Why Men’s Friendships Can Feel So EMPTY
Men, relying on emotionally risk-free ”friendships of proximity,” are facing a life time of social isolation
Imagine, Frank walks into a bar. He approaches a group of men from work including someone new. One guy says, “Frank, meet Bob.” They all chat for a while and then Frank says brightly, “Bob! I’m glad I met you. I like you. How would you like to be my friend? Cue the abuse and derision because Frank just broke the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule of male friendship. Don’t admit you want or need friends. Don’t admit you need anything. Be confident. Be self reliant.
Will you be my friend? Sometime around first grade, boys stop asking that question and they never ask it again, because it quickly becomes an invitation for bullying and abuse. Stop and think about that for a moment. This single observation, that men are taught to deny they want and need friends, lies at the core of everything that is wrong with our modern construction of manhood. And it is killing us.
Judy Chu’s research, as documented in her book When Boys Become Boys, has shown that boys are taught to perform this narrative as early as age four.
Researcher and author of Deep Secrets, Niobe Way has this to say about the cultural conditioning of boys and men:
Boys know by late adolescence that their close male friendships, and even their emotional acuity, put them at risk of being labeled girly, immature, or gay. Thus, rather than focusing on who they are, they become obsessed with who they are not — they are not girls, little boys nor, in the case of heterosexual boys, are they gay. In response to a cultural context that links intimacy in male friendships with an age, a sex (female), and a sexuality (gay), these boys mature into men who are autonomous, emotionally stoic, and isolated.
Welcome to American manhood, where only if you don’t need friends will you be worthy of having them.
The Question Men Won’t Ask
There is a reason most American men would never ask another man directly to enter into a friendship. Boys and men in American culture are given little opportunity in life to master this kind of interpersonal risk taking. It creates a moment of uncertainty that is…