Male Friendships: Why is it hard for men to make and maintain friends?
After chatting with one of my friends, I realised he probably wasn't in a good place; there seemed to be a lot going on that a mere phone call would cover. I wondered what to do about it; I wanted to help him.
Blokes are good at solving all the problems, aren't they?
After careful consideration, I created the 'Blokes Supper Club'; it was meant to be an informal way to meet up, eat food and, more importantly, chat away our problems. Initially, I thought it shouldn't be that hard to meet at a local pub or restaurant once a month.
How wrong could I be? Tom Cruise would struggle with this Impossible Mission.
We have met three or four times since I launched the evening supper group in October last year. This could be better; surely, we can meet up more than that. I should caveat this a little; you can write off December; it's too busy to arrange anything during the festive holidays. In January and February, no one has any money after Christmas has wiped their bank balance out. August is a non-starter; everyone is away on a much-needed holiday. So that leaves April, May, June, July, September, October and November.
I have made planning things easier; Whatsapp has a useful poll feature. I can set up a poll which includes days and dates to make it easier for us blokes to work out when we think we might be free. I hope September and the autumn months see us meet up in reasonable numbers to enjoy a pleasant meal out.
Male Friendships: Why is this subject important to me?
This subject has become important to me for several reasons. Since leaving the armed forces early after being medically discharged, I had a military-sized hole in my social group. I enjoyed my job and most of the things that went with it. I had an incredible group of male and female buddies whilst I served. The social element, which was only sometimes about drinking alcohol, was essential to bonding with colleagues and making friends. That stopped the moment I got injured; everything seemed to changed. People were working hard on operational tours, and the military ran at a really high tempo. It was inevitable that with me gone, things would move on without me.
Secondly, many articles have been written about how men don't seem to be able to make new friends or maintain the friendships they already have in their lives. For example, Andrew Anthony, a Guardian reporter, wrote an article titled "Friends are good for us...so why do many men have none at all". The report initially talks about Martian McDonagh's book The Banshees of Inisherin, which has been made into a film with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. The piece goes on to talk about the importance of having a good circle of friends which is known to increase life expectancy and improve mental health. We all want to live longer and have better mental health; friendships benefit us, so why can't men get out and be sociable?
Nick Norman explored this question when he wrote "Why so many men feel lonely today" for Psychology Today. Halfway in, Nick talks about "the unspoken rules men are handed in boyhood". He describes that masculinity has become tied to unrealistic individualism; we are taught that we can do everything for ourselves. Of course, we can't; if there is one thing I learned from my new disabled situation, I wouldn't be able to live a stress-free life if I didn't ask for help sometimes. Nick goes on to discuss some of the problems men face. He does offer solutions at the end of his article, which are well worth exploring.
Male Friendships: Whats with the negative vibes?
Since starting a new life outside the military, I have had time to work out what a poor friendship looks like; I'm not perfect; I have fallen short of being a good mate.
A refined friendship is based on a balanced give-and-take dynamic, where both friends contribute to the relationship.
A friendship is not transactional; you should be friends with someone who is there for you as a person, not for what they can give you.
Being reliable and showing up for each other in times of need or for planned events fosters a sense of security in the friendship.
Friendship is a work in progress; I've sometimes found that I'm the only one making an effort to call or make plans. It's interesting to see communication dries up when you stop calling or planning. Perhaps you weren't as important as you first thought.
How do I start new male friendships and maintain old ones?
My wife will tell you that I could start a conversation with literally anyone anywhere, which is true; being disabled probably does help me a little bit, but I'll be honest I was always able to chat the mundane with a stranger. I once made friends with a lovely Mexican family whilst on the Eurostar to Paris; we message on WhatsApp regularly. They plan to revisit London this year; I can't wait to show them around my home city.
Being part of a community is rewarding; I started an informal open-water swimming group called The Wet Bandits. We meet for dips around Hampshire and beyond; sometimes, we actually swim, and other times we might dip and chat our problems away.
I'll continue you to plug away with our Supper Club and watch it grow from strength to strength.
Us blokes sometimes need a steer in the right direction; if you have any questions, please drop me a note if required.