Male Bonding

Tom Matlack asked guys what makes them feel connected to other men. The good news? Not a single man said “chest bumps.”

One of the reasons we started The Good Men Project was to help guys talk about the things they don’t normally talk about. In that pursuit, here are men talking (in print, for the world to see) about what makes them feel most connected to other men. Guys, there may be hope for us yet…

Nude yoga.
Daniel, writer

Men prefer not to call it “male bonding.” We can’t call it “man time,” either, because that just sounds… questionable. Either way, it’s usually something involving little-to-no speech and a good amount of physical exertion. Your mind might immediately go to sports, but I’d say lumberjacking or drinking. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. Oddly enough, the guy friends I still have today are the ones I used to go behind my house with so we could shoot each other with airsoft pistols at close range. The friends that bleed together stay together.
Seth Palmer, television producer

I’ve read so many stories about men who could only communicate with their fathers when the subject of conversation was baseball (or football, or basketball, or golf), and it’s gotten to the point where these stories make me sad. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with talking to one’s father or to other men about sports. At best, our games give us glimpses of perfection and provide great entertainment. But these guys for whom games and the discussion of them are all—even when they maintain that when they’re talking about sports, they’re really talking about matters more profound and significant—these guys ought to get out more… which probably means they should more frequently walk away from their television sets.
Bill Littlefield, Host ofOnly A Game”

I choose to bond with men when there is a vehicle and a long road trip ahead. Guys are most comfortable speaking when they’re looking straight ahead (not at each other) and don’t really have an excuse to escape. My most serious conversations with all men—my Dad being the most influential—happen in the car. It’s partly why I think guys like cars so fucking much.
Dylan Leonard Brown, executive assistant

Vegas.
Matt Villano, writer.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but back in the days of communal life at school, “poo dollar” was a game played by adolescent males, where a dollar bill is smeared with excrement and placed on the sidewalk for an unfortunate person to pick up. I got to admit that I’ve never laughed so hard with friends in my entire life. And I’d love to think that I’ve outgrown such humor, but 20-plus years later a friend emailed me, knowing that I’m working in London for a month, to find out if the kids here “poo pound.” We still found it incredibly funny.
Joe Schrank, interventionist and sobriety coach

As a gay man, I’ve had the best bonding experiences of my life in electronic superstores. No matter what you are—gay, straight, bi, transgendered—most guys love electronics. Stick a bunch of men in an electronic superstore and the discussions and debates about plasma vs. LCD vs. 1080P vs. 1080i vs. Sony vs. Samsung vs. 7.1 surround sound vs. 5.1 surround sound vs. Blu-ray vs. 3-D is truly extraordinary. It always brings a smile to my face when a bunch of guys (gay and straight) can literally bond over a piece of electronic machinery.
Stafford Arima, theater director

Primal screaming. My best friend from middle school and I have seen each other through the last 20 years—all the ups, downs and sideways that adolescence, high school, college and our 20s brought us. We have reinforced our closeness in many ways over the years, but none in as memorably exhilarating a way as primal screaming. I was visiting him at his then-new house out in the woods. The neighbors are distant, and on this particular night his wife was out with friends. We were hammered, mixing yet another round of gin and tonics in pint glasses from the rapidly dwindling handle of Bombay Dry in the kitchen. I don’t remember how it started, but we began to yell, tentatively at first, amazed and somewhat unsettled at the noise we could generate, but soon increased in volume and gusto. We took turns, trying to outdo each other, but then began to overlap; one drunken, screaming, rope-necked 30-year-old gasping for a breath while the other continuing to scream, mouth open with drool stringing toward the floor, until the other could begin and spell the first. For some ten minutes solid we yelled into the quiet of his night kitchen, our bellows echoing around the house, until our heads were light and our throats hoarse. When we stopped, we laughed at ourselves in the uncanny silence, both swaying drunk but conscious of the catharsis of the moment and strange intimacy of knowing that there was no one else in the world but each other with whom that rawness would have been possible.
Drew DeVoogd, attorney

My roommate and I used to try to figure out what soccer team was better looking. That’s men’s soccer team. We’re both straight.
Ryan O’Hanlon, Good Men Project Magazine staff writer and former collegiate soccer player at Holy Cross

I don’t do anything different with my guy friends than I do with my female friends. Generally the best place to bond is an area with a creative energy, good conversation, and an adequate amount of coffee and cigarettes.
Eli Cadwallader, college student

Rafting down the twin fork of the Salmon River in Idaho with my business partners. I learned how smart my friends were playing hearts, how their minds really worked, and saw how they handled camping and the challenges of a foreign environment. Some guys I liked less, and many I liked a lot more.
Todd Dagres, venture capitalist

The bond that comes from playing competitive sport on a team is analogous to the bond that is created on the battlefield in war. Athletes will tell you that their bond to teammates can be stronger than any other in their life, including the bond they have with their wife and children. Something special occurs between men when they are in battle on the playing field-it could be the hormones that flow or simply the highly competitive situation-that leaves a lasting impression like no other.
Dr. Gregg Steinberg, professor of sport psychology at Austin Peay State University and the author of Full Throttle

Biking with my older son. Boys and men communicate better while doing things. Good luck sitting a boy down across from you and saying, “Okay, let’s talk.” My wife recently thanked me for not sharing with her the more intimate details of what we talk about on our biking excursions, because ignorance is bliss!
Geordie Mitchell, educator

The first hour you wake up, hungover as hell, after an absolute ripshit night of going out somewhere with your friends. Half your buddies aren’t there, the other half is scrambled around on couches, stretched out on pillows or right on the hardwood floor, or on top of (insert random potentially soft, or seemed soft at 4 a.m., object here). This first hour when everyone wakes up feeling awful, not drunk but clearly not sober, and recounts the events of the previous night. The stories you hear are likely the funniest they will ever sound. Whatever happened, happened, and it doesn’t matter who hears it or who thinks what, because you’re likely surrounded by a good group of men that you’d trust with anything.
PW, medical researcher

Every school kid learns how the city of Philadelphia got its name: The Quakers named it the City of Brotherly Love. This is probably the biggest misconception in the English language. As Steven Pressfield talks about in his novel, Gates of Fire, the term Philadelphia is Greek from the Spartans—they used it to describe the intense bond that is formed between men who have been in combat together, perhaps the strongest there is. My brother died in Vietnam … his friends still remember him, day to day, every day.
Colin Flaherty, owner of PR and Internet Marketing firm

Does having sex with men count as bonding? Yes. Okay. Then having sex with men. Very powerful bonding happening there.
Anonymous media mogul

Skydiving. It’s a superb confidence-builder and a great equalizer among men. You don’t have to be particularly athletic or muscular to fly your body with precision, though it does take numerous jumps to become a proficient body flyer. I’ll always remember my first 10-man star formation. I followed nine fellow skydivers out the door and flew my body to the exact point in the sky where the others were linked in a round freefall formation. I remember breaking open the wrist grips between two of them and settling in as the tenth man in the star. I’ll never forget the nine guys smiling at me as I completed the formation. They knew exactly how I felt. Not only had we had achieved flight, but we instantly bonded and shared that powerful moment in time and space.
Ed Scott, Executive Director of the U.S. Parachute Association

Watching the 49ers (way back when they were good) with my dad.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, editor of The Good Men Project Magazine.

What began as going out to get a beer with a friend to talk about marital problems after our regular Sunday night tennis game has grown into a weekly tradition known as the Fourth Set. Six of us now play tennis every Sunday night just so that we can go out together afterward. I suppose it’s not unusual for a group of guys to go to the same sports bar, order the same pitcher of beer, chicken wings and nachos week after week. What I think is unique is that we don’t watch any of the games on the TVs all around us, nor do we sit back and gloat about how we played on the tennis court. The difference, I think, is that we actually talk to each other. We talk about our relationships, our jobs, our stresses. It’s the time that we know that there is no judgment coming back at us, only understanding and, often, advice. It’s not unusual for someone to finish a story and then say, “Wow, I’d never told anyone that before.” The bonding that happens has helped each of us go through some tougher times with the knowledge that there is a strong support system that will always be there.
Stephen Siegel, urologist

Golf. It gives plenty of time to tell stories, share a few laughs, and whether you’re 40 or 70, a six handicapper or a twenty handicapper, every three minutes you have a chance to be a hero with just one swing. And it’s equally fun sober or drunk.”
Michael O’Hanlon, fish wholesaler

I’ve had some great bonding moments with guys during boxers or briefs debates. Don’t ask me why. Is that weird?
Justin Goedde, sales associate

12-step meetings. It doesn’t get any more real than that, and I’ve never felt closer to men than I have in those rooms. Throughout my life I thought I had strong male relationships, but it was only when I entered recovery that I found out what true male bonding was all about. I, by the grace of God, found men who reached out to me and taught me how to become a real man. A man with integrity, a loyal, trustworthy and monogamous husband, a good father and role model, brother, friend, employer, sponsor and a responsible member of society. My male friends are the cornerstone of my success in life, they helped me become the person I always wanted be, me.
Ron Tannebaum, co-founder of intherooms.com, a social networking site for people in recovery

Me and my friends like to sit around and make fun of Wolf Blitzer.
Marc Lewis, unemployed

Male bonding takes place every day in the basketball workplace. Couple strenuous workouts with skillful interactions that have been practiced daily over long periods of time make for a real bonding environment. Each player relies on the other to make the offense or defense successful. Then add the game intensity when people are watching and rooting for and against, and this connection just gets magnified. This is the most cherished of all the feelings an athlete can experience. Much more than the wins and losses, I remember the personalities most from my playing days. This bond amongst us lasts until this day; 30, 40, 50 years from the actual time we laced it up together.
Dave Cowens, NBA Hall of Famer

Constant, never-dying harassment.
Carlo Perez, CEO of uknowa.com

Until I was in my 30s, I had very few close male friends. I was raised surrounded by women, and as I went into adolescence and early adulthood, I tried to make certain that women were always around me. It wasn’t just romantic or sexual relationships that I was seeking; it was emotional support. I was absolutely terrified of intimacy with men. Men were colleagues and rivals, but never friends. I made all sorts of excuses as to why I didn’t have more male friends; the most frequent one was that “most American men are sexist pigs, and I can’t relate to that.” (That was a lie on several levels!)

Oddly, it was my work teaching women’s studies that forced me to work on my relationships with men. It finally hit home to me that much of my academic interest in women’s studies was rooted in my own fear and dislike of my fellow men. I liked being in classrooms (as a student or as a professor) where I was often literally the only man in the room. I felt safe. As I did the work of questioning why I felt so safe when men weren’t around, I realized to my shock that the judgment of women did not carry as much weight in my life as the judgment of men. In nearly all-female environments, I was at least temporarily free from the fear of being evaluated—and found wanting—by other males. It was a hard realization to come to at 31!

Many writers in the field of men’s studies talk about the concept of “homosociality.” It’s a simple principle: in American culture, young men are raised to value the approval of other males far more than the approval of women. Any young woman whose boyfriend acts completely differently when he is alone with her (as opposed to when he is with his buddies) recognizes this phenomenon instantly. As a shy, unathletic, narcissistic child, I had had a pretty unhappy and rough time in elementary and junior high school—mostly from my male peers. I realized, with that sudden mixture of shame and relief that accompanies such a realization, that as a consequence of these early miserable experiences, I had spent two decades avoiding intimacy with other men.
Hugo Schwyzer, Gender Studies Professor

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In September, 2009, Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Loren A Olson says:

    Men who have previously been married and have children who either discover or accept their homosexuality after having lived as heterosexual men, on average, come out about 10 years later than men who have early identified as gay. These men have a great deal in common with each other, but in fact, may have less in common with the majority of the LGBT community.

    My first steps into the gay world occurred through a gay fathers support group. For gay fathers, children play a central role in their lives. I bonded immediately with those men. Not only did we have a same-sex sexual orientation in common but we also had similar concerns about divorce, custody, alimony and child support, time demands of children. We also face issues of dating and that includes dating men who may not understand the role of children in our lives.

    Gay fathers are a very diverse group. Recognizing the diversity of this group helped me to feel better about myself. All of the things that I thought were “different” for me, dissolved in this group.

    I met this group of men 25 years ago, and many of them remain my friends to this day.

    • Thanks for the info. It’s been quite helpful. I’m dad and ex married. Just too many problems to share pov with LGBTs. Need help. Pls let me know if you have specific advice.
      Best!

  2. Thank you so much for asking this question! It needs to get asked and talked about lots. I must admit, however, how depressing it is to see how many responses that revolve around sports/athleticism and drinking. Some ways I bond with other men: talking politics, going to movies, talking about books, goofing off by making fun of everything in life, writing together…

  3. I’m a distance runner, and I’ve got to say long runs are where some of my best, deepest, conversations about life happen – especially the second haf or last third of a good long 16-20 miler. By then anything phony is long since left by the side of the road.

  4. I’ve had lots of different kinds of male-bonding experiences, ranging from deep discussions while passing back and forth a joint or drink, having sex with another guy or talking about faith with another guy in church and just about everything in between.
    What I find most disappointing among my brothers is that we need to find some kind of “excuse” to open up and “let our hair down” so to speak; be that drugs or alcohol, sex or religion. While all these scenes provide a certain “forum” that makes it condusive to talk from the heart, it’s a shame we just don’t often find that we can just meet-up and open-up. I guess that’s not the “guy way.” Consequently, I personally never feel like I have enough “male bonding” in my life, especially since I’m now in my mid 40′s, in 12step recovery (no no more booze or drugs), and don’t quite “hook up” sexually as often as I did when I was younger. I yearn for more male companionship and connection. It’s something I know I need in my life.

  5. In my opinion, what it ultimately boils down to is the near-total lack of judgment, pretentiousness, and dramatics that defines men’s roles with one another. Personally, I couldn’t care less what label is affixed to it; male bonding, man time, latent homosexuality, or just plain good friendship and fellowship…

    The bottom line is that for most of us, what clothes we wear, what shoes we wear, how we wear our hair, how many teeth we have or how much hair is on our heads never enters into the equation. You acquire good friends throughout life and those friends are either in our lives… or not, and it takes a great deal to break the bond between men.

    Among my friends, it’s always been about the camaraderie, fellowship, lending a helping hand or ear, and a firm handshake.

  6. In my experience, nothing gets a couple of straight dudes closer than touching tips. I kid. Most of the time I feel closest with my homies involves something that retards thinking too hard and you’re just reacting: hoops, hitting golf balls, tailgating or even just tossing back beers and throwing bean bags into a hole cut in a wooden box. Some great and memorable conversations start with a cool Budweiser in your hand.

    But my God do I remember shooting each other in the chest from 8 feet with a BB gun. Thank whatever powers that be that I never had any friends who thought hitting each other in the dick was funny.

    Great compilation of quotes.

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