Friendship Further

I heard an NPR segment from the Hidden Brain the other day it is called, “Guys, We Have A Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men” I would highly recommend giving it a listen. Even if you are not terribly interested in traditional gender roles and the inherent societal norms that come along with them, it is a fascinating piece.

It speaks to the traditional male friendship in America. Something that I am sure many males have felt. Male relationships are expected to look a certain way, we don’t show emotion, don’t tell one another we love or care about each other, and our only interests should be concerned with watching sports, working out, playing video games, and talking about girls or fast cars. This is what I received as a template for male friendships.

This attitude towards friendships can be very isolating. It creates situations where men have no friends, and often leaves very shallow relationships with the friends they do have. The domino effect this can have on an individual was astounding. Loneliness is a predecessor to a plethora of physical and mental health issues. Having strong friendships can literally extend your life, and as a culture we are smothering the ability of young men to create, strengthen, and keep male friends.

As always, I have no solutions. I think the best thing we can do is be aware, have conversations, and be vulnerable. This means that as humans we can make a point of sharing how much we care with our male friends. I have done this often in the past two or three years. I am becoming less apprehensive about it, however it is still hard for me to share with other men that I love them. I can say it has been well received from every friend I have given the opportunity to. We should continue to work towards a more open model of male friendships and allow for a continually evolving definition of what it means to be masculine in today’s world.

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New Friends

Does anyone else find making new adult friends a really strange experience? It is so odd to me, as kids it is so normal to just meet another random human, and start setting up play dates with them. As an adult it feels like we are putting in a world of effort just to go buy a beer with another human and lets be honest, the beer is just so the whole experience feels less uncomfortable. There should be a less awkward way to do it…sadly it seems there is not.

I haven’t had a first date in years. I have been happily partnered with my current girlfriend for the past eight. However, since moving to a new state I have had multiple first dates with several friends. I am happy to report they were all successful and also sufficiently awkward. So far I have just been addressing the awkwardness and been like making new friends is weird. I find this disarms a lot of the discomfort with the discomfort. After all we are both there for the same reason and that is normal and ok.

I work with youth as the main part of my job. We spend days trying to disarm the instinct to avoid being vulnerable. I know how detrimental to building relationships keeping walls up can be and I still find myself avoiding taking the plunge of sharing something true and heartfelt with someone. A wise friend once told me that when making friends you have to assume that you will be the one who is vulnerable first. I have always found this to be true, although it does not make it any easier. I hope to keep practicing, to keep getting better at allowing myself to be vulnerable with people. It is the only way relationships grow.

So today I wish the best of luck to all who are growing relationships. Don’t be discouraged by the amount of time and effort they take! It should be well worth it in the end. If it is not, thats ok too. Sometimes we hit dead ends and have to reroute, however more often than not people are wanting and willing to care for one another, they just need the chance.

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K.I.T

K.I.T—-a classic yearbook sign off. Maybe not as great as “H.A.G.S” or the classic “I just signed your crack” right in the crease, but still a great one. I was reflecting today on the value of relationship maintenance. I reached out to a friend who I hadn’t heard from in a while and had a really valuable, honest, and vulnerable conversation. It’s one of those conversations that made me remember why I’m friends with that person in the first place.

The reality is that it is really difficult to make this happen on a regular basis. Maintaining friendships, especially long distance is seemingly impossible. Trying to keep updated on all the people you care about is tough. I am certainly not great, or even good at this, but here are a few ideas that have been successful for me while pursuing the ever illusive well-maintained long distance friendship.

  1. Make reaching out a habit: Have a day of the week that you reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. I like to make mine Monday since it feels like most of these conversations pick me up, and Mondays are always rough.
  2. Rotate though a list: I keep a small list of people I want to stay in touch with. Although it certainly could be much longer, I find that there are people who naturally make the list and those who don’t. I think this is normal and not necessarily a reflection on you, or someone else. We are all drawn to different types of people and should be allowed to pursue the relationships we want to pursue free of guilt.
  3. Make phone calls or text on your commute: Calling works best if you drive solo (and have hands free devices of course), but if you walk, bike, or even ride public transportation it is still possible and it is a great way to fill what is often unproductive time.
  4. It’s OK to keep it short: Sometimes my conversations are very simple and go like this:
    • Me: Hey it’s been a while. How are you? Any new important life updates?
    • Human Friend: Hey its great to hear from you (blah blah blah answers to prior questions) How have you been?
    • Me: Oh Blah Blah Blah Blah stuff is like this and life and stuff.
    • Human Friend: Oh cool, sounds great…uhhh
    • Me: Yea, well I’ve gotta run but I just wanted to do a quick check in with you because I care about you and was thinking about you!
    • Human Friend: Oh alright, well good talking to you.
    • Me: Yea, I’ll call again sometime when I have a few more minutes. Take care.
    • Human Friend: Yea, you too, bye!
  5. Little, short reminders of friendship can also be great: Don’t shy away from small emotional encouragement, a quick text that says “Hey your awesome!”, or “I hope your day is kicking butt”, or whatever you might say to encourage your friend are helpful and important. Inside jokes and reminders of good times are great too! Knowing whats going on in each others lives is great, but continuing to be a friend, even if you haven’t stalked their social media enough to know they got a new job might mean even more.

These are things I wish I could do better as I lament many lost friendships over the years, but I am truly happy for the ones that I have kept and maintained. Having strong relationships is one of the most valuable and enriching things in our lives, so I’m trying to make it more of a habit. I’m trying to commit to working on relationships,  and not allow them to become passive.  If anyone else has suggestions that work really well for them, I’d love to hear them! K.I.T friends!

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