A lack of close friends has been shown to be as dangerous to your health as smoking.
When I first started writing about men’s issues, I informally surveyed and interviewed as many men as I could. I asked men of different ages, races and sexual orientations to tell me what it feels like to be a man in the 21st century.
Early in the process, a common theme emerged: most men didn’t feel they had enough close friends. Studies confirm this phenomenon isn’t limited to just the set of men I spoke with. Men in our country have countless casual connections and acquaintances, but few have the types of friends they would reach out to for support if they lost their job, or were going through a divorce.
In addition to making them lonely, a lack of close friends has been shown to be as dangerous to men’s health as smoking; and nearly half of the men I surveyed and interviewed couldn’t come up with any ways to start making the close friends they crave.
With that in mind, I turned to the experts on male friendships; and I found a common theme.
Experts agree that if men want to make better friends, they need to start dating. I’m not talking about romantic, looking for a partner kind of dating. I’m talking about platonic, looking for a friend kind of dating. Men who want to deepen their friendships need to be as intentional about their platonic relationships as they are about their romantic relationships.
Dr. Fred Frankel has run a friendship clinic for children for over thirty years. He says, “The most important finding has been that one-on-one play dates are the best way to build close friendships.” He goes on to suggest making enough time for at least one date a week that lasts for at least two hours.
If you’re thinking grown men must have simpler requirements, think again. Dr. Robert Garfield runs friendship labs for men and says:
In my experience, intimate friendship requires, “dirt time,” sufficient time spent together to allow the relationship the comfort and safety to develop at an easy pace. Speed relationships give us plenty of information, but not intimacy.” He then says, “We recommend starting out with an activity you already enjoy and think the other man might as well. Working out, doing sports, bicycling, or fishing are activities that many men can relate to and can easily convene for.
The trick here, however, is to make sure you set aside some private one-on-one time and space for talking before, during or after these activities…The idea is to share a good time and create an opportunity to get to know each other better.
Stuart Miller wrote about his journey to deepen his male friendships in Men and Friendship. He says:
In our times, we must first truly accept the necessity for an art of male friendship…As talented artists who are busy working away at practice and execution, so must friends be diligent…just as couples these days must work at—indeed, continually reinvent—marriage and child-rearing, men must, if they are to have it, work at male friendship.
Close friendships rarely just happen, especially for men. They take conscious effort and time. If you’re out of practice, planning dates with the men you know will probably feel uncomfortable at first, not unlike romantic dating. There’s nothing wrong with that. The ease and comfort will develop in time and make the initial discomfort worth it.
If you’re married or in a relationship and worried your partner is going to resent sharing your already limited time, consider this, most women I speak with wish their husbands would go out with friends more. They wish their husbands had more friends and more support.
The first time I sent my own husband off on a “Mancation,” I was admittedly nervous, but he came home feeling so happy and renewed, I quickly jumped on board. Now every year he and his childhood friends spend a weekend together snowboarding, eating good food and talking late into the nights. He always comes home feeling emotionally recharged (and physically sore).
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