One of the first articles I wrote for Dudefluencer was about the importance of male friendship. Soon after, I realized just how necessary human connection was towards a healthier life, which led me to research how to develop close male friendships, opposite-sex friendships, and ultimately, how they all relate to positive masculinity. But all of that wouldn’t have been possible if not for Billy Baker’s 2017 article about male friendship and loneliness. Needless to say, when a representative reached out to ask if I wanted to review his new book, We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends, I jumped at the chance.
Making friends as an adult is difficult. There’s no clear pattern, no set advice. And what’s harder for men is that difficulties in communication styles make bridging those vulnerability gaps even more perilous. A book like Baker’s needs to be out there.
But instead of a traditional review (I’m sure there will be plenty of other glowing reviews out there), I wanted to do something different. Baker’s book takes us on a valuable journey through friendship, which is why we’re going to highlight three ways to strengthen, rebuild, and even make new friendships for a longer lasting, happier life, based on his book.
Who is Billy Baker, and why is he writing a memoir about friendship?
Sitting in the office to The Boston Globe Magazine editor’s office, Baker listened as his boss said, “We want you to write about how middle-aged men have no friends.” As a 40-something, Baker pushed back on the suggestion. Of course he had friends!
But after reflection, Baker began to realize just how distant his close friendships were. “I continued down the mental list, racing through my good friends, my great friends, my lifelong friends, the people who sure as shit better show up at my funeral. Most of them felt like they were still in my life, but why?… It had been years since I’d last seen most of them. Decades for a few.” And like that, Baker set on-course for a journey through male friendship that’d take him from a local bowling alley to a cruise ship listening to Joey McIntyre in silence as his magazine piece struck a nerve with thousands of men across the country.
Ultimately, that piece’s success led to Baker’s longer journey chronicled in We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. Baker’s mixture of memoir and research allows the book to remain personal while exploring the science of male friendship. A lot of the research presented has been available for awhile, but the author does a great job of making data points engaging and easy to understand.
A brief review of We Need to Hang Out by Billy Baker
I think Baker’s book stands out because of his humor and storytelling ability. Let’s first talk about how funny Baker’s writing is and how it destigmatizes a lot of the fear in talking about male loneliness. By describing his friendships and struggles to maintain them through comedic writing, male readers are less likely to take offense to what Baker is stating and more likely reflect on what it all means in their lives. And that’s really where a lot of the power from this book comes from. That relatability maintains itself through Baker’s narrative, as his writer’s voice remains just vulnerable enough as he retells stories of lost and forgotten friendships.
We Need to Hang Out is a fast-paced read, and at a little more than 200 pages, readers will finish quickly. Baker moves between reflection, memoir, and research seamlessly. One area that I wish the book delved deeper into was a bit more into loneliness’ seriousness. While Baker eases readers into self-reflection, there were a couple of moments towards the end where I think the book could have really pushed readers towards a deeper understanding of how a lack of deep friendships can cause physical and emotional harm.
Another section that could have used a better explanation was Baker’s use of the term “gaaay.” He describes it as “a form of self-policing, some fucked up [sic] safe word that got called out if any behavior approached a level where it felt intimate or affectionate. Really anything that felt ‘feminine’…” A couple more times through the book, Baker uses “gaaay,” but I couldn’t help but feel there’s so much more to talk about with men’s usage of that phrase. For example, how does calling something “gaaay” as a teenager influence the loss of connection with men older in life? While I understand Baker’s choice here, I think this section deserved a bit more than just a couple of paragraphs in the book.
We Need to Hang Out is still one of the best books about positive masculinity on the market in that it openly talks about male friendship, loneliness, and self-reflection. There’s just else nothing like it available for men right now. This is an absolute must-read for any man struggling with loneliness, looking to build new friendships, or just re-invigorate old ones.
Lessons about friendship from We Need to Hang Out.
I love We Need to Hang Out because so much of the book’s lessons are actionable without being overly preachy. Baker manages to share wisdom through his own follies and tribulations with male friendship. He is as open with his failures as he is with his successes. Thus, after finishing the book, here are three (of the many) lessons about friendship from We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends.
1. Don’t be afraid to be goofy.
While chatting on The Dudecast, Billy Baker shared that one of the most significant differences between men and women in friendship is the ability to be goofy with each other. For example, Baker noticed on the New Kids on the Block tour that one of the connective tissues between the women on the boat was singing and dancing.
Now, think about the last time you sang or danced. And no, a wedding doesn’t count. Or last call at the bar. Probably not often. That’s part of the point, though: men are so often focused on maintaining this “cool” exterior that any chance of vulnerability through goofiness goes away.
But watch this video of Chorley FC singing after their game. Watch the camaraderie, the bonding taking place at this moment. You can’t tell me you don’t feel that.
The main lesson here is that to build new friendships, rebuild old friendships, or just bring a current friendship closer together, there is a need to be goofy. Baker’s understanding of this shines through in numerous anecdotes within the book as so many of the gatherings between groups of his friends all begin with this childlike appreciation for silliness.
2. The power of 150.
There’s a powerful passage in the book where he references Robin Dunbar’s Theory of 150. I love Maria Konnikova’s description in her article, “The Limits of Friendship:”
“The best known, a hundred and fifty, is the number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party. (In reality, it’s a range: a hundred at the low end and two hundred for the more social of us.) From there, through qualitative interviews coupled with analysis of experimental and survey data, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, roughly a ‘rule of three.’ The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner. You see them often, but not so much that you consider them to be true intimates. Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members).”
After learning about Dunbar’s equation, Baker sought to figure out those numbers for himself. He grabbed a package of Post-It Notes and went to work listing out his 150 friends. Once his list was made, Baker delivers some of the best advice in the entire book. “Once you know who to give a shit about, you can turn your attention to how to give a shit about them.” And that’s true. In a world of thousands of Facebook friends and other social media interactions, it can be difficult to pinpoint just who are and aren’t worth spending time on. But after you’ve figured that out, then you can move onto the next step: building and maintaining close male friendships.
3. Male friendship is about someplace to be, something to do, someone to talk to.
Once you’ve figured out who you want to give a shit about, then the next step question is, “uhhh…what do I do?” It’s established that building a new, healthy friendship takes around 200 hours of contact. But what are you supposed to do in those 200 hours to have a close friendship?
Well, according to Baker in We Need to Hang Out, three essentials should be answered: there needs to be someplace to be, something to do, and someone to talk to. Let’s break these down bit by bit.
Someplace to be
Every good hangout needs someplace to be. Preferably not your house. Think about someplace unique to you and your friends, someplace that you only experience with your dudes. In Baker’s case, it was sometimes a mall, or later on a barn. Both scenarios highlighted that having a specific, unique location is essential to any hangout.
Something to do
Alright, you’ve found your place. Now figure out something to do. Just going somewhere and hoping you’ll find an activity isn’t going to get you anywhere; you need to have a plan. That was the downfall of Baker’s original plan but one he rectified with a building project for his second group hangout/meetings. For you, think about something you’ve always wanted to do, and bonus points if it involves your friends being goofy. That’s the next step in building a close male friendship.
Someone to talk to
And here’s the most important part: every group hangout should have someone to talk to. Because isn’t that the point? Sitting alone, not talking, isn’t going to build you a closer friendship: instead, learn to be vulnerable, have real conversations with these people. That’s why I’m a big believer in men’s support groups because they can bring groups of dudes together who might never have chatted before into one room, with a common goal.
Before I end my review, I do want to highlight a couple of things another review of the book pointed out. The author of the review noted that the book failed to talk about opposite friendships and the effect of loneliness on women. While I understand the importance of both of those topics, this isn’t what We Need to Hangout is about. This is a book (a rare one in that) about the honesty and difficulty in male friendships. This isn’t trying to be a book about everything else. To criticize the book for such reminds me that there is a lot more work to do in the field of research, memoir, and male friendship.
Billy Baker’s We Need to Hangout: A Memoir of Making Friends is an absolute must read for any dude who’s suffering from loneliness, want to build better friendships, or is just interested in self-care.