, whether by choice or default.
“Men who do not have male friends often rely too much on their women and expect too much from them,” says psychiatrist Dr. John Jacobs, who specializes in couples therapy. Meaning it is not good for the marriage, for starters, and may leave serious emptiness at some point. (Remember in I Love You, Man when the groom couldn’t find a best man?) Historian-author Richard Reeves, whose wife of 33 years died this month, revealed on his website that, “I’m not sure I’ve made a decision without her since the day we married.”
Such is the nature of the beta-male, leaving all non-work time up to their wife’s discretion. So if you aren’t in a bowling or golf league, or doing martial arts or CrossFit multiple days a week, you aren’t alone, but you are also missing out on some relationship energy that is good for men. And, allowing your wife to lead if she’s the SOLE social coordinator, is also really bad. You need to take the effort to plan stuff once in awhile, even if it doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped. Example: Last weekend, we went to a Haunted Hay Ride about 30 minutes away. One that supports a local environmental group, we’ve been to about 3 times before, and was awesome in the past. My wife wanted to go to one 4 minutes away (same price), but was an unknown. I made the call that we would be maintaining tradition and went to the historic one a ways away. We waited in a long line, and the hayride was just ok; definitely not as good as before, and wasn’t as good as we’d hoped. The other one (we later heard) had a five minute wait and was fun too. Maybe not as scary or great as the historic version of the one we went to, but good. For our night, we still had fun, which was the goal, but the other costs were (social, time) were higher. Oh well, next year we’ll stay local. Still, I made the call and thus kept leader position instead of simply letting my wife plan everything.
Just like it takes effort to be a leader, stay in shape and have muscles; to game your wife a little and be a good dad. It also takes effort to feed that masculine side that needs to be fed. You have to actually call up your local friends, or make some, and schedule to do something. I’m not saying every day, but if you hang out with “real” friends a couple times a month, you’re doing way better than most men I know. According to the Atlantic article:
Even those who have excelled, or are becoming better at, male bonding, attest to the challenges, particularly in those decades between boyhood and retirement. “One could argue that pressures of work and family ought to increase the desire of men to seek advice from others,” says Warren Sherman, who is part of the Father’s Group. “But after spending years avoiding talking about personal matters—as most of us learned to filter our emotions, raised to believe that being sensitive was being weak—and without the skill set to engage in the process, why try when there are so many demands on our time?”
The list of conditions in number four I arrived at myself some years ago. In order for me to make new friends that will (hopefully) be long-lasting, they have to fulfill the following conditions:
- Mutual interest in the other person.
- Overlap of interests and outlook on life,
- Lack of competing alternatives and/or demands on one’s time.
Agreed on all accounts.
I’m not immune to these same married male friend pitfalls, but I am making an effort to get better. A man who simply does house stuff, or Honeydos all weekend is not that awesome. A couple weeks ago I met up with a close friend for fishing and talking about life and issues for a Sunday afternoon. Last weekend I had an Oh-So-Manly-Man-Date with another friend at a coffee house where we did talk about manly stuff (have a draft post on this already, will roll out this week I hope), like what it was like to go to war. This weekend, I caught up with some long-time male friends at a party where we made more concrete plans. Success breeds success. Manly friend time breeds more of the same. Doesn’t need to always be with the same guy or group, but maintaining those friendships is key. Being a friend that reciprocates is also key.
My own best friend lives 500 miles away and I haven’t seen him in about 2.5 years. But we talk a few times a year, and stay connected on FB. If I saw him tomorrow we’d pick off where we left off – dick jokes and racial slurs at our ethnicity (he’s half Mexican, I have a fair amount of Native American in me) and all. We say “I love you” to each other. The only relationship I have like that. Lots of history together, including vulnerability, shared love and loss, traveling Europe and shared wavelength. Such is what male friendship is like.
At the same time, making new friends and cultivating that new neighborhood or random friendship is also important. Some may stick, some may not, but people who you have a lot in common with, are in close proximity with, or have a common wavelength with are untapped friends in many cases. Having a regular activity where you suffer and triumph in equal parts (MMA, Golf, CrossFit, military, sometimes WORK [a four letter word in many cases]) also goes a long way towards establishing a lasting bond. Don’t squander those opportunities. Instead, reach out and invite them to drinks or sushi or a weighted-vest hike. Or to come over for dinner with the family (with theirs) or a campfire, or hanging at a waterpark. Whatever suits your fancy (I’ve done ALL those with male friends and with their families as noted-good times all around).
Many men struggle in with this aspect of their life, even if their marriage and health and kids are all in order. Don’t neglect our primal instinct of male bonding and influence. It is critical to our own well being and ability to learn and stay strong in the face of feminine imperative and influence that is so common.
So stop being a pawn in your wife’s social life. Stop letting your wife be the only one making plans for you, or the family, each weekend. And start making your own plans, and making awesome (or interesting or unique plans) for your family and see what happens. I think you’ll find your life’s happiness takes a bump when you start reconnecting with old male friends, or establishing new ones.