Is it true that men are bad at making, and keeping, their friends? A sombre piece in The Guardian recently looked at whether men lose their friends in the 30s as the writer, Max Liu, realised he had a wedding coming up and no best man to stand by his side.
For me, that situation does not ring entirely true. I remain tight with a small group of high school friends, as well as mates made since that time. But I see in Liu’s Guardian piece a road I could so easily have taken, letting friendships fall by the wayside in favour of the madness of parenting and partnership, a path that would have had a big impact on the man, the father and the partner that I am today.
I owe my friendships more to good people who I can fall back in with easily than to my skills at nurturing those relationships. I could definitely be a better, and more proactive, friend.
Why are men so bad at this whole friends thing? The male ego is a stubborn beast. Too afraid to admit to being alone, too proud to risk a knock back from a new mate. Many man treat their friendships like their health – they avoid examination until it’s too late.
Men don’t prioritise friendships. We enjoy a night out with our mates but we are more likely to put work and family ahead of the day-to-day upkeep of a friendship. Despite having a close circle of friends it is my wife who is on the phone most night tending to her close relationships while I tend to get the urge share after one too many pints in the back of an Uber. I think many men also hide behind the commitment of career and family and watch friendships slip away rather than admit to being vulnerable or needing contact with someone outside their immediate family.
We also don’t like to invest a lot of time into making friends. I make friends like I shop. Unless I am immediately taken by a shop window, I will move on pretty quickly. My wife on the other hand will spend ages searching for a hidden gem. She is more patient and reaps the rewards.
Blokes are not exactly open books. I get a lot of solace from friendships, even those that are based on doing things rather than saying things. My wife is often astounded at how I can come back from a night out with a friend with little or no personal information being exchanged, but still feel that the night was a success. But this can be a barrier to cracking new friends.
The flipside is that over-sharing can scare men off. I recently answered a routine question about how my day was by telling the truth; it was a very bad day full of work insecurity and concern about my future. Cue crickets…
Sport is the gateway drug to becoming friends with men. It can be surprising how quickly and consistently this topic comes up when meeting new blokes and when it does I find it the conversational equivalent of tumbleweeds rolling down a dusty street. And it often feels like this sport-baiting is a test of manliness and therefore friendship potential.
Men are not very good at being open with each other. Often a first man-date can seem like a pair of one-way broadcasts, or two animals cagily circling each other deciding whether to attack or retreat. Then, if it does go well there is that awkward moment of whether or not to exchange phone numbers. For a gender that prides itself on its ability to run businesses and seal deals, getting a man to exchange phone number with another man can be extraordinarily hard work.
Why is this important? Because men need to lift their game when it comes to friends. There is plenty of research to show that friends are important for our mental health. Being friendless can be as bad as being a smoker, while having a close circle of friends can help us beat cancer. Our intimate friendships nourish us, hanging out with friends makes us happy. Friends are good sounding boards – a trusted mate would likely tell us they think that trolling an Australian of the Year whose child had been murdered is a dick move.
And while a lack of friends does not necessarily turn you into an social media loon afraid of any woman with a strong opinion, aren’t we all a little more stable when we have a steady flow of socialising with those we care about?
Our youngest son just started school this year and we don’t only use reading, writing or arithmetic as guides to how well he is doing. We look at his social skills, we judge his progress by the friends he is making – something we should continue to do throughout our life.
This article first appeared on ‘Daily Life’ on 23 November 2015.