Embracing True Friendship

As seen in our October 19, 2023 Newsletter – Subscribe Here

I am lucky to call many people friends. It comes easier to me because of my extroverted tendencies. Management of relationships can get difficult. But for a lot of people, especially men, managing friendships is a chore. Perhaps it brings anxiety because they were never taught how or they have become paralyzed by the thought, so they don’t even try.

But when we look at the statistics around the epidemic that is male loneliness, some of the numbers really standout. According to one survey by the Survey Center for American Life, “Only 21% of men say they received emotional support from a friend within the past week, compared to 41% of women.” Wow! While men have been taught most of their lives to shoulder their emotions alone, it isn’t sustainable for good health.

Life is too hard and we have needs.

This is where quality friendships play a role. I’m not a psychologist, but having spent the last 25 years in a classroom with young teenagers. I have seen the struggles of teen boys trying to make friends and relate to each other. And at the age of 55, I have seen plenty of friendships come and go.

Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” I have the age and some of the wisdom part, and I don’t want anyone to age alone. So here are five keys I have found really help grow a friendship:

  1. A Shared Value – With my closest friends, there seems to be a connection that relies on at least one shared value. We all have those tenets we hold near and dear to our hearts, those non-negotiables that we value over all else…honesty, integrity, passion, growth, connection, community. These are the things that drive and guide our actions. When I have at least one of these common values with a friend, it allows us a foundation for commonality and a place to connect. But, notice I didn’t say “shared values.” If there are more than one, great! But you don’t have to value all the same things, which brings me to my next key.
  2. Embrace Differences – You’ve heard the phrase “agree to disagree” about a gazillion times in your life, whether it was your parents during a lecture between you and your siblings after a fight, or at work while establishing norms for a meeting. Well, I have found it rings truer when it comes to lasting friendships. I have plenty of great friends who are on the opposite side of the political aisle. I have plenty who parent differently than I do. I have others who value different things than I do. The best part about having these friendships is that these people constantly challenge my beliefs. They make me think about other perspectives which in turn helps build empathy, something we could all use more of in an ever changing world. I like to think I do the same for them.
  3. Reciprocity – In my closest friendships, there is a shared commitment to time and energy. Of course there are times when one side is more emotionally available, but that is always reciprocated at other times. The friendships I have lost through the years have come because of the lack of value felt from one or the other involved. This seems to be one of the most important variables to a lasting friendship. If I feel like I am doing most or all of the work, I have to rethink if my time and energy might be better spent elsewhere.
  4. A Common Activity – People need something to do. When you are find someone interesting enough to hang out with, you need an arena to do just that. When you can find a common activity you both enjoy, it keeps you relaxed, which in turn creates an atmosphere to be more vulnerable. It seems you can more easily let your guard down and open yourself up for a more authentic interaction. This can be anything from golfing, bowling, watching a football game, or fishing!
  5. Laughter – As the class clown, laughter plays an important part in all of my relationships. Just ask anybody who has ever hung out with me. Finding commonalities through humor has always played a vital role in developing friendships. Of course there are the “serious talks” that come with every good friendship, but the “gut busting, tears streaming down your face” laughter times are the stories you end up telling as the years roll by. These moments allow us to unleash our raw emotions to a place of uncontrolled outburst. It provides a safe release of all that is inside us. It is important to find with friends.

The ancient teachings that men shouldn’t be vulnerable and should swallow their emotions needs to change. The science behind friendship tells us, “that having a strong social circle leads to a longer life and fewer illnesses.” (Ian Taylor, “How Loneliness is Killing Men”). Who doesn’t want that?

You don’t need to build an entire community of friends overnight; it takes time. Hopefully, these tips are helpful in that process.

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