Men and Friendship
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
We as men have received "corrupted messages" about what it means to be a man. These messages have stunted our emotional growth and our ability to have close intimate relationships with our male friends. In my recent Podcast with Clinical Social Worker Ron Arsenault when asked, Why is it so difficult for men in our culture to establish deep meaningful relationships with their male friends?
Ron stated, I think that one of the basic difficulties that gets in the way for and informs that difficulty is just our history of homophobia as a culture, and it's pervasive. It's a problem for a lot of men in terms of their connection, friendship and intimacy. (click here https://youtu.be/92t5oKfHu4Y to listen to the full interview)
We as men create friendships that are more what they call shoulder to shoulder which entails doing activities together like fishing or a sporting event. Whereas women, they create friendships that are more face to face and more intimate. What I mean by intimate friendships is that there's emotional support, you know the other person cares for you, that the other person loves you, also where you can have self disclosure. In a study that I just read they interviewed high school boys from freshman year through senior year. They were asked the same question throughout their high school years. The question was to describe their friendships. Boys under the age of 15, I’ll use one particular boy they sited in the study, described his friendship as; we love each other, I love my friend, we have a mutual respect, there's trust. One to two years later the same boy when asked the same question responded; we don't really talk about anything important, nothing serious, I am not able to share my feelings, we just hang out. So there’s drastic change. It doesn't surprise me that about that age the suicide rate in boys increases. So why does this happen? I believe what I call “corrupted messages” that we as boys received from our culture about what it means to me a man, rears its ugly head. Messages like boys and men are not supposed to cry, we're not to express emotions, we’re not to be vulnerable. Having intimate relationships is seen as a feminine thing. We as boys and men are taught to avoid anything that's feminine for fear of being ridiculed. Being called girly, a sissy or a fag. So at about the age of 16 that's when the “corrupted thoughts” begin to be acted upon. In boys and men this is displayed as a disconnect from close deep friendship.
In my late 20s, I began to sense that disconnection from male friends and desired to have a fellowship and bond with other men, to be able to share feelings and emotions. That's when I decided to join a men's group. We met once a week to share our struggles and our triumphs. It was so important to me to know that I could have friendships with other men, and that there wasn't anything wrong with me for desiring that and having that connection. Research shows that men who do have close friendships and relationships live longer, they’re happier and they have better health.
In a recent article I read on The Art of Manliness website written by Brett & Kate McKay on The History and Nature of Man Friendships (https://www.artofmanliness.com/people/relationships/the-history-and-nature-of-man-friendships) they included photographs of male friends from the 19th century. The images of the men portrayed close physical intimacy, affection with no fear, homophobia or inhibition around their closeness. Something changed in the 20th Century regarding men and friendship. Ron Arsenault he believes that the Industrial Revolution changed everything. Men who were working together in the fields all of a sudden began leaving the home and going to an office. They became competitors and no longer collaborated. Setting up that side by side image of men being together.
I've had the pleasure to spend extensive time in Southeast Asia. I witnessed Thai boys walking hand in hand and noticed this behavior continued into adulthood. During one of my visits I spent time with men from all over the world for one month bodywork training, men from Greece, Spain and Australia. I witnessed that this fear of closeness with men is a cultural phenomena. During my time with these men there no inhibition around physical closeness. As I look at some of the photographs I took with them this is evident.
So I'm challenging you men out there to replace your “corrupted thoughts” and those “corrupted messages” that were instilled in us growing up. Create some close intimate relationships with with your male friends. And for the women out there who are reading this, please refer the men that you love, your friends, sons, fathers, brothers