The Importance of Male Friendships

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Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future. Navigating our relationships well is crucial for a healthy life and good mental health. Here are some of the positive effects of close male friendships and male bonding*:

Psychologist Niobe Way says that when boys grow up and are told that relational qualities such as compassion, love and vulnerability, are considered “feminine qualities”, and as a result they suppress these traits, we see a decline of closeness in male friendships, and an alarming increase in the rates of depression and suicide among boys and men.
Wives who cite their husband´s “emotional unavailability” as the primary cause of divorce initiate two out of every three divorces today.
” She goes on to say that the absence of close friendships also can have negative effects on a man´s physical health and lower his bodily resistance to illness.***
But let’s be real and get straight to the point. Us men aren’t really known for having the deepest and most emotionally intimate friendships.
Millions of men have settled for superficial hangouts instead of genuine friendships. We’ve accepted the lie that men don’t connect so much on an emotional level – that we’re simply activity oriented.So we end up just acting cool, keeping it uncomplicated and shallow, playing video games or grabbing a beer at a bar, talking about last night’s football game.
“I love you, bro. I love you so much!” But I only tell you when I’m drunk.
And we wonder why we feel so disconnected. Why our friendships sometimes just fade away, or at best, feel so empty.
Having close and healthy friendships is vital for any human being. But why do men often tend to struggle more with connecting in their friendships, than women?
Based on the feedback from thousands of young men, and the findings of well-respected researchers on the topic of male development, we’ve identified several challenges to deep male friendships. Further down you can read some of them.
*Sources: Deep Secrets (Niobe Way), When Boys Become Boys (Judy Y Chu), Remaking Manhood (Mark Greene). **”Why Do We Murder The Beautiful Friendships of Boys?” by Mark Greene. ***Garfield, Robert. “Men In Transition.”
Breaking the Male Code: Unlocking the Power of Friendship: Overcoming Male Isolation for a Longer, Happier Life. New York: Avery, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016. N. pag. Print.

Cultural norms and roadblocks

The Taboo

The topic of male friendships is important. Unfortunately it is a topic that so many of us get put off by or find awkward to talk about.

Brothers’ goal is to equip men of all generations to have strong and authentic friendships. We also seek to combat damaging cultural mindsets (or the taboo) that may hinder men from having worthwhile friendships in their lives. Though most people love our message, support it and understand why we fight for it, I’ve heard some funny responses when telling people about Brothers:

– ‘What? Friendships between guys?’ (followed by an awkward laughter)
– ‘Wow, sounds a bit extreme to run an organisation about that.’
– ‘Oh, that’s interesting … So is it a gay thing?’
– ‘A movement about guys’ friendships … Well, is that really necessary?’
– ‘It must be something wrong with whoever came up with the idea of this whole Brothers-thing…’
– ‘Please… Guys don’t care about having deep friendships, especially not with other dudes. Girls do. Not guys. That’s just weird…’

Little did we know that running Brothers would sometimes feel like walking on eggshells. People have so many perceptions of love, masculinity and male friendship. Post a photo of two guys (a friendship), and some people will think they’re gay. Encourage guys to comfort each other when needed, and people think we’re trying to turn men into a cuddle club. And the list goes on … All the stigma and awkwardness around men’s friendships is a clear sign that something has gone terribly wrong. And we need to do something about it.

Ask a five-year-old boy about his best friend. He will most likely gladly elaborate about him and his friendship. He will have no problem expressing his love for his friend. Ask a grown man, and his response will be quite different.

Are you up for dealing with this taboo, once and for all? The more we talk about it, the less taboo it becomes.

The Perception of Masculinity

In Western culture, there are well integrated and strongly embraced beliefs about what manhood and masculinity is like. These mindsets are, according to physiotherapist Robert Garfield, some of the most common roadblocks to emotional intimacy in men´s relationships.

A “real man” is often portrayed as someone emotionally restrained, competitive, physically tough, self-sustaining and independent. Men are instead taught not to express emotions, show vulnerability, be affectionate, give or get support… The list goes on and on. As a result, many guys embrace the belief that they aren´t wired to handle emotional intimacy in their relationships. The “emotional intimacy qualities” that are vital to the flourishing of any human being are considered as feminine, and are separated from manly. Since these qualities are being neglected, many men experience difficulties connecting with themselves and the ones around them. The consequences of this can be devastating. And if that is not detrimental enough— it can cause many unnessesary relational challenges in his friendships, marriage and family.

*Garfield, Robert. “Men In Transition.” Breaking the Male Code: Unlocking the Power of Friendship: Overcoming Male Isolation for a Longer, Happier Life. New York: Avery, an Imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016. N. pag. Print.

The Sexualisation of Love

It would be absurd to believe that our mindsets have not been affected by the hyper-sexualised world that we live in. In Western culture, we are constantly being exposed to music, movies, media and advertisements with sexual messages. The words ´love´ and ´sex´ have been used interchangeably, and without being aware of it, we have formed perceptions about love and intimacy that aren´t true or helpful.
Brothers believes that these perceptions have become a roadblock in creating worthwhile male friendships, and is one of the reasons to why several men (in this case) have the belief that love and intimacy in deep friendships has to be sexual in nature. Many guys believe that they are not supposed to express or receive admiration or love from other men— and if they do, it must be considered sexual. Even worse; that other people will misunderstand it as sexual. As a natural response, they tend to avoid closeness with other men. They keep a “safe distance” between themselves and their male friends, to make sure that no one, including themselves, would assume that the their relationship is sexual.

The sexualisation of love has become a massive roadblock in creating intimacy within male friendships. As a result, many men in today´s society starve themselves from male closeness, which they very much need and want, but most likely won´t admit to— or even be aware of.
From conception, we are paired with a mother and a father. Both female and male communion and interaction is important to the healthy development and growth of an individual. Brothers believe that the importance of both doesn’t come to an end as we grow older.

We know that this whole topic is a sensitive topic to talk about…
…but that does not mean that we should shy away from talking about it. It is only by confronting this mindset that we can actually make a difference. How we present it, of course, matters a lot. But again; however this topic might be presented, some people will feel uncomfortable. Why? Because confronting mindsets is uncomfortable.

And just to make it very clear:
We are by no means trying to turn men into a cuddle-club! Everyone expresses affection and care in different ways. But we do want to inspire men to develop worthwhile, quality friendships; and if this “fear”, if we can call it that, stops men from developing these kind of friendships, it ought to be addressed.

The Sheer Neglect of Male Friendship

Genuine friendships between men has in many cases been neglected, ridiculed or dulled down to a shallow hang-out.

Neglected or Ridiculed
The presence or absence of deep male friendships has major effects on a man’s life. Ironically enough, it is still not taken very seriously by our society. Sometimes deep friendships between men is even ridiculed or made fun of. It should be a normal and good thing, but as boys grow up and turn into men, it is somehow a bit ‘corny’ to long for a best friend you can entrust with your heart.

Dulled down
Why do you normally want to spend time with the people close to you? Hopefully, because you feel supported, wanted and loved by them. Our experience is that many men do have friends around them, but that these friendships lack both depth, genuine love and purpose.
Male friendship has for too long been accepted as just a shallow hang-out, rather than a soul-enriching relationship. And maybe that is the reason why many men don’t see the point of investing time and energy into their mates. Many men simply don’t value genuine friendship because they haven’t experienced real friendship.

Over-Emphasis on Romantic Relationships
If you pay attention to today´s Western culture, romantic relationships are highly emphasised. In most movies, music, and media, romantic relationships are considered as the “main goal”, and we are encouraged to pursue them at all costs. The sense of commitment and dedication in loving male friendships, on the other hand, seems to have been neglected.
We might assume that it has always been like this, but, according to history, that is not the case. In ancient times, male friendships were very highly esteemed, but as romantic relationships the last century has achieved a higher status in social order, male friendships have struggled to sustain its former primacy.*

Brothers are all for romantic relationships and marriages, but we do believe that it doesn´t have to come at the cost of one’s close, male friendships.
*Lewis, C. S. “Friendship.” The Four Loves. London: William Collins, 2012. N. pag. Print.

Who is Kim Evensen, the founder of Brothers?

Brothers is a global not-for-profit organization all about empowering men’s friendships. The head office is currently in Oslo, Norway. Our passion is to see men all over the globe discover all what a friendship is, and enjoy it to the full.