Elwood Watson on identifying the lack of male friendships in today’s world, and why that needs to change.
In the 2009 movie I Love You Man starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, and Andy Samberg, Rudd plays a young guy named Peter Klaven who seems to have no male friends as he searches for a best man for his wedding. Rather than spoil the plot for those of you who have not seen the movie (though I am sure many readers of this site have) and may desire to do so in the future, I will spare you the specifics. However the film is spot on in how it deals with a real issue that is a fact for many men. The lack of male friendships in their lives. To be sure, there have been a number of articles and talk shows over the past several years that have explored this topic, but it seems to have had limited impact on the overall state of affairs as it relates to men and their friendships.
There have been a number of theories/reasons from experts as to why so many men have difficulty establishing and maintaining valuable, close, relationships with other men. The belief that some men, particularly those who were socially awkward in their youth or were bullied are less likely to be trustful with other men given their part history. A notable number of men are taught by society that it is inappropriate to become “too close” to other men, they see such behavior as being unbecoming, unmanly, or possibly homosexual (due to the prevalence of homophobia in our culture) in nature and thus, have been psychologically conditioned to abstain from such intimate behavior.
For another group of men, the fact that they are so blindly committed to their careers and other goals results in forfeiting any opportunity to develop and establish any real relationships with anyone, in some cases, their own spouses and children. This is certainly the case in regards to cultivating deep friendships with other males. Reasons aside, the fact is that for many individuals with the XX chromosome and testosterone, there is a real deficit in the level of camaraderie with their fellow men. This can be a potential problem. There are a number of reasons why men who are largely friendless should make an effort to reexamine their current predicament. For example:
- Reaching out to another man may give an issue more perspective – There are times that we as men (as well as some women) can act on impulse and do some unwise and foolish things. Men who have close friendships are more likely to air an issue or problem out with his friend(s) and get some reasonable perspectives before enacting on the problem(s) at hand. This could potentially spare the man in question some serious or consequences down the road.
- Leaving your comfort zone is important – We are all are creatures of habit. This is likely to be particularly true of men. Due to this fact, other men who are real friends will likely be more candid in telling you (in a polite way) about your shortcoming or assisting you in refraining from engaging in negative habits challenging you to be the best man that you can possibly be.
- We need friends of the same gender – If we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we as men can be more vulnerable with other men than with the women in our lives. For married men, this often means your spouse. Overtime, being willing to let go of social inhibitions and expectations that have largely been imposed by a patriarchal society, many men find that establishing solid friendships with other men can be among the most rewarding facts of life.
- Men can serve as valuable mentors for one another – By no means am I saying that women cannot serve as mentors for men! Quite the contrary, in fact, in my almost 5 decades of life, I have had the good fortune of having a number of women (and male) mentors who have been immensely valuable with their keen and formidable insight. Their assistance and support has been a tremendous asset to my career. That being said, as one of my female mentors mentioned to me, the fact is that there are times when people of the same gender can provide advice in ways that others cannot always do so. I agree.
- Such relationships can serve as a model for younger men – We live in a society where young men are constantly being given conflicting and in some cases, outright misguided messages on what constitutes masculinity and manhood and the result is a severe, often painful and paranoid level of confusion. By seeing their male elders engaging in a healthy and secure level of camaraderie with one another, younger men will hopefully see that there is nothing odd, wrong, emasculating or abnormal about having close, meaningful relationships with other men.
- Making REAL friends is crucial – I emphasize the word real here. While many men may have their golf, drinking and poker and card playing buddies, too many males lack deep, genuine friendships. For those who are married, many will refer to their wife/spouse as their best friend or only real friend. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, there is something very limiting, perhaps even potentially problematic about having your spouse, be your only true confidant. This is particularly true if the marriage/ relationship dissolves. There have been a countless number of stories of men who have gone through painful divorces with no one to talk to. Even their so-called male buddies retreated from their lives.
- There are times when men need to be ourselves – At the risk of stereotyping, (although I do not see myself doing so here,) there are time when all of us (or most of us) as human beings want to be around people with similar interests! This could refer to race, class, regional, cultural, religious based etc… Gender is no different. The fact is that for good or for ill, we are more inclined to be to be more retrospective with like minded individuals. To give an example I have been in certain settings, bars, men’s groups etc.. where the men in question were refreshingly candid and direct with one another about a plethora topics that I am almost certain would not have occurred had the setting been a mixed gender crowd. I bet it is safe to say that such situations occur in all female settings as well.
To coin the old saying “no man is an island,” the undisputed conclusion from many psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health experts as well as testimony from a number of men themselves is that too many men have too few, if any, real male friends. The realization of such a situation begins to expose itself as they enter the middle age chapter of their lives. To some men, such a situation suits them just fine. For others, it is a factor in their lives that they readily acknowledge and would desperately like to change. For both groups of men I would offer this blunt piece of advice. Fix it and quick!
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