Why Do Men Find It Hard To Do Friendship?

Lonely Man Walking

Recently I’ve been thinking about the challenges in friendship. Male friendship. Of the non sexual variety.

You see I’m 36. Married. With a kid and a new baby on the way. And I live in London.

I’m surrounded by high achievers, professionals and those who want to make their mark on society. They’re driven, they’re focused and they’re ambitious.

Yet many whisper over a quiet coffee that they lack good friends and feel pretty lonely. They’re stretched in too many directions.

Plenty of contacts in their iPhones.
Tonnes of email addresses.
Plenty of ‘Facebook’ friends.

Friends they don’t need to pretend to.
Friends they can share their insecurities with, even if it makes them look insecure.
Friends they can share concerns about ‘the dangerous flirtation at work.’
Friends who understand their drive to succeed, yet have permission to slap them round the head when they’ve got their head up their own arse.
Friends who feel able to call them up at 2am saying they’re stuck and need help.
Friends THEY could call up at 2am saying they’re stuck and need help.
Friends who they’re able to express their loneliness with, without being labelled a manic depressive.
Friends who would still be their friends if they were a manic depressive.

Most of the time it doesn’t matter.
Busy, busy, busy.
Looking good, looking sharp, needing to be successful.
Successful, successful, successful.

But sometimes; we become aware of it. We wish we had something more.

I’ve been blessed with great friends; guys I’ve journeyed with from school and uni through my twenties and onwards. Friendship was easy then because we had loads of time to share life’s highs and lows. We’d laugh. We’d mess about. We’d explore ideas. We’d do sport. We’d go out together. We’d fall out. We’d make up. We’d explore ‘inner’ manly emotions. We’d weep over ‘Stand By Me’ saying that would never happen to us……. (or maybe that was just me).

Point is… we worked hard at friendship, because that was highly important to us then. Actually, it didn’t even feel like hard work. It was just life. And life allowed for it.

But now?

You see I’m 36. Married. With a kid and a new baby on the way. And I live in London.

That’s my label.
I have less time now. I’m driven. Sometimes way too driven. On the ‘success’ gravy train.

And I make excuses.

How about you?

For many, friendship priorities fall down the list. Along with many others; success becomes more important as everyone becomes so busy.
Busy meeting people.
Busy tweeting people.
Busy ‘liking’ people.
Busy achieving.

But to what end?

To what purpose?

To what level of contentment?

Surely friendship is one of those precious gifts in life that’s worth prioritising? Surely it’s a success that’s needs celebrating? Surely it’s an indicator of contentment that far surpasses a lot of the other things we put so much value on?

Can we choose to establish and maintain depth in friendships? It’s going to take time if we do…

It may ‘slow us down’ and mean from one week to the next that we’re not ‘achieving’ what we want to; whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I’ve decided that nothing is going to stop me from investing in those friendships I’ve journeyed with all my life. There will be seasons along the way, but I’ll hold these people close to my heart. Nothing is going to stop me from meeting the precious people I encounter each day, who are part of my tribe, who I hope to encourage and who encourage me. I’ve tasted how good friendship is, and I know it’s one of the most precious gifts and privileges in life.

How about you?

Want to give your friendships a bit more intentionality?
Need to push the love up a notch?

Those questions are the easy part; the harder question is how?

And that’s where I need your help?

How do you do friendship?

Please leave a comment below…

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19 thoughts on “Why Do Men Find It Hard To Do Friendship?

  1. Oh my gosh, I was only on the outer echelons of your ‘stand by me’ but man that was a wonderful memory to recall today. Thank you! Ach, we all cried. 🙂

    Re close friendship? It’s definitely to be treasured. But sometimes; friendship can be precious in it’s lightness [Nietzsche version] too, right? A distant, warm affection and admiration. I don’t like demanding too much of those close to me, nor to be a burden on them- none of us do I suppose- so I feel blessed to share a moment of humanity with someone, even if they are practically a stranger.

    This week the gas man comethed. It turns out he grew up in Edmonton. We had never met; but we both recalled the same rickety old red and yellow carousel and the joke shop we both used to be filled with wonder by. How precious. A memory from over 20 years ago. Filled my week with delight- adding a rosy glow to everything.

    I hold dear these moments- as I do the very very vague memory of a lanky redhead with a book coming to sit next to me in break at orchestra rehearsal one day because I was crying. 🙂

    These small moments might not influence you for long or can help you out at 2am- and sometimes you might not recognize them for what they are at the time (I felt very awkward that this older guy came over, how embarrassing! 😉 stopped my sniveling though) but they’re all part of that bank-of-life overdraft- for when you need a little something to rekindle your faith, to keep you going.

    So in answer to your question about how? For this very light, yet very precious of friendships? I guess be open to serendipity. Go on. Send that text. Paste back that post you were not going to leave 😉 I once had a conversation with a social media consultant extolling the virtues of Twitter in finding a cab buddy to get to SXSW from the airport. I couldn’t get my head around it. He was in the queue- so why not say hi to the person in front of him instead of shouting it to the wide world [web]? You just never know. Perhaps they’ll know the bass line to your ‘Stand By Me’ or have grown up in Edmonton and you’ll be smiling for the rest of the week.

    • Oh jeepers! That hit me for six……

      You are so right, and you put it so eloquently. The lightness of friendship, and the little touches make all the wonderful difference. And I think I probably feel a level of challenge with your comments on lightness.

      I’ve managed somehow or other to keep close to all of my close historical friendships, all par maybe two or three since I was a kid. Sometimes, I wonder whether I’d put less pressure on myself if I was ‘lighter’ about the amount I needed to invest, but on the flip side I wonder whether the quality of relationships would be there if I had. But on the reverse, I wonder if that has an impact on my poor long suffering friends. Ha ha! Please just let us go Caleb! We’re trying to lose contact….ha ha!

      We recently moved back to the North London area (well two years ago), and have enjoyed reconnecting with old friends. One of my major highlights has been singing Barbershop with a few old friends. Always stirs something special up. I’m looking to make many deposits into that bank of life overdraft you mention! Music has a wonderful power to do that.

      And as you mention Edmonton- I still get a little skip in my heart when the word Latymer is mentioned. What’s all that about? OK – Confession time. I LOVE driving past. Even stopped for a cup of tea recently at the Latymer Cafe.

      And as for the social media consultant’s comment- it’s always been a bug bear of mine and I think you’re so right. We focus so much energy talking to people online that we miss those in front of our faces. I went through a period of taking photos of groups of friends who were more engrossed in their phones then in the group they were with. Looking at it, makes you realise how absurd it is sometimes. I’ve written quite a bit about that.

      So yes your thoughts are bang on and I’m feeling the impact of it now. The lightness of touch and the warm glow and wonderful memories. Thank you for that….and oh if you’re still playing your instrument, I hope they’re happier experiences 😉

      Thanks Louisa- that’s been really lovely to reflect on….

  2. Interested that you start your piece on male friendship regarding it as a challenge rather than an opportunity. Is that mindset part of our issue as men? Is it a male thing? Language is important.
    You write, “I’m surrounded by high achievers, professionals and those who want to make their mark on society. They’re driven, they’re focused and they’re ambitious.” The latter sentence is only one part of the picture and therefore offers a partial window into the complexities of male-male friendship. You might equally, I think, have said “they’re ontologically dislocated and have little sense of having a deeply-rooted place in the cosmos but are adept at covering that up with the male defaults of comparison, competition and control.” This offers a further window into why male-male friendship can be tricky.
    For myself, I think the best I can do is, choose to live intentionally, show up and cultivate some discipline of contemplative silence which necessitates a relinquishment of the ego. Thomas Carlyle put it well: “Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as time”. Angeles Arrien’s Four-Fold Way (show up, pay attention, speak your truth, be open to, rather than invested, in outcome) I have also found helpful.

    • Thanks Gus. I think you’re right about the use of language. Personally I find it a wonderful opportunity and would have written ‘challenge’ as a way to express empathy. However I take to heart the mindset points and the use of language. The wonderful opportunity to develop friendship needs to be shouted from the rooftops, and the right language makes that more accessible. Thanks for your challenge .. oops! I mean opportunity ;).

      I prefer your description. I’ve been thinking about this, and my description is simplistic and doesn’t provide the richness describing the complexities as to why many males (who aren’t driven, focused and highly ambitious) also find friendship hard. The deeply rooted place in Cosmos is a wonderful way of expressing our need as humans to understand a broader context that makes us ‘us.’ Without knowing that rootedness, I think by default we embrace the three C’s you mention (comparison, competition and control). Ontologically dislocated is a phrase that’s going to have me reflecting for some time!

      Love your Carlyle quote and I also find the Angeles Arrien’s Four-Fold Way very helpful.

      Thanks Gus- I found your comment incredibly stimulating and thought provoking. Do please come back again.

    • I’d add that I think “comparison, competition, a control” are *human* defaults – women are just generally socialized to express and engage them differently than men. They are still areas that need to be dealt with.

  3. I think the first step to developing more intimate, real friendships is being honest with yourself about how you are, then being honest and open with those friends you are investing in, and asking equally honest questions of them.

    • Love it Jennifer.

      I love honesty and openness and agree wholeheartedly that this is a really healthy good step; an essential step for friendships to grow deeper. I wonder if there are other steps that come ahead of this, which create and foster companionship, which in turn make it easier to embrace honesty and openness that you’ve outlined easier.

      I was having an interesting conversation with a friend called John about this at the weekend. He helpfully pointed out to me that lots of men bond around ‘shared activities’ and it’s in this environment that a male friendship is often birthed.

      I’ve also noticed that honesty and openness seem to last for the extent that people feel safe sharing with those around them. There can be a whole series of reasons why this lack of safety can prevent this ongoing sharing.

      Thanks Jennifer for your great point.

      • Good points! I was thinking of taking a friendship deeper that has already started to develop around something shared. Shared activities (or shared *something*) is most often the beginning of women’s friendships as well.

        Safety is an absolutely must, and it has to be nurtured and protected. But taking the risk of honesty is the only way to build it.

        • Thanks Jennifer-

          I’ve got to confess- I feel like I’ve been learning friendship from a female perspective, and how women relate to each other. Thanks for the nudge on shared activities also being a beginning dynamic for women’s friendship. It makes sense. Of course it would be.

          I don’t know why, but because a lot of women (and the stereotype here may not be helpful) are generally more in touch with their emotions, can have great empathy for others, and therefore are potentially more emotionally mature, I’d just expect that it would be a doddle to get the ball rolling and grow a friendship. But clearly some of the same challenges of fear, competition, insecurity, time, drive and ambition get in the way…

          I’ve outlined some of the areas from a males perspective indicating how we struggle with friendship, but I feel this falls short or lacks insight for women. Are they similar/ different? Is there one area that stands head and shoulders above others? What would be some of your nuggets that you feel women find as a barrier to friendship? I’d love to hear your take on that…

          (and anybody else please feel free to chip in too)…

          • Thanks for engaging, Caleb! These are helpful things for us all to dig into.

            I suspect the stereotypical emotional/relational differences between women and men have more to do in reality with cultural expectations, training, and semantics than capacity or even tendency. I think the biggest hindrance to real friendship may well be cultural expectations.

            Women are generally trained to *express* more emotionally than men, but that doesn’t mean what’s going on behind that expression is any more mature. Nobody has a lock on insecurity, and issues of success get in the way for both genders, but there are different societal expectations of what that looks like. Image is an issue, and busyness is certainly a barrier (especially for women who are mothers). With men, I’ve found competition dynamics to be overt (and sometimes to even provide the basis for friendship); with women, competition can be just as much of a factor, but it tends to be masked more – hidden and deceptive (and thus destructive).

            I think personality types tend to have a pretty even spread across the genders, but each are pushed by the culture in different directions. Both men and women who don’t fit those types so well find friendship difficult on the terms society dictates. But if we can find friends who are willing to deep-six those terms – well, those can be rich friendships that blow up the stereotypes!

  4. Being intentional about making and spending time with friends face to face takes effort but it is worth it to establish and maintain durable friendships that range from the light moments (mentioned below) to the black hole moments that encompass loss, fear and anxiety. What helps is being honest with yourself and your friends as life changes adjust your priorities. Although making excuses (even if they’re very valid, e.g.: fatigue, schedule changes with spouse/kids) seems easier, it goes a long way to let friends know that you’re in a season of life where they may not hear from you as much, but you still value them. letting them know you may only have 10 minutes to talk vs. the hours you may have had in the past is usually met with enthusiasm rather than immaturity. Healthy friendships can weather these changes gracefully because at their core is the desire to remain connected, even as the frequency/style of communication changes.

    Friendship requires the same authenticity and honesty that romantic relationships need to feel vital and relevant. Although the level is different, the end result is a diverse support system that ideally doesn’t strain one particular source. Too many people stop short of being a friend because they’re unwilling to go beyond acknowledging that they’re scared or selfish wrapped up in a lazy blanket. They will accept gestures of friendship but be less willing to offer any. Many men I’ve met in passing shy away from developing friendships with other men, citing concerns about trust or feeling as though there’s a time limit wherein friendships can be established (e.g.: high school/college), rendering any potential friendships beyond those years as not worth the effort. Those same men then follow on with a solution that their wife/girlfriend/partner is the only friend they need and use that to fulfill all their interpersonal needs.

    Although strong romantic relationships are to be treasured, I’ve met few people who truly want to be another’s ‘one and only’. So if in contemplating whether the effort is ever worth it, it may help to utilize the banking metaphor that imbues friendship building with investment-related characteristics that range from the lightness of acquaintances (who only know what you tell them) to the depth of friends who know where the bodies are buried but will take your calls anyway!

    Or, you can think of it as having more than one person to shoot the breeze with who gets you but to whom you’re responsible for nothing more than showing up and being yourself, tears, smiles and all.

    Thanks for the personal post!

    • Awesome Rhea! Very eloquently put.

      Love your point on being up front and clear about changing time availabilities. It can certainly prevent people arriving at inaccurate conclusions of ‘You don’t care anymore.’ Although I’d agree that from my experience it’s met with maturity, if this change is a longer term one, I think to allow space for the other to grieve is of equal importance. People may accept the change, but if they don’t feel the space to express their reaction, it can cause a pulling back and retreating.

      You’re bang on with ‘time limits’ being an obstacle to people being willing to give themselves up as friends. When you’ve built up the trust, it doesn’t take too long to tell people where the ‘bodies are buried!’

      Thanks for your articulate and well thought through comment Rhea.

  5. Thanks Tim- great point.

    Humility is such a tough characteristic to hold onto. I think Gus in his comment below helped remind me of the position that males default to, with their need to ‘compare, compete and control.’ Often humility seems to go in the opposite spirit of that, and can be interpreted as weakness, which in due course for some becomes an invitation to take advantage of.

    But as you point out, this humility is essential if we’re to journey with each other, to listen and form this depth of empathy and understanding.

    Well done for the work you do in the area of sexual addiction. It’s so important for us to unpack the internal stories inside our heads (which are often lies) whether in the area of an addiction, or where we simply struggle to make the change we want to in other areas of life. Listening and giving space to one another, as Jennifer pointed out, within the attitude of mutual honesty and openness helps provide a deep level of support. And this level of sharing and acceptance is hard work. But life without it, is certainly harder.

    But more challenging ‘work’ I feel, is the re-wiring of our thinking, especially where the lies go deep, and the habits haven’t changed or the expected results aren’t visible. Not only is this hard for the person struggling to make the change, but also for the friends of that person who watches his/her ‘still struggles with the same issue.’ This can put a level of strain on these supportive relationships, when people aren’t able to get things together within the unspoken acceptable timeframes. It highlights the conditions of the support. Many people having opened up, retreat further when that support is retracted.

    I think Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is good value in areas where people get stuck. It helps to develop alternative routes out of repeated destructive behaviour.

    The book recommendation looks good. Another one in the area of sexual addiction would be: ‘Out of the Shadows’ by Patrick Carnes.

    Thanks Tim for your comment.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for replying to my comment. I sought out counselling when I was 16 because I knew I was broken. So many deep seated things were wrong inside of me. The only thing that has not only mentally shifted my life is something called Theophostic Prayer by Ed Smith. It is not a book but a process that allows the Holy Spirit to reveal the lies that we believe through accessing the emotional experience of the pain where the lies have been established and allowing The Father to speak the truth about those experiences and then choosing to let go of the lie or to continue in the lie. In my work with men with sexual addiction, this process has helped men regain their freedom. I enjoy your blog. Well done.

      • Hi Tim- thanks for your further response.

        I think identifying lies in our lives is so powerful. The process you describe sounds powerful.

        Lies can both bind us and rob us of the beauty and wonder of our personalities and our identities. And that’s such a shame when we all have beautiful and unique perspectives, gifts, experiences and ways of seeing the world. It’s in all our advantage for people to live in the fullness of their personality and gifting.

        I remember a few years ago, I went on something called The Mens Rites of Passage. It drew men together from all backgrounds, faiths and walks of life for 5 days in the wilderness without phones, computers and disconnected from everyday life. A lot of the time was spent in silence and meditation and connecting and sitting with the creation around us.

        The commonality and shared experience was one of embracing our humanity and our manhood. The commitment wasn’t that we would try and ‘fix’ each other, but instead be present and hear each other. Within the time together there was space for people to offload their pain, their burden, their grief and to come face to face with the anger inside them. To embrace it and to own it. It made me realise that so often as men, we don’t know what to do with our anger. It either goes inward in a healthy internal destructive manner (addictions, self loathing) or it can often be externally destructive (outbursts of aggression, violence, control). This process was wonderful in that it allowed a safe environment to connect and own the pain and over time to let go of it. And being with other men who didn’t judge you, didn’t try and ‘fix’ you and could share and hold that sacred space with you was one of the most significant moments of my life.

        Therefore, however we can surface and move beyond the lies we end up taking on, and the words, past actions, mistakes or even other people’s baggage that lock us up and prevent us from being all we were created to be, excites me. I long to live and walk in freedom and I long for others to find their own freedom too.

        It’s an ongoing journey and as I’ve known times of great freedom, shalom and hope for the future, I’ve also known times of insecurity, ego and fear.

        But one thing I remain convinced about- journeying with others makes the journey easier….and actually a heck of a lot more fun.

        Tim- thanks for sharing. Some courageous honesty and I hear you in it.

        • Hi,

          So True, in your work or ministry or relationships, what have you found that helps men become more emotionally self aware and transparent. I work with some men with addictions that almost have no ability to admit that in their past that they have pain, especially Christian men, because they think to talk about their family in a negative way is to dishonour them.

          Are you aware of any christian groups that does emotional intimacy and self awareness well?

          I have this great concern that if we do not enable men to connect with themselves, it won’t happen with their friends, their spouses or children and it gets repeated? And if the church hopes to have a transformational impact on society, men must be involved as healed, whole and connected. Anyway, appreciate your responses, bless you and enjoy your website.

          Tim Wright