Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys?

murder

 An epidemic of loneliness is killing millions of American men. Here’s why.

 —

On a cold February night a few weeks ago, Professor and researcher Niobe Way presented findings from her book Deep Secrets here in New York. (Her book is available on Amazon.) She was hosted by Partnership With Children, a groundbreaking organization doing powerful interventions with at risk children in the New York’s Public Schools. Both Way and Partnership With Children’s work have produced reams of hard statistical data proving that emotional support directly impacts every metric of academic performance. And, as it turns out, every other part of our lives as well.

That night, as my wife Saliha and I made our way down the snow-blown streets towards Fifth Avenue, I was feeling the somber weight of the third month of dark Northeast winter, wondering how many days remained until Spring would come. “It’s February. Don’t kid yourself,” the answer came back. My charming and lovely wife was to take me to dinner after Way’s presentation. It was my birthday.

Deep SecretsNiobe Way is Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University and director of the Ph.D. program in Developmental Psychology. A number of years ago, she started asking teenage boys what their closest friendships meant to them and documenting what they had to say.

This particular question turns out to be an issue of life or death for American men.

When it comes to what is happening emotionally with boys and men, we confuse what we expect of them with what they actually feel…And given enough time, they do so as well.

Before Way, no one would have thought to ask boys what is happening in their closest friendships because we assumed we already knew. In fact, when it comes to what is happening emotionally with boys or men, we confuse what we expect of them with what they actually feel. And given enough time, they do so as well.

This surprisingly simple line of inquiry, once engaged, can open a Pandora’s box of self-reflection for men. After a lifetime of being told how men “typically” experience feeling and emotion, the answer to the question “what do my closest friends mean to me” is lost to us.

And here is the proof. In a survey published by the AARP in 2010, we learn that one in three adults aged 45 or older reported being chronically lonely. Just a decade before, only one out of five of us said that. And men are facing the brunt of this epidemic of loneliness. Research shows that between 1999 and 2010 suicide among men, age 50 and over, rose by nearly 50%. The New York Times reports that “the suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.”

In an article for the New Republic titled The Lethality of Loneliness, Judith Schulevitz writes:

Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused by or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancertumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

Meanwhile, as I sat down to write about Niobe Way’s research today, a tweet by Alain De Botton popped up in my stream:

“An epidemic of loneliness generated by the misguided idea that romantic love is the only solution to loneliness.”

♦◊♦

And there you have it. What Niobe Way illuminates in her book is nothing less than the central source of our culture’s epidemic of male loneliness. Driven by our collective assumption that the friendships of boys are both casual and interchangeable, along with our relentless privileging of romantic love over platonic love, we are driving boys into lives Professor Way describes as “autonomous, emotionally stoic, and isolated.”  What’s more, the traumatic loss of connection for boys Way describes is directly linked to our struggles as men in every aspect of our lives.

Millions of men are experiencing a sense of deep loss that haunts them even though they are engaged in fully realized romantic relationships, marriages and families.

Professor Way’s research shows us that as boys in early adolescence, we express deeply fulfilling emotional connection and love for each other, but by the time we reach adulthood, that sense of connection evaporates. This is a catastrophic loss; a loss we somehow assume men will simply adjust to. They do not. Millions of men are experiencing a sense of deep loss that haunts them even though they are engaged in fully realized romantic relationships, marriages and families.

For men, the voices in Way’s book open a deeply private door to our pasts. In the words of the boys themselves, we experience the heartfelt expression of male emotional intimacy that echoes the sunlit afternoons of our youth. This passionate and loving boy to boy connection occurs across class, race and cultures. It is exclusive to neither white nor black, rich nor poor. It is universal; beautifully evident in the hundreds of interviews that Way conducted. These boys declare freely the love they feel for their closest friends. They use the word love and they are proud to do so.

Consider this quote from a fifteen year old boy named Justin:

[My best friend and I] love each other…that’s it …you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that that person is that person… and that is all that should be important in our friendship…I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect, and love for each other. It just happens, it’s human nature.

Way writes:

Set against a culture that perceives boys and men to be “activity oriented,” “emotionally illiterate,” and interested only in independence, these stories seem shocking.  The lone cowboy, the cultural icon of masculinity in the West, suggests that what boys want and need most are opportunities for competition and autonomy.  Yet over 85% of the hundreds of boys we have interviewed throughout adolescence for the past 20 years suggest that their closest friendships — especially those during early and middle adolescence— share the plot of Love Story more than the plot of Lord of the Flies. Boys from different walks of life greatly valued their male friendships and saw them as critical components to their emotional wellbeing, not because their friends were worthy opponents in the competition for manhood, but because they were able to share their thoughts and feelings — their deepest secrets — with these friends.

Yet something happens to boys as they enter late adolescence….As boys enter manhood, they do, in fact, begin to talk less. They start using the phrase “no homo” following any intimate statement about their friends and they begin to say that they don’t have time for their male friendships even though they continue to express strong desires for having such friendships.

In response to a simple question regarding how their friendships have changed since they were a freshman in high school, two boys respond and reveal everything about friendships for boys during adolescence. Justin describes in his senior year how his friendships have changed since he was a freshman:

“I don’t know, maybe, not a lot, but I guess that best friends become close friends. So that’s basically the only thing that changed. It’s like best friends become close friends, close friends become general friends and then general friends become acquaintances. So they just… If there’s distance whether it’s, I don’t know, natural or whatever. You can say that, but it just happens that way.”

Michael says:

“Like my friendship with my best friend is fading, but I’m saying it’s still there but… So I mean, it’s still there ‘cause we still do stuff together, but only once in a while. It’s sad ‘cause he lives only one block away from me and I get to do stuff with him less than I get to do stuff with people who are way further. …It’s like a DJ used his cross fader and started fading it slowly and slowly and now I’m like halfway through the cross fade.”

And then Way takes us through the logical results of this disconnection for boys:

Boys know by late adolescence that their close male friendships, and even their emotional acuity, put them at risk of being labeled “girly,” “immature,” or “gay.” Thus, rather than focusing on who they are, they become obsessed with who they are not — they are not girls, little boys nor, in the case of heterosexual boys, are they gay. In response to a cultural context that links intimacy in male friendships with an age, a sex (female), and a sexuality (gay), these boys “mature” into men who are autonomous, emotionally stoic, and isolated.

The ages of 16 to 19, however, are not only a period of disconnection for the boys in my studies, it is also a period in which the suicide rate for boys in the United States rises dramatically and becomes five times the rate of girls when in early adolescence it is only three times the rate of girls. And it is the developmental period in which many of the school shootings we have read about in the paper have occurred and violence, more generally, among boys occurs. Just as boys during early and middle adolescence predicted, not having friends to share their deepest secrets appears to make them go “wacko.”

In America, men perform masculinity within a narrow set of cultural rules often called the Man Box. Charlie Glickman explains it beautifully here.  One of the central tenants of the man box is the subjugation of women and by extension, all things feminine. Since we Americans hold emotional connection as a female trait, we reject it in our boys, demanding that they “man up” and adopt a strict regimen of emotional independence, even isolation as proof they are real men. Behind the drumbeat message that real men are stoic and detached, is the brutal fist of homophobia, ready to crush any boy who might show too much of the wrong kind of emotions.

And so, by late adolescence, boys declare over and over “no homo” following any intimate statement about their friends.

And so, there it is, the smoking gun, the toxic poison that is leading to the life killing epidemic of loneliness for men, (and by extension, women,) look no further. It’s right there: “no homo.”

Which is why we must fight relentlessly for gay rights and marriage equality. It is a battle for the hearts and souls of our young sons. The sooner being gay is normalized, the sooner we will all be free of the shrill and violent homophobic policing of boys and men. America’s pervasive homophobic anti-feminine policing has forced generations of young men to abandon each other’s support at the crucial moment they enter manhood.

It is a heart rending realization that even as men hunger for real connection in our male relationships, we have been trained away from embracing it. We have been trained to choose surface level relationships, even isolation; sleep-walking through our lives out of fear that we will not be viewed as real men. We keep the loving natures that once came so naturally to us hidden and locked away. This training runs so deep we’re no longer even conscious of it. And we pass this training on, men and women alike, to generation after generation of bright eyed, loving little boys.

Something was uncoiling in me; something cold and bleak had taken root in me long ago and gone to sleep there.

♦◊♦

By the time Professor Way was completing her presentation, I realized I was feeling sick. A queasy nausea roiled up. Something was uncoiling in me; something cold and bleak that had taken root in me long ago and gone to sleep there. As Way read these boys’ words, it woke up. It was baleful moment of mutual recognition. A sense of utter despair came rushing up, vast, deeper than deep. A February moment to end all of them. Spring was never coming back.

And no matter how determined I had been all those years ago to put my grief away, it was here now, a wall of pain so pure and unflinchingly raw, I was shocked to discover that something so huge could fit in the frail confines of a human being. And even now, as I write these words, gingerly reaching out to give witness to that part of me, I am confronted with an dizzying abyss of sadness that stops my breath, leaving me flinching, waiting for the same killing blow to fall again. Over and over and over again.

I never made it to my birthday dinner. Instead, I wept for George, my wife holding me, as we barreled home through the winter darkness on the New York City subway.

♦◊♦

I can still recall his house, the luminous joy it held for me, along with each sidewalk crack, garden edge and tree root that marked, step by childhood step, the block of houses separating us.

When I was seven, my best friend’s name was George. He lived around the corner from me. George was tall and lanky. His elbows always akimbo, his cowlick stellar in its sheer verticality. He had an aquarium. He had a glow-in-the-dark board game. He had the 45 RPM of Hang on Sloopy and he was a Harry Nilsson fan, just like me. I can still recall his house, the luminous joy it held for me, along with each sidewalk crack, garden and tree root that marked, step by childhood step, the block of houses separating us. I still see it in my mind’s eye that way. The way in which a child sees down close to the ground, the twigs and ants and trimmed grass sprawling into distinct green blades.  All part of the frozen seven-year-old’s mosaic that exploded into pieces when my parents’ marriage failed, launching them into the bitter self-immolation that typifies American divorce.

Boxes were packed. Doors closed and locked. We were swept away in a wave of surging dislocation, to another house, other hands, other curbs and sidewalks in another part of town. It was never to be the same. And try as I may, I can not shake the magic of that one lost suburban street.

Although we lived just an hour apart, our parents were not willing to insure that George and I stayed in regular contact. For my mother’s part, perhaps it was just too much. Alongside a wrenching divorce, a new husband and the challenges of putting the past behind her, perhaps, George was just that. To much a thing of the past.

But George and I were granted a yearly reprieve. Once or sometimes twice a year, George and I were allowed a sleepover. George always came to spend the night on my birthday. It was the one gift I asked for. His visit.

We would spend all night sorting and reading mountains of comics books. Drawing super heroes and discussing, page by page, the comic art of Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Jim Aparo, Bernie Wrightson, Frank Frazetta and all the others. We loved that artwork. Each line and pen stroke. Each page. I recall we were also able to meet at a few comic conventions. Watching Harryhausen films and searching thousands of musty boxes for back issues.

Then one day it ended. My mother simply said, “no more.” I still feel it in my gut. Like a knife so sharp that all I felt was the intense cold of it.

Then one day it ended. My mother simply said, “no more.” I still feel it in my gut. Like a knife so sharp that all I felt was the intense cold of it. Did I ask why? One time? A hundred times? I don’t recall. My mother was never one for questions about her decisions.

To this day, I don’t know what triggered that choice for her, but my guess is she was feeling vaguely uncomfortable. That two boys, by then around eleven years old, should be moving on to things more productive than comic books and sleep overs. That this “friendship” should have died of its own lack of oxygen, but, pending that, she could no longer sponsor something so…intense. From her perspective, it was unnaturally so.

How many times have we heard parents say, “Oh, they’ll make new friends.” As if the relationships of children are so shallow and contextual that they can be swapped out like last year’s lunchbox. Whatever kid they are seated by, in whatever random school room is assigned, will do as well as the next.

George and I dutifully gave up our friendship, like boys are expected to do, when some random change demands it of us. We accepted the arcane logic of my mother’s decision and turned away to other relationships more convenient to her purposes.

George and I dutifully gave up our friendship, like boys are trained to do, when some random life change demands it of us. I accepted the arcane logic of my mother’s decision and turned away to other relationships more convenient to her purposes.

I’m sorry to hold her responsible in this way. I would like to leave, somehow, petals of kind recollections trailing along the internet, holding her memory aloft, but I don’t have it in me. Her choices were too dysfunctional, too emotionally exhausted, too tired, dismissive, numbing, too predictable.

When I was in my early thirties, I ran into George again. He was working for a local newspaper and living in an apartment in Houston. I went and visited him. To my surprise, he happily split up his comic collection, (I had sold mine when I was 16 or so) and gave me half of his huge collection. It was an act of profound generosity and I’m sure I was effusive in my thanks.

Then I ran into George again in my forties. He had married, moved to California and was living South of L.A. near Seal Beach. On a business trip, I spent the night at his house. We fell into our old pattern of reading comic books and drawing while his wife hovered, declaring over and over how great it was that I was visiting. The next day I packed up and went home to New York feeling vaguely disconnected, but happy.

A year and a half later, I boxed up a bunch of new graphic novels and mailed them to George with a note telling him that these were my new favorites.

About six months later his wife called me. She was screaming and weeping, this woman I had only met for a few short hours. George had died.

To this day, I remain shocked. “Why didn’t I connect more,” was my first thought. My second was how effusive his wife had been about my visit. So supportive. So happy for “George’s friend” to be there. I was never able to follow up after his death. I don’t even know what killed him, just an illness. Strangely, when I collected my thoughts, I realized I could no longer find a phone number for George’s wife. She had called me on a land line? I don’t remember. Maybe I did call her one more time. A fog of disconnection rises in me about this. Just move on. Just move on.

I recall a single phone call with his mother after his death. (Had she called me?) If I go into my decades old contact list today, I have no entry for George. No address in L. A. No disconnected email address. Nothing.

How is this possible? How did I sleep walk through the chance to reconnect with this friendship? I should have cared. I should have given a damn. Why didn’t I? Because somewhere, somehow, I was convinced that close friendships with boys are too painful? 

Don’t parents understand? Don’t they know that we love each other? That our children’s hearts can be broken so profoundly that we will never rise to a love like that again?

Don’t parents understand? Don’t they know that we love each other? That our children’s hearts can be broken so profoundly that we will never rise to a love like that again?

What boys do, the world had convinced me, was to move on to the next thing. So I did so. We shrug our collective shoulders and suppress the panic of heartbreak and loss. We go numb. We suppress everything. We accept the world as a surface level exercise. Because the love boys feel, that passion we feel for the ones we love is too powerful. It makes grownups nervous.

And we can’t have grownups feeling nervous now can we?

Let’s take a moment to connect the dots. Boys feel fierce love for their best friends ——> Add homophobia, the Man Box, etc. ———-> Boys disassociate from loving best friends ———–> Boys and men become emotionally isolated  ————> Men enter the epidemic of loneliness ————> Men die.

We now have a clear and direct through-line tying rampant homophobia and the Man Box to resulting grief, isolation, and early mortality in heterosexual men.

Sound a little dramatic? Here is the central piece of research data that every man should take to heart.

In a six-year study of 736 middle-aged men, attachment to a single person (almost always a spouse) did NOT lower the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, whereas having a strong social support network did. [Source: Kristina Orth-Gomér, Annika Rosengren & Lars Wilhelmsen, “Lack of Social Support and Incidence of Coronary Heart Disease in Middle-Aged Swedish Men,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 55(1993): 37-43.]

♦◊♦

I recall to this day, walking into George’s room when I was ten and him holding out a copy of Jack Kirby’s New Gods. The issue was titled The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin. His joy in sharing that with me, the book thrust out in his hands, is as real to me now as any human moment I can recall. The birth of my son. My dear wife’s tears. Anything.

When I turn my thoughts back to those times with George I feel a glimmer of primal emotional strength glowing in me. Something fierce and unquenched is there. Something I badly need to reconnect to.

When I turn my thoughts to those times with George, I feel a glimmer of primal emotional power glowing in me. Something fierce and unquenched is there. Something I badly need to reconnect to.

Niobe Way has given us a clear and actionable truth about boys and about ourselves as men. We can shrug it off at our peril. But ignoring her truth and the truth of these boys comes with a terrible price. The loss of my friendship with George set a pattern in my life that I am only now, decades later, finally conscious of. I have walked past so many friendships. Sleep walking past men, as I went instead from woman to women, looking for everything I had lost. Looking instead in the realm of the romantic, the sexual. A false lead to a false solution. And in doing so, I have missed so many opportunities to live a fuller life.

Our female or male lovers are not put here to replace the warm platonic love of the hilarious, generous, sympathetic men in our lives. They are put here to celebrate them with us, even as we celebrate our lover’s passionate platonic friends with them. It is a symphony of love, wherein our joy in platonic love is co-amplified by our sexual loves. Both.

Both.

I have told my story several times to the men I know, like I’m telling it here, and in doing so, I’m becoming fierce and awake now.

Since my birthday I have placed some phone calls. I called my friend Michael and I told him I love him. That I value him as one of my closest friends and that I welcome him to call on me for fun or for sorrow. I have told my story several times to other friends, like I’m telling it here, and in doing so, I’m becoming fierce and awake now.

Niobe Way’s work has given me the piece of the puzzle I was never conscious of. That the love I had felt for George and others, Troy, Jack, David, Bruce, and Kyle was right and good and powerful. Could move mountains. That the slow withdrawing of those friendships from my life had not been a killing blow. Not quite. And that I’m back in the game of loving my friends. Fiercely.

So, know it guys. I love you all.

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Read more by Mark Greene:

Guess What? Women Also Struggle With Emotional Expression

When “Check Your Male Privilege” Becomes a Bludgeon

How the Man Box Can Kill Our Sons Now or Decades from Now

Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendships of Boys

How America’s Culture of Shame is a Killer for Boys

The Culture of Shame: Men, Love, and Emotional Self-Amputation

The Man Box: Why Men Police and Punish Others

The Man Box: The Link Between Emotional Suppression and Male Violence

The Lack of Gentle Platonic Touch in Men’s Lives is a Killer

Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men of Touch

Boys and Self-Loathing: The Conversations That Never Took Place

Our Society’s Brutal Economic Message to Straight Men About Expressing Gender Differently: You’d Better Not…

The Dark Side of Women’s Requests of Progressive Men

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About Mark Greene

Executive Editor Mark Greene’s articles for the Good Men Project have received over 250,000 Facebook shares and 20 million page views.

Greene writes and speaks on culture, society, family and fatherhood. His work is a timely and balanced look at the life affirming changes emerging from the modern masculinity movement.

Greene writes and speaks on men’s issues for the Good Men Project, the Shriver Report, the New York Times, Salon, the BBC and the Huffington Post.

Comments

  1. Jack Davis says:

    Good, I’m not the only one. My best friend, Colton, and I do…did…a lot of things together. He moved to the other side of the country, but we still keep in touch. The fact that we do so to the extent that we do keeps leading idiots to ask if we’re gay. One such idiot asked if my girlfriend knew I was cheating on her with a man. She, fortunately, had met Colton before he moved, and once I explained what had been meant she was pissed at the idiot, not me. But it was weird to me that we weren’t supposed to be this close now that we were both in college. Mind you, this is after we met in 7th grade, been best friends for years, have had each others backs in some REALLY bad situations. We’re still friends, and I’m glad this is something the Good Men Project is trying to pull society’s head out of its ass about. People shouldn’t lose friendships because other people think it’s somehow weird or wrong.

    • Dear Jack, The collective cultural pressure for men to be emotionally tough and to “Man Up”, has a catastrophic impact on men’s lives. But all it takes is the conscious choice to push back against the pressure to isolate ourselves and suddenly life becomes much richer. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Thank you for this important observation. I grieve that the men in my life are cast adrift when it comes to relationships. As someone who has worked in “liberal” churches with kids, I’ve had so many disagreements with clergy about including the story of David and Jonathan’s friendship in the curriculum that I’ve given up. The “experts” advised me it was a “slippery slope” and sexualized this story instead of seeing it as an opportunity to connect men’s friendships to the scripture presented in church. Alas, for every slippery slope on one side of a mountain, there are 3 other slopes resulting in shame and loneliness for too many.

  3. As I sit here and struggle with my own loneliness, you have identified a reason for something I have only just recently identified in myself. I lost my best friend when I was 11 years old. Not physically, but in other ways. At that point we had been friends since we were 5, that’s a long time for two 11 year olds. I realize now the poetic metaphor that shaped this event. But what happened after that was drugs. His addiction tore him away from me. Not physically, we still were friends until our 40’s when another event tore us apart for good. But it all started back in 1979 in San Antonio when our paths separated. I know now why I have has such horrible relationships with women – I was looking for them to fill this hole I have had for so long. I am married now with 3 children and I still feel lonely. She can’t fix me either. I have come to realize that and have made some changes, but the loneliness is still there, eating away at me form the inside. I have lost other friends too, and I never understood why they could just go away like that and never look back. I miss them so deeply, and yes, I do some times hesitate to express it because of the stigma. Not so much the homophobia as that has never been much of an issue for me, but it’s the stoicism that, as a man, I must project. Nothing should be able to bother me, get me down. I must be tough. I can do it alone. But I’m not tough, and I can’t do it alone. Trust is a huge issue too. I was bullied horribly as a kid by someone in my family, my brother. I never got the help or even the recognition I needed and that has destroyed my ability to trust, or even believe I am worth it. This is amplified every time I lose a friend. And is probably why I never put up much of an honest fight each and every time they leave. I wonder if there is something to this point. If we felt better about ourselves, if we valued ourselves more, would we do more to keep these friendships. It goes both ways too, if we are hurt by some one, we must learn to lean into it and feel it at it’s worst and not just turn away and look for some superficial comfort, in my case, with meaningless hook ups and pretend it doesn’t matter. What is the answer? How can we express our feelings with out coming off as needy and weak? Maybe we do need to be stronger and look within after all, because really, no one has time for it. But I think the big question that needs to be explored is this: What happens to the broken ones? What happens after all the friends disappear and you are there, alone? What then? It seems there are lots of efforts to help at risk kids, and that is good, very good. But what about those who fell through the cracks long ago? What about at risk 40 – somethings? Do they still matter? Maybe there is something out there? I don’t know. But maybe the stoicism keeps them away.

  4. It happened to me and the effects are tragical. One of my neighbour friends had such a different personality that only a good auspice put us together. He was the “doing” guy, I was the “thinking” one, each one completing the other in all the critical points. We ran together from the kindergarten once to go to the beach and second time to visit his grand mother in another county. Unfortunately, the relation broke and he, while being a smart guy, became complacent in mediocrity and me, even if I have all the premises for action, I convince very few of that. This is the universal aspect of the story, here it is the Romanian one: because of the security connections of his mother, he is now director in a company, part of a corruption circle. Because of the obsession of my folks not to lose the control over me, I was forbidden to see him again, he had a normal childhood social life and I didn’t. Not only that, but they were so obsessed to reassure the control that they kept bullying me every time and trying to put me down each time that I rise over them; for example, I don’t remember them congratulating me even once. It’s still happening in my forties! And the final irony is that, after stopping me being like my neighbor, they kept giving him as a positive example, humiliating me even more. Where’s the Romanian shade in the second example? My family hated me so much that, when they saw their efforts weren’t enough to put me down, they began giving notes about me to the same security who made director of this guy. And, because no one said these are educated and compassionate guys, they acted accordingly.

  5. Thank you. You said, word for word, what I have puzzled over for around 35 years. Mike and his sweet wife moved to another state many hours away and “lost touch.” Not so much out of awkwardness, more out of distractions with living. Mike and I were inseparable from 7th grade junior high through the morass of senior high. I have always known,though, that God provided Mike for me, “for such a time as that.” We discovered girls right on the middle of collecting comics and debating 1970s bands. We discussed the raging hormones when that stage hit, and shared dreams, fears, hopes, and plans. All to the background theme music of Star Trek. He was Jonathan to my David. Our loves for our respective wives and our faith in God moves us through life, but memories of my best buddy seem to pop into mind more often as I enter late-middle-age. Your article convinces me that I need to go spend some real time with my friend before it’s all gone. In the names of Kirk and Spock, Starski and Hutch, and Chandler and Joey, thank you.

  6. Very good article! However, gay marriage and gay rights will not solve this problem. Even in areas where being gay isn’t really a stigma, boys still do not connect on deep emotional levels.

    • Amy Glass says:

      Sometimes, gay marriage and the courts that legalize them are ahead of the curve. Even in states with gay marriage, male homosexuality is still heavily stigmatized which is why a gay couple walking down the street just holding hands is not safe- even in states with “gay marriage and gay rights” as you put it. This is about more than just gay marriage. People are more comfortable seeing 2 men beat each other to a pulp than seeing 2 men kiss or hold hands or show public affection in any normal way that straight couples and even lesbian couples are allowed to. That’s why you have all the public outrage whenever a gay couple shows affection in the media whereas we don’t hear a peep when it is 2 women. You would’ve thought the world was coming to an end when Michael Sam kissed his then boyfriend- now fiancé Vita Commisano- when he got drafted into the NFL. The reaction can be seen every time a gay display of affection is shown on T.V. Most recently seen with a “walking dead” episode and an episode on a LESBIAN abc family show called ‘the fosters’ nonetheless. This is a show whose lead characters are a lesbian couple that show affection from time to time yet people were only outraged when 2 boys- portraying teenagers on the show- kissed. In walking dead, the complaints only came when it was a gay couple giving each other a peck. There was no public outrage when the lesbian Tara had a partner on the show. Fighting against homophobia- specifically homophobia that is directed at gay men- is more than just about gay marriage or employment nondiscrimination. Until a gay male couple can walk down the street and be allowed to display the same level of appropriate public PDA without the threat of facing violence or incendiary insults, until people can stop boiling down the entirety of a gay man’s life to just a particular type of sexual activity that they think all gays do and instead see him as a whole complex person, until people stop saying “eew, disgusting” whenever a gay male couple is shown in the media, straight men will not be free to let their guards down and develop close friendships because of the fears of being perceived as gay. Without gay men being free and equal, straight men cannot be free either because the threat of homophobia will always be lurking in the background, and they will do anything- even jeopardize their own emotional health- all to avoid being seen as gay. This author is exactly right on point!!! Straight men have to tackle homophobia- theirs as well as from other straight men- before they can even think about having close emotional bonds like women.

  7. Joe Peine says:

    Proud to count you as a friend. All my love to you brother.

  8. Thank you, Mark, for this article. You nailed it. And thank you for the phone call. I love you too, my friend.

  9. There is this interesting expectation that once you get a serious LTR girlfriend and/or get married, you essentially give up your male friends.

    I’ve been lucky to maintain a close friendship with my best friend and his entire family. Some of the best times we’ve had is just when its been “the guys” hanging out together with no girls around. We can actually be real and honest with each other – something you can’t be in mixed company.

    Loving a good friend like a brother is often what most men lack. I love my best friend – more so then I’ve ever loved any girl. I don’t mean love with any sexual or romantic connotation, just that almost “familial” sense of love. There is romantic love, but then there is the love of your close male friends.

    • If you saw the Blue Collar Tour, one of the comedians talk about how you get married, you do lose your friends while the wife seems to keep hers. Just because you get marry should not mean that you give up your friends and hobbies in order to please your wife.

  10. Jon Fritch says:

    Feminism seeks to undo the subjugation of femininity, which will create a society more accepting of emotional bonds between men.
    This article hits on every point that I hoped it would. Thank you.

  11. This article hit me like a ton of bricks, because I too have been affected by a conspicuous lack of strong friendships and platonic relationships. Very little has been said about the affects of our highly-mobile society, and yet we didn’t just start moving around yesterday. For whatever reason(s) families move around, most parents fail to understand how those moves affect their children, as if their children’s relationships are “disposable” and all that matters is the parents’ agenda.

    I don’t know how many times we moved before I finished high school, but it was a bunch. By the time I had finished fourth grade, I had been in four different schools in four different cities. The longest stretch I was in any one school was two years, and that included high school. I had been in nine different schools by the time I graduated from high school, and the longest we live at any one address was three years. BTW, my parents were married for fifty-nine years, so it wasn’t as a result of divorce and remarriage.

    Where is Chris, my best-friend during grade-school? I don’t know, because I haven’t had any contact with him since about 1969. Where is Jerry, my best-friend from junior high and early high school? I still have contact with his parents, but the last time I talked to him, he was too busy with work and family to make time for his old buddy. During my last two years of high school, I met and became good friends with Darrell and Joe. We were the “Three Musketeers”. The last time we were together in life was 1973. I kept up contact with Darrell for a few years, but lost contact with Joe. Thankfully a few years ago, Darrell’s sister Tammy found me on Classmates and helped us reconnect. The last time I saw Darrell alive was about 1980. I am thankful for the many phone conversations we had before he died from cancer in 2011. I didn’t make it out to see him before he died, as I had planned, but thanks to Tammy, I was able to be there for his memorial service. Joe and I reconnected at his memorial service, and the remaining two musketeers were together to honor the memory of our lost brother. I still have contact with Joe through Facebook. Darrell only lived about four blocks from my parents for many years, but neither knew the other was in the same neighborhood. I have seen one other friend from my graduating class twice in the last forty years, but at least we still have some contact through Facebook. I also have some contact through Facebook with some of the folks I went to the previous high school with, including an old girlfriend.

    I don’t have any close friends in this area, so I don’t have any truly-close relationships that I could draw on when the chips are down. I live in Florida, and all of my closest friends are out of state. Steve is in South Carolina. John and Rich are in New Mexico. The last time I saw Steve was in 2012, and the last time I spent time with John and Rich was in 2011. It is not that I wouldn’t love to see them more often, but money doesn’t grow on trees.

    I grew up in a time and place where homosexuality was largely-unknown and long before homophobia, so my relationships weren’t constrained by any concern about my friends and I doing anything “inappropriate”.

    On the flip-side… I decided that my own children wouldn’t be forced to pack up and move frequently, so my older three children only attended two different schools in different communities, and my baby went to the same school from head-start through high school. I graduated from high school with a class of over 800, but my children graduated from high school with classes of less that 50. I never really knew my cousins, but my own children grew up with, went to school with, and graduated with many of their cousins. I had very few relational ties while I was growing up, but my children have many on-going relational ties. My middle daughter is going through breast-cancer treatment, and she has a large extended-family to support her. I would have had no such support had I faced a similar health-situation when I was her age.

    As big a problem as having no close buddies to relate to and confide in is, an even greater problem for most men is that they have NO real support-system. Period… Several months ago, I had to reschedule a minor day-surgery, because I had no one to go with me and be my designated-driver for the day. Fortunately I was able to find a driver for the second surgery date, so I was able to have that surgery. If I were to face a major illness now, I would have to go it alone, because I still have no real support-system. I might as well live in a cave in the mountains.

    • Mr. McFarland, ever since I left my childhood neighborhood to another part of the state, it was impossible to have male friends since even though we went to the same school, because they either live in another part of the city or live in another city. The lack of widespread public transportation to maintain and see your male friends is terrible in the USA.

      You are correct about having no male support network to when you do have surgery and the doctor’s office will not have a taxis ta take you home for safety reasons.

  12. Beautifully written and completely true. Excellent.

  13. Really emotional and gripping.

  14. Powerful!

  15. Sorry for posting again. A little anecdote: recently, my 8 year old niece has been banned by her school and parents from playing with her best friend , a little boy of the same age. The school cited they had become too exclusive and that they needed to forge friendships in an inclusive way. By no means was it ever suggested anything untoward was occurring (if 8 year olds can be untoward), they simply preferred each other’s company, played together, ate lunch together, made projects and clubs together, and got into mischief together. As my niece stated, ‘I love him but not in that way’. She still does not understand why they can’t play together anymore (and neither do I). I do not believe male to male friendships are more meaningful than other types of friendships (which the article seems to imply to me but I could have misread that) but I believe we should be able to, we have a right to, and most of us need to have close or best friend/s regardless of gender

    • I think a HUGE part of the problem there, and again with what Mark has described, is that Western culture has become too sexualized, in a toxic way. We’ve lost so much of our collective sense of friendship, and are afraid to touch each other in a friendly, platonic way, because we assume… sex. I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts this fear was still in the back of the school’s mind, even if faculty never said they were worried about them acting untoward.

      Where does this sexualizing come from? I think it’s Madison Avenue and the mass media, using sex to turn a profit. Even when we find predatory teachers in the schools– if they are women, so many media outlets play it up like a true crime pulp fiction. They still take the real untoward behaviors and try to spin dollars out of it– Mary Kay LeTourneau, Debbi LaFave, Linda Lusk, and so on.

    • Having many mutually platonic friendships with women, I totally get where you’re coming from. Male to male friendships are probably not more meaningful than female to female or male to female, but I think that the author is trying to make is that boys, in particular, seem to be more actively discouraged than girls do in this area due to stereotypes about how we are supposed to be and act.
      To hell with that school and their simplistic attitudes. There is no reason that they can’t keep their best friend and make other friends as well. Discouraging them from one isn’t encouraging them to the other.

    • Carmen, when I was your niece’s age (almost 30 years ago), my school thought it was inappropriate that a white girl was such close friends with a black boy. They were pretty clear with my mom about how they thought it looked. Thankfully my mom understood that we were friends because he loved science as much as I did and he still came to my house to play, but at school, we were made to feel like we couldn’t hang out. We lost touch pretty quickly though. I can’t even say exactly why. It probably just got too complicated for 8 year olds.

  16. Very interesting article. There is a flipside though..in regards to a comment “women suffer no stigma from simply getting together to catchup”. They do suffer a stigma if they dont enjoy this. I find ‘simply catching up’ tedious and boring. I am a woman who prefers activity based friendships and I do not like being emotional. So I am generally excluded from female friendship. The few friends I do have are male and it’s such a relief having some one to just go and do something with, except as they find partners I am no longer welcome as a friend.. All genders feel the restrictions that society places on them and dictate how they are to interact with others. It’s such a shame we can’t just be as we are, love whom we want to and forge friendships according to our own wants, needs and desires.

    • Carmen,

      Women much like yourself were a welcome respite for me during the gauntlet Mark describes. (I will venture that relatively few of them ever suspected I really was actually bisexual– they were that entangled in the cultural expectations.) In fact, I wound up marrying such a woman– and then– I met another wonderful individual, again, like yourself. Double relief when I found that she and my wife became fast and close friends.

      I’m sure that to a certain extent, my wife and our good friend would echo your frustrations. I think we generally decided to turn towards people older than ourselves for friendship, or at least, people that were not buried in the busy world of employment, raising children, and social circles tightly organized around such. The missus and I are on disability, and our friend drives a truck long haul, so that amplifies the loneliness for us sometimes.

  17. Awsome and from the heart! This article touched in so many ways. I got word a couple of weeks ago that my sons ‘Best Friend’ from when he was about 8 until he was about 16 took his life. At 22 years old he decided it wasn’t worth it. The last I heard, he stole a credit card in New Mexico (where his Father, freshly divorced from his mother, had moved) bought a 1 gallon gas can, 1 gallon of gas to put in it, and a lighter.

  18. As a single mom of a tween son, I appreciate this article so much. I have tried my best to encourage my son in his friendships with other boys, to delay that plunge into ‘going out’ with girls (even if that means just sitting together in the cafeteria, away from other friends). As I read this, I can’t help but wonder if that shutting down of platonic emotion that is forced upon boys, ostensibly to free them up for romantic emotion, does exactly the opposite. I find it hard to believe that men will have an easy time opening up emotionally with a partner if they were forced to shut themselves down emotionally at such a crucial time in their lives. Stoicism isn’t something that is turned off and on with a switch, nor would I think emotional intimacy to be something that can be compartmentalized so that it’s wholly healthy in some relationships and absent in others.

  19. Wow. Before I’d gotten past 3 or 4 paragraphs, I already understood deeply what you you were saying. I understood it because you were saying in words what I had lived and never even identified in myself until right now. How profoundly sad this is. I was near tears for most of this. I am a hetero man, and married to a fantastic woman to whom I can say anything and tell how I feel, but even telling her that I love friends would be physically difficult. As you say, its like an emotional scar…

    Having been through an all boys boarding school, the inclusion of the homophobia part is absolutely nail on the head. Despite any of society’s advancements in social acceptance of homosexuality I can tell you that teenage boys do not understand and do not accept. One guy from the boarding house got caught kissing another guy at school. He was bullied so bad by most of the other boys that he ran away (He was found safely, but he never came back). I blame the school and the culture of “Manhood” and machoism that it had established. I believe that a number of the teachers would genuinely have thought it was actually for the best.

    I identify with this so strongly even in the way that I physically struggle to say “I missed you” or “I love you, bro” to even my closest adult friends. I’ll happily talk about other things, just not about positive emotions that I feel about them, which is infinitely sad. Maybe what was destroyed was trust for a fear of emotional rejection? I don’t know… too big to comprehend.

    Either way its heartbreaking.

  20. Wow. I am so touched by this article. As a female, I can see the way jokes/culture expectation have robbed men in my life of these rich relationships. I feel the loss here.

  21. Mark, You’ve hit on one of the most pernicious double-standards—that the boundaries circumscribing male friendships prohibit affection to protect against the presumed loss of social standing and chance of attracting a female partner that ensue from real or perceived homosexual identification, while women have no equivalent restrictions and are encouraged to be affectionate with multiple women. In addition, all-male social activities, whether one-on-one or group, need to be legitimized through an activity—sports, exercise, the pursuit of a hobby—while women suffer no stigma from simply getting together to catch up, commiserate, or even watch a favorite film together while eating ice cream in bed. When women do this, it’s cute. If men do it, it’s “weird” or “scary.”

    • Michael Rowe says:

      What Thomas said above. As a non-heterosexual, some of the friendships I have with straight men were harder-won, at least in the beginning, because of this stigma. What’s depressing is that not much seems to have changed since my adolescence in the 70s, except that now—in no small parts due to brilliant articles like this one—it’s finally being discussed. Well done, Mark Greene. Very well done.

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