My depression is directly linked to loneliness. I’ve always had friends, but working a job where three out of four coworkers were female, there just weren’t a lot of opportunities to build close male friendships. Besides, I didn’t understand the importance of male friendships: I thought they all were built around “Football Sundays” and beer-league softball.
Yet after telling my therapist that I was lonely, he looked down at his notes, and then back to me. “You need to make some friends.” I didn’t know how; no one teaches you how to make friends when you’re an adult. And especially if you’re a man.
Building close male friendships doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require pushing past generations of social expectations. Here are five tips for building close male friendships leading so you can live a healthier, happier life.
Accept your desire for intimacy
“For some reason, men don’t often make and keep friends. This is a real tragedy, I think, because in a way, without a tight male friend, you are never able to really see yourself. That is because part of shaping ourselves is done by others; and a lot of that shaping comes from that one close friend who is something like us.”Alice Walker
Men continue to struggle to develop satisfying same-sex friendships. According to a study conducted by the American Sociological Association, adult, straight white men have the fewest friends. A reason for the lack of close male friendships is that men are afraid to admit that they desire deeper relationships and closer bonds with their same-sex friends due to being at odds with traditional masculinity.
As young boys grow into men, Niobe Way states, “adolescence for these boys is also a time of profound loss.” Men struggle with adherence to masculine norms and accepting their need for deep friendships. Way continues, “American masculinity equates emotionally intimate male friendships—and even having emotions—with a gender (“girly”) and a sexuality (“gay”). This, in turn, appears to cause a crisis of connection among boys.” Sticking with traditional masculine norms forces young men to give up their deep friendships for something more shallow, less personal with their peers.
So, where does that leave men?
Research shows that men are just as interested in intimacy as women, yet men are less likely to display it. Building close friendships require some level of vulnerability, but before you can even attempt that, you must admit to yourself that you desire closer male friends. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re lonely, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting deeper friendships.
And the first step to building close male friendships is to admit that you want them.
Rachel tugged at my sleeve. “Garrett, just call him.” I shook my head. I was nervous and afraid. “Tim will reach back out to you, you’re just asking him to go out for a drink.”
The idea of a man-date frightened me; the same nervousness I felt the first time I asked out a girl in middle school. I’d worked with Tim at the high school for the past two years, we’ve hung out before. I didn’t know why I was so jittery this time. What if he rejects me? Rachel grew tired of being my only emotional support system, I understood.
Rachel pushed me towards the most crucial step to building close male friendships: reach out to your friends. Loneliness is painful, and the longer you sit with those emotions, the easier it is to spin out.
Yes, I’m talking about scheduling socializing time. Maybe it’s texting a friend to make plans for dinner, or to go hiking. What’s most important is that you take the time to put something on your calendar designating that time as special for just you and your friends.
Married men often struggle to make plans in part because their wife is the primary social planner. She schedules the date nights or encourages her husband to hang out with his friends. This leaves the husband with little to no skills to make plans, and then they become over-reliant on the women in their lives.
Men, it’s time to stop relying on others to make plans.
I texted Tim, and we went out for beers a few nights later. But one of the most significant quality of life changes I’ve made in the past few weeks has been making it a point to reach out to my friends more. I made excuses for why I didn’t call or text them first. So I started by just sending out a couple of texts, then I began to make plans for lunches and dinners. I made it a point to invite one of my close friends over once a week to build a more intimate friendship.
By making these plans and sticking to them, it forced me to keep up my end of the friendship. And those friends started reaching out to make plans more often too.
Social planning with my friends has made my life more fulfilling: I consistently get to spend time with my close male friends and continue to build stronger relationships with them.
After scheduling your man-date, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do. Most male relationships are described as shoulder-to-shoulder relationships. These friendships are formed through activities, such as organized sports or online gaming. There’s nothing wrong with shoulder-to-shoulder friendships, but to build close male friendships, you should focus on “self-understanding and understanding of others.”
Building these relationships requires three elements: “emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them.” It’s hard to do that during a game of Halo, nor is it possible in the middle of a soccer game. Close friendships require men to push back on gender stereotypes and disclose how their emotions affect them. Disclosure not only leads to stronger relationships between men but also healthier marriages.
My best friend Scott and I met in third grade: I had just been removed from my original classroom due to a karate chop related incident. Our friendship grew throughout high school, playing dodgeball and beer-league softball. But Scott didn’t become one of the most influential people in my life until I visited him for the first time in Philadelphia.
Sitting outside Geno’s Steaks in mid-July, I opened up to Scott about my mental health problems and how therapy had been helping. Scott just listened. He didn’t need to do anything else. I felt comfortable enough around Scott to tell him the truth in how I was doing, and there was never any judgment.
Since that evening, our friendship has been dedicated to these quiet moments of quality time together. Whether it was the moments before our weddings or nights out to Korean BBQ. Our ability to provide emotional support, disclose our feelings, and be willing to take care of each other, our friendship is the reason why our friendship is so meaningful and fulfilling.
Don’t be a stranger.
Think of building close male friendships like a muscle: you need to continue to work on them to stay healthy and grow. The best way to do that is through repetition. Jeffrey Hall states that building real friendships takes upwards of 300 hours. That’s why it’s been imperative that I schedule a time for friends, sometimes every week.
This is where those shoulder-to-shoulder relationships are beneficial. It’s rare for a friendship to start and immediately become something more profound, so by joining a recreation sports team or playing games online with the same friends, you are slowly building stronger connections. If it’s scheduled man-time, then it’s probably going to be beneficial in some way to your friendship.
Tori Latham from Salon shares a Google Calendar with her friends. This allows everyone to mark out the dates they might be out of town and makes for an easier time scheduling with everyone. Face to face contact is so important when building close male friendships, and because life tends to get in the way a lot of the time, sharing a group calendar just makes sense. Making plans does not need to be stressful.
Scott and I usually plan our hangouts months in advance due to us not living in the same city. Between our jobs and family obligations, it can be hard to put something together. On the other hand, my friend Matt and I have scheduled dude-time together once a week. Sometimes we have actual plans to do something: other times, we talk about Dudefluencer. Our friendship has grown because we’ve both taken the time to make time for each other.
If you’re friends live out of town, schedule trips to see each other. At the very least, make sure to Facetime one another. Start a group chat. Find ways to communicate.
No matter what, though, schedule time to see each other.
Be the friend you want to have
I spend a lot of time thinking about the type of person I want to be. The same goes for friendship. We all desire closer connections with the people that we love, but sometimes, if we don’t make the first move, then our relationships go nowhere. So while you’re reaching out to your friends, treat them the way you want to be treated.
By displaying vulnerability, your friends will be more likely to open up. Reach out often, if they want to build a close male friendship, then they will start reaching back out. If your friends are in trouble, then figure out the best way to help them.
Frequently, men aren’t taught how to socialize or even learn how to be friends in adulthood. So when you take the lead, understand that you might need to show your dude-friends to be better dude-friends. Don’t forget friendships that matter take work.
Reworking my current friendships while searching for deeper connections with news friends is difficult. For more tips on how to build close male friendships, make sure to follow us on Facebook!
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