Why are male friendships so important? Why do men sometimes struggle to form friendships? What are some great tips that can help?
Everyone needs friends—in fact, research has shown that friendships (or a lack of them) affect our physical and mental well-being. For men, building friendships can be difficult, which can lead to loneliness, mental health problems, and an unfair dependence on romantic partners.
Keep reading for the ultimate guide to male friendships, including why they’re important, why men struggle to form them, and some tips for men who are struggling.
A Guide to Male Friendships
Friendships are important, whether you’re a man or not. One study found that our close relationships with friends have a bigger impact on our lifespan than the strength of our familial relationships: Participants with the most friends were discovered to live 22% longer than those participants with the least amount of friends.
So if friendships are an integral part of a satisfying life, why do adult men struggle to form them (specifically with other men)? There are a few reasons:
- Men bond around experiences. While women tend to bond by discussing their lives and emotions, men relate to each other via shared activities (like sports or camping). One study found about 40% of male participants compartmentalized their friendships: Female friends were said to be intimate confidants, while male friends were there for engaging in decidedly male activities with. As men grow up, finding the time, space, and energy for these kinds of shared activities becomes increasingly difficult.
- Men are more likely to prioritize their marriage and career over friendships. In their book The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century, Drs. Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz recall their 1980s study that examined social isolation in America. They found that even more than women, men (regrettably) put their friendships on the backburner to focus on their career, marriage, and family.
3. Men’s brains might not be wired to excel at interpersonal communication. In 2014, neuroscientists conducted the largest study on sex differences in our neural pathways. These researchers found women’s neural pathways appeared to work left to right—or between hemispheres—whereas men’s brains were structured to work front to back within one hemisphere. Women’s interhemispheric communication allows them to easily connect the analytical and the intuitive, making them better equipped for interpersonal communication. Men’s intrahemispheric communication connects perception with coordinated action, making them better equipped for learning and performing tasks that require coordination.
Male Social Dependence and Female Burnout
When a man has no friends of his own, he becomes dependent on his partner for 100% of his emotional and social needs. But friends help meet these needs. Glover noticed Nice Guys are less likely to smother, resent, or manipulate their partners when they can turn to friends for additional support.
The burnout women experience when they’re expected to be their boyfriend or husband’s partner, best friend, cheerleader, secretary, therapist, and more has prompted much discussion about women’s unpaid, emotional labor. When journalist Melanie Hamlett interviewed women about their experiences, she found younger women more likely to tie their self-image to being their husband’s everything. However, once women grow older, busier, and more frustrated, they seem to be less willing to put themselves aside for their man’s sake—usually to his detriment. Even if it appears your partner “doesn’t mind” providing this care, she may be struggling with her own self-worth. Having individual lives and friendships outside your relationship will only strengthen it in the long run and ensure neither of you suffer burnout.
How to Build Male Friendships
When men develop close male friendships, they reap the rewards and support of community.
How do you build male friendships? The easiest way is to make plans and hang out! You and the guys can do anything you want, such as:
- Casual hangouts (movie or game nights, potlucks, bonfires, just relax)
- Attending events (sports, concerts, discussion groups)
- Being exercise buddies or starting a team
- Spending time in nature (camping, hiking, fishing, road trips)
- Volunteering together.
How Do You Make Friends in Adulthood?
To build male friendships, you first have to have friends. As children, we find ourselves in situations (like school) that are ripe for making friends. However, in adulthood, we get busy, people move, and new relationships (such as partners or kids) take time away from building friendships.
But if you don’t have many (or any) friends, you’re not alone—the phenomenon of the friendless or lonely adult has been documented in countless surveys. One survey of over 20,000 American adults found 2 in 5 feel isolated and lack meaningful relationships. Another found that the average American adult hasn’t made a new friend in 5 years.
So what can we do to make friends in adulthood? In “An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught,” NYT journalist Eric Ravenscraft says it starts with self-motivation—you must decide you’re going to make new friends and actively put yourself in situations where that may happen. Once you’ve put yourself out there, be brave and start a conversation with someone new.
But how do you naturally start that conversation? Author David Hoffeld compiled the findings of various behavioral studies to answer this question. Once we realize we grossly underestimate strangers’ willingness to chat, we can approach new people with these three proven steps:
- Look approachable—smile. We feel more optimistic ourselves when we do so. Also, a smile back is a great nonverbal cue to start the conversation on a positive note.
- Begin the conversation authentically by focusing on something you have in common. Start simple: Their hat may let you know you back the same team or maybe you always notice them on your bus route.
- Keep the conversation going by applying the “insight-and-question” method. Make an observation, then follow it up with a question. Make sure your question is about the other person—not the weather or the traffic—as people love to talk about themselves.
(In his dating workshops, Glover agrees that learning to talk to strangers is a valuable skill but understands that it’s something that needs to be developed. He encourages men to be “social animals” in all situations in order to practice this. You don’t need to have a specific goal in mind—such as friendship or dating—with every person you talk to, but the more people you interact with, the less scary it becomes and the better you get at spotting those worth talking to.)
Finally, speaking from experience, author Ross McCammon explains how he was able to make and develop male friendships:
- Utilize your connections. The partner of your partner’s friends and the parents of your kids’ friends are great places to start.
- Turn vague plans into reality. Intentionally schedule your hangouts—even better, make them recurring (like hitting the gym the same time each week or camping the last weekend of every month).
- Follow up with texts. Continue communicating when you’re not together.
- Hug! Physical contact is important for friendships too. Plus, it’s a definitive way to let your friends know you care without having to get too sappy.
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- Why being a "Nice Guy" isn't actually a good thing
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- How to know if you are a Nice Guy and how to become an "Ideal Man" instead