You probably don’t have enough fucking friends. Because that’s just what happens when you get older right? 1 in 10 people in the UK said they didn’t have a single close friend.
“People grow apart. Life happens. You get married and have kids.”
These are excuses, not reasons. Everyone is capable of maintaining at least 1-3 friendships, providing you prioritise it. But why bother?
Without a circle of close friends, even if it’s just 2 or 3 close friends, your mental health is significantly at risk. If you’ve ready anything I’ve ever written, watched me on youtube or heard me speak at an event, nothing is more important than your mental health!
And the problem of close friends in particular seems to be a mostly male issue – 81% of women would describe their friendships as good or very good compared with only 73% of men.
So why do so many men have a problem with making, and maintaining, close friendships? Why are guys less likely to have intimate (I’m not talking about sexual or romantic) relationships with men compared to women? And how do men build intimate relationships vs. more casual friendships?
Manly As Fuck vs. Pretty Fucking Gay
No one would argue that it’s not manly as fuck to have ‘Brothers in Arms’ – in fact a close tribe of Brothers is one of my main recommendations in my book ‘How To Become A Modern Viking’. If you’ve served in the Armed forces, your life literally depends on the man standing next to you. The relationship and friendship with men in your Squad and Platoon are literally a case of life or death.
Even in a more civilian setting, playing a team sport like Rugby or American Footbal means that your pride and ego (from a victory or loss) will depend on the performance of the men by your side.
It’s a shared adversity. A shared danger.
In these intense situations, men become very comfortable showing non-sexual intimacy towards other men. We’re not ashamed to be close to other men in a platonic way. We’re happy to make physical contact, hug, wrap our arms around each other, slap a guy on the back.
And what happens – you become closer friends outside of that sport, outside of military service.
But when was the last time you hugged your friend on the street for 5 seconds or so, patting him on the back and telling him, mid embrace, how much his friendship means to you?
Sounds pretty gay right?
But two heterosexual marines wouldn’t hesitate for a second to show this level of intimacy together without any worries or paranoia of being mistaken for gay lovers. Guys in my gym regularly shake hands, high five and even embrace each other. Sports team members regularly hug each other (and opponents) at the beginning and/or end of a game.
Why is one situation “manly as fuck”, and yet other times it’s “pretty fucking gay”? Same action, same sentiment, right?
Is the key the shared risk that was experienced? Does that explain why players of a basketball team show comradery but friends getting a pint together can’t?
Perhaps it that the risk was to achieve a reward? A reward of victory in battle? A reward of victory in the Champonship?
Intimacy From Risk & Reward
Some of the most effective ways then it would seem to build deep and meaningful intimacy, trust and a bond with other men lies in sharing a risk to yourself in the puruit of a reward. Whether a physical risk or a risk to your pride/ego, the shared adversity makes it socially acceptable for men to display and practice physical intimacy and build trust.
Is the answer to making more friends then, simply to throw yourself into these risk/reward situations?
Well, perhaps it is that simple…
Anyone who went to College/University and joined a sports team can attest to how much easier it was to make very, very close male friends. They’re probably the friends you still speak to today.
Or in particular, contrasted with how much harder it’s been to make close friends after you left College/University.
Personally, most of my closest friends today are guys I originally trained with in my University Kickboxing squad (age 18-22). We trained together as much as 6 times a week, we gave each other bloody noses and broken toes, we screamed at each other when there was 1 more pushup still ‘in the tank’, and then on fight days, we shouted our throats raw as cornermen for each other.
I bled with these guys. I saw them wanting to quit when they hit “the nasty place”, and they saw me do the same… and we gave each other the strong push neccessary to break through it. (In fact the guy who would have been the Best Man at my wedding was originally my Kickboxing coach).
Aged 29, my closest friends today (like, all ones in the UK) are guys who train in my gym or we trained kickboxing together. Physical adversity, (some) shared risk, in the pursuit of a reward. At present, there are 6 male friends in the UK who I would happily greet with an embrace in public. I would have them all by my side in a fight and I would be (actually, I have been many times) by their side in a bar fight.
I have very close male friends and I have zero doubts that they help me in my fight with depression.
So Guys Only Make Friends From Physical Adversity?
There is an exception in my life. I have a couple of friends from San Francisco who I met from partying. 2 to be precise.
Even now, 5,000 miles apart, we still swap texts, and when they visit London they crash at my place. I wouldn’t hesitate to embrace these guys with a hug. But perhaps it’s not a coincidence that both of these guys are gay and are infinitely far superior at maintaining intimate male friendships than myself.
The other friends in my life who I’ve met through partying, or taking a class together, or because they just happened to go to my school, aren’t particularly close friends anymore.
So in my experience, this rule holds pretty true. Friends made through shared physical adversity become much closer friends, and stay friends for longer.
Go Out And Do Shit
Men need close friends. And the easiest way to make them is to go out and do physical shit. Join a sports team. Go to a paintball club. Join a boxing class. Join a gym (actually if you are reading this and you don’t already train at a gym, what the actual fuck?!)
I often tell people that in my opinion, women process emotions with tears and men process emotions with sweat. I think a similar rule holds true for intimate friendships too. Women build intimacy by sharing their emotions with each other. Men build intimate friendships by sharing sweat together.
Have A Problem With Hugging Your Mates?
If you read this article and have a problem with expressing physical intimacy with your male friends, the problem lies in you and not in my advice. Tell a rugby team they’re gay. Tell a group of guys breaking bench press records and hugging afterwards how gay they are. Tell a squad of marine commandos how gay they are.
Am I saying you need to be physical with you male friends all the time? Of course not. But, your closest friends will be the ones who you don’t have a problem being physical and boisterous with, whether it’s wrestling in the yard, shaking palms or a celebratory hug. I’d say the two are both correlated and causal.
Cultures differ of course and a bit of social intelligence is required to gauge the context, but I have no problem with the guy who hugs when a handshake would do, but I feel a cold sense of distance towards the guy who handshakes when everyone else hugged…
Further Reading & References
Video: Vice sent a colleague out on a mission in Australia to make new guy friends. What followed was, as you’d expect, awkward because he throws himself out there pretty wildly. But still, you have to respect the stones on the guy and everyone can’t help but warm to the guy! Watch The Video