If we as men don’t decide how we want our friendships to look like, someone else will do it for us.
In December 2015, I shared a concern with one of my friends, asking, “Why is it that so many guys are afraid of expressing any vulnerability or affection toward their male friends? It is sad to see men who have been best friends for years hesitate on giving each other a hug when needed or avoiding any conversation about how they feel. Where do they go for support? With whom can they talk openly about life’s challenges?”
I knew that I could not just stand by and watch generations of men missing out on close friendship— I absolutely had to do something about it. So I did; and I started a movement called Brothers – a movement that seeks to empower and inspire boys and men to create authentic and wholesome friendships, as well as combat damaging cultural influences that can hinder them from doing so.
After researching the topic ‘male friendships,’ I quickly found out that having strong friendships in one’s life is crucial. It affects a man’s lifetime, physical and mental health, family, marriage – and even his professional life. Knowing this has helped me to keep going with Brothers. Even though we want to help and reach millions of men, our focus is and will always be about the ONE.
Why is it that so many guys settle for shallow friendships? Why is it that so many men find it difficult and even wrong or awkward to be vulnerable and ‘close’ in their friendships? Well, that question can’t be answered in this single blog post. It has much to do with the culture and the cultural mindsets that we have in Western society: our perception of masculinity, the sexualisation of love, and more. But for the sake of this post, I’ll choose one mindset that often can be a ‘roadblock’ for men to create deep friendships: Society’s over-emphasis on romantic love.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with romantic love. Finding ‘the one’ has become the ultimate goal in the lives of many. In most movies, music, and media, romantic relationships are valued and pursued at all cost. It’s sad, though, to see how friendships are at the mercy of romantic relationships. I’ve heard lots of stories of guys losing their best friend when a girl has entered the picture. A dating relationship becomes the number one priority in one’s life – and one’s friendships simply become replaced by their romantic partner (a classic story that I’ve heard many times). For many men this relationship becomes their only source of intimacy, closeness and warmth. And as a guy, I sometimes feel it’s unreasonable for me to ‘expect’ a lot from a best friend when he is dating. I just have to settle with our friendship being more or less neglected. My question is; does it really have to be like this?
It’s good to be aware of the culture we live in, and how it affects our behaviour. Let’s have a look at friendship in some other cultures:
“In many countries, male friendships are formalised. In southern Ghana, same-sex best friends go through a marriage ceremony similar to that performed for husbands and wives.
In Cameroon, parents urge their kids to find a best friend (much in the same way that we in Western culture urge our kids to get a romantic partner).
In China (at least until the late 1990s), and in other Eastern and Middle Eastern countries, heterosexual men hold hands with their friends and regularly rely on them for emotional support.” (Niobe Way, “Deep Secrets”)
Now imagine doing any of these things in a Western country! People would go nuts!
I am not trying to say that we should all just start ‘holding hands’ or have ceremonies for our friendships, but I’m writing this because I think it’s good for us to get some perspective. Reserving all forms of warmth and closeness for our romantic partner only, is a very ‘Western way of thinking’ – and I’ve been guilty of falling into this pattern of thinking myself. But read this:
“Stephanie Coontz, an historian, blames the decline of social connectedness on our twentieth-century notions of romantic love in marriage where a partner is expected to fulfill all one’s emotional and social needs.” She also adds that “only in the twentieth-century (and early twenty-first century), under the influence of Freudianism, we have found overselves increasingly ‘suspicious’ of same-sex relationships and focused exclusively on romantic partnerships. These patterns may indeed help to explain the patterns of loss in boys’ friendships.” (Niobe Way, “Deep Secrets”)
A few years ago, I chatted to a guy about dating relationships. And I can’t forget what he told me, something that worried me: He thought that ‘closeness and love’ was reserved for romantic partners only, and that he’d have to wait until he’d get a girl until he could enjoy a close and loving relationship. Hearing this really shocked me, and after going on this journey with Brothers, I know that he’s not the only guy out there believing that.
Mark Greene says in his book Remaking Manhood, “[men are] dumped on a desert island of physical isolation, and the only way they can find any comfort is to enter the blended space of sexual contact to get the connection they need.”
Physical isolation is not the only thing men are starving of. I’d add emotional and relational isolation to the list as well. When love and closeness is either sexualised or reserved for romantic partners only, we’re not only putting a huge pressure on the one romantic partner we have (to fulfill all our emotional and physical needs), but we rob ourselves of one of the key human rights: connection! And we’ll have to face the consequences.
The culture we live in puts romantic love on a pedestal that is unhealthy and destructive.
I am not saying that romantic love is bad – not at all! It’s beautiful! But is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.
Let me finish with this:
Millions of boys and men throughout the world are longing for deeper and warmer friendships with other guys, but they don’t know what to do about it. Some have even given up on these kinds of friendships and have learnt to live without them. We need to do something about this – and that’s why Brothers is here.
Brothers is a quite new movement, but we have great dreams and visions for the future. In the season we’re in right now, we’re focusing on reaching people through our Instagram and website, and offering seminars and workshops to businesses, organisations and educational institutions alike. As our movement grows and gains more credibility, we’ll be able to be a loud voice advocating for male friendships throughout the world. Not for the sake of becoming a ‘big organization’, but for the sake of every man out there, who deserves nothing less than life-giving friendships in his life.
Are you up for creating history?
This post was originally published on PsychCentral.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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