THE NEW YORK TIMES LIFE/STYLE On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Aaron Karo and Matt Ritter, both 43, go out to dinner with a group of seven men they befriended sophomores in Plainview, NY
At dinner, one of the friends wins man of the year a silly prize the group came up with to reconnect. They eat and laugh, and the winner walks away with their name engraved on a large, overthetop silver cup.
“It’s not really about the trophy,” said Karo, who has been on a podcast with Ritter man of the year, which examines adult friendship. “It’s about the traditions that hold us together.” The friends jostle for the prize in a messaging group, where they share memes and talk some nonsense, but also keep in touch.
“I think men are convinced that success in life doesn’t necessarily involve friendship, but that if they succeed at work or start a family, they win,” said Ritter. “Our definition has always included having those blossoming friendships.”
Notwithstanding Ritter’s close friends, American men appear to be mired in a “friendship recession” a trend that existed before the COVID19 pandemic but appears to have accelerated in recent years Loneliness has increased worldwide. In a 2021 survey of more than 2,000 US adults, less than half of men said they were genuinely happy with the number of friends they had, while 15% said they had no close friends at all — a fivefold increase since 1990. The The same survey found that men are less likely than women to rely on their friends for emotional support or to share their personal feelings with them.
“I think men have a deep need for intimacy with their friends,” said Nick Fager, a consultant at Mental health Licensee and cofounder of Expansive therapya communityoriented psychotherapy group LGBTQ. “Yet it can seem incredibly challenging to get there.”
The following four strategies won’t remove all the obstacles that can stand in the way of a deep male friendship, but they are a start.
Men’s difficulty in making friends can be explained by the way they deal with their vulnerability. Photo: Pixabay
Practice vulnerability even when you feel uncomfortable.
While Fager is careful to speak broadly, he believes the challenges some men face in developing meaningful platonic attachments stem from how they’ve been socialized to equate masculinity with strength, competitiveness, and stoicism, even when traditional ones differ changed gender norms. These traits can make a close friendship difficult.
“If you look at boys, they’re pretty open and warm with each other and then something happens,” said Fred Rabinowitz, chair of the psychology department at the University of Redlands and author of Deepening Group Psychotherapy With Men: Stories and Insights for the Journey (Advanced group psychotherapy with men: stories and insights for the journey). Social messaging teaches them that openness and emotional vulnerability are “taboo,” he said.
One easy way to practice emotional openness is to “tell your friends how you feel about them,” Fager said. “It’s so important for your friends to know that you value the relationship — that you admire or respect or love the person.” He acknowledged that calling someone out of the blue and telling them that can be quite awkward one loves him; Instead, consider sharing your gratitude after spending time together or right after an emotional exchange.
“If you’ve ever been there for your boyfriend in any way, there’s usually an opportunity at the end to reaffirm how much you value the relationship,” he said. If you’re uncomfortable, you should “pay attention and ask yourself where it’s coming from,” Fager added.
Another strategy is to join a support group or participate in group therapy, said Dr. Rabinwitz. Since 1986, he has led a weekly men’s group in Redlands, California that offers men a set amount of time to, as he put it, “to take a chance and say, ‘Hey, there’s a lot going on, and I don’t have anyone to go with where you can process it.’” One benefit of attending a support group is that you’re likely to meet men who are up to the challenge of forming emotional connections with other men.
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Connor Beaton, 39, founded ManTalks after seeing how learning to be vulnerable transformed his own friendships. The company helps men connect through inperson workshops and online classes.
A few years ago, during the fight against the substance abuse, Beaton opened up to a friend he had known for years a man with whom he had lived and traveled extensively. The friend again surprised him by sharing that he had been struggling with this lately suicidal thoughts.
“It really struck me in that moment that I simultaneously knew everything about this man, down to the type of whiskey he liked to drink, and had no idea he was fighting so fiercely,” Beaton said.
But practicing vulnerability doesn’t require attending a workshop or having deep, unfiltered conversations about your inner workings. You can keep it simple, said Marisa Franco, a friendship psychologist and author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make and Keep Friends.”
“The next time you see a friend, talk about an issue you’re dealing with,” she said. “That’s it.”
Don’t assume that friendship comes naturally
Since moving to Phoenix, Arizona in 2015, Quincy Winston, 37, has longed for more friends. Then last March, at the behest of his girlfriend, he surprised himself by starting a group for local professional black men through Meetup, the social media platform.
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Winston would have been happy to have made three or four new friends, he said. Instead, your group now has 80 members. They meet about once a month to attend events, do community service, and just talk.
“I just wanted to bring people together in the same room to emphasize the importance of being friends, having a community, and cultivating a group — a brotherhood — of men,” Winston said.
Getting out there and making it clear that you’re looking for friends seems pretty obvious, but Dr. Franco said he’s continually surprised by how many people believe adult friendships tend to form organically, like they do in childhood.
“Making friends as an adult takes initiative,” she said.
DR. Franco advises people to put themselves in recurring social situations, such as a club or a course, to make new friends over time.
And she’s enthusiastic about those opportunities and any social situation with the attitude that people you meet will enjoy your company, noting that research suggests people generally like strangers more than they think.
Use activities to your advantage
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“Boys and men tend to be socialized to do group activities together,” Rabinowitz said. Anyone who wants to expand their social circle or turn an acquaintance into a closer friend can rely on this tendency.
“If you say ‘let’s go to the game together’ or ‘let’s play poker,’ they can connect with other guys and play games with them, which can facilitate conversation,” he said.
DR. Franco recommends finding ways to turn even everyday activities into opportunities to connect. If you are a runner, invite a friend to run with you. If you’re working from home, she said, ask a colleague to visit and work with you.
Remember that activities can limit intimacy. Consider changing things up every now and then.
“If you just go out to lunch together,” Franco said, “you’re forced to really talk.”
Harness the power of casual connections
According to a study published in July 2022, casually reaching out to friends and acquaintances—say, through a text message or a quick email—means more to them than we normally assume and is especially powerful when the contact is unexpected.
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“People tend to think oh he’s too busy or he got on with his life, he doesn’t care,” Franco said. “I think hearing about studies like this can remind men that some of those barriers that they have in their heads aren’t necessarily true. Send message get in touch!
Karo and Knight say the regular contacts have been instrumental in keeping the group’s friendship alive, perhaps more so than the annual gettogether. The group’s chain of text messages allows them to maintain a degree of closeness across time and distance a reflection of how important friendship is to all of them.
“I’m the only single person and the only one without children in my group,” Karo said. “These guys are my family.” / TRANSLATION LÍVIA BUELONI GONÇALVES
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