Men often struggle to make and keep friendships with other men. Though it may require some work, the task is not impossible.
“Do you think gay men have an easier time relating to each other because they are more in touch with their emotions?” I was asked at a recent speaking engagement. I wasn’t sure if I should be offended by the question. Fortunately, I’m mostly left-brained, which means I’m analytical. My emotions are usually off playing cards and drinking tea in the right hemisphere of my head during these events.
“I tend to get along better with straight guys and lesbians,” I answered half-jokingly. “Emotions are not defined by sexuality and I’ve met plenty of gay men who don’t appear to have them.” I happened to be one of them.
Honestly, men are just men. We can be shallow, or we can be deep, but we tend to respond to the culture in which we are raised or nurtured. As such, we also tend to be loners. Finding and maintaining friendships can be difficult. Here are ten ways to change the friendship dynamics in your life.
1. Work on yourself.
I spend the first chapter of my book, Everything I Learned About Management I Learned from Having a Kindergartner, on this topic. Whether we want to be a good manager, dad, husband, or just a good neighbor, it all starts with us. We cannot help others until we help ourselves. That means taking an inventory of what you like about your life, what you don’t like and what you want to change or work on. We’re not talking about perfection, simply asking yourself, “What do I need to change to make my life better?” Believe it or not, people sense and are drawn to others who try to improve themselves.
2. Become self-aware
Take a hard look at what you believe and why. It’s easy to float through life with a set of beliefs that are seldom challenged. We usually surround ourselves with like-minded people and the shear number of people who confirm we are right is enough to rest on our laurels and never grow any further. When we are more self-aware we tend to be more accepting of other people and their beliefs, even when they are not like us. We are less dogmatic, which makes us less self-righteous and more open to relationships.
3. Address your shame
Shame is something that permeates American Culture. We more easily recognize it in women because ads more often target women with the “you’re not good enough until you buy…” philosophy. With men, however, it’s a little more subtle. Manliness is determined by how well we guard our emotions, how much we’re able to provide for our families, how macho we can be in a fight, and how well we perform in bed.
Shame makes us feel like we don’t belong. We look at a group of men and determine what that group is about, and then decide if we fit into it. Shame tells us we don’t. Shame also keeps us from being authentic. We put on airs, segmenting our lives into categories, perhaps sharing one thing with one friend and something else with another.
The way we address shame is by confronting it, by being honest about who we are, how we feel (but not belligerently) and talking to others about what we’re really like. It takes time and practice. It’s scary, but ultimately is incredibly rewarding.
4. Break your routine
Routines are not bad. Humans are built to operate well within them, but when we use them as an excuse to keep from building friendships and making human connections, they become a problem.
I used to complain to my therapist that I would happily find friends and write my books if I didn’t have to spend so much time watching after my kids and cleaning the house. I realized in the great scheme of things that life wasn’t going to get any better without some changes. I gave up the housework to concentrate on relationships and following my dreams. My kids are old enough to take care of themselves. The change was uncomfortable, but worth it.
5. Choose to be healthy
There are multiple reasons to be healthy, but I will just give you two: 1) When you feel better, you have the energy to do better and 2) no one likes a slob.
Motivation is difficult to find, especially when you’re already unhealthy. Small changes eventually turn into large rewards. I’ve given up dieting for a healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise and mostly healthy food choices. I find that I sleep better, I can think more clearly and I have more energy. This all translates into better and healthier relationships.
That said, people don’t tend to be drawn toward others who do not take care of themselves. And I want to point out that I’m not focused on weight. I’m talking about an overall desire to take care of yourself. If you don’t care about yourself first, you won’t be able to care about others. You are worth caring for, so why not show that to the people around you?
6. Live in the present
I know some older gentlemen who cannot stop talking about the past. One talks about his time in the Vietnam War like he just got home. He hasn’t moved on. Every conversation goes back to his time in the service. In the mean time, he’s missing out on the lives of his children and grandchildren who are excited about the present and their futures.
The past is the past. It creates great stories and, hopefully, some good memories, but unless you’re lying on your deathbed, you’re not done yet. What do you want to do? Who do you want to do it with? What are you waiting for?
7. Act like you care
Since I spend an enormous amount of time in my head (usually analyzing others and writing about my observations), I sometimes find it difficult to connect with other people’s stories and emotions. When I do, it is often a willful act. I most certainly do care, but it takes effort to set aside my laptop, smartphone and agenda to make the connection.
For those of us whose emotions seem to have their own beach front condos in the middle of our brains, making a decision to care about others triggers the neurons and emotions we need to make and maintain emotional connections.
8. Volunteer somewhere
A great way to make friendships is to go someplace where the focus is on other people or a cause. If you’re in a leadership position most of the time, try stepping back and working in the soup kitchen as a server. If you’re an introvert, just show up and ask what needs to be done. When we volunteer, we tend to find people who are looking for connections with others and who have a heart and desire to help make the lives of others better.
9. Find and follow your passion
Before I started writing books I joined music groups, attended conferences, opened businesses and websites to figure out what I wanted to do. I’ll admit that it was a bit costly. Eventually, however, I worked on myself, became self-aware, got healthy, dealt with my shame, took control of my life and found my passion.
When we follow our passion, it has a tendency to open us up, making us more vulnerable to other people. Passionate people draw others into them, even if they don’t necessarily share the same passion. Having passion about something in life cultivates deep feelings and emotions and creates a sense of something bigger than ourselves. People sense that about us and want to be a part of it.
10. Tell your story!
Encouraging other people to tell their stories has become the mantra of my own message. I’ve discovered that sharing our stories, even when they are not finished yet, or even when we feel a sense of failure (or perhaps especially when we feel a sense of failure) holds the key to human connectivity. Our life experiences are universal, though they may be different. We’ve all come through something, experienced trauma on some level and gone through strained and broken relationships. Yet, ironically, those experiences tend to leave us feeling alone and isolated.
Whether you decide to speak to an individual, a group, or blog about your experiences, share them with others. Create a safe environment for other people to say, “Me, too!” You will most likely be surprised at how easy it is to create the kinds of deep, meaningful relationships you’ve always wanted.
Photo – Flickr/Niels Mulder