Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: It's Tough Being a Guy

Why is it tough being a man? Because we don't have the emotional abilities that women do--or, at least, those abilities typically lie buried beneath bravado, posturing, awkwardness, and a desire to hide vulnerability.

A book which speaks well to the stilted nature of many male friendships is Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man. I cannot highly recommend the book, as there is much objectionable content written from Vincent's perspective as a lesbian dressing up as a man, but I can say that she has an eye for human nature. That is, she identifies the nuances of human behavior and rightly targets their cause. Her book is essentially a study on the emotional lives of men, and it reveals much. Men, for example, cannot typically just go out and talk. They need an excuse for companionship--a sport, a quest, a diversion, and only then can they slowly begin to talk with one another. Even as they do, they often never get very deep.

I recall experiencing this with a friend from seminary. I asked him if he would like to get lunch in the near future. A few days later, he called me to tell me some guys were going to a wings restaurant to watch some sports and eat wings. I declined to go but have not forgotten that exchange. It symbolizes well the awkwardness many men feel in creating friendship with one another. I've seen this same tendency played out hundreds of times on the basketball court. Guys don't naturally approach one another with kindness. They approach one another warily, revealing as little as possible in initial encounters, everyone sizing one another up in an attempt to find their place in the male hierarchy. It's not the purpose of this blog to try and overturn all these situations. They are what they are, and I myself possess some very typical male tendencies. But I am trying to say that the male social world is strange and complex, awkward and rough, difficult to move in.

I've met few men in my life who were really able to get past the awkwardness and allow themselves to enjoy male friendship. Most of the time, guys stand on the opposite sides of the room from those they don't immediately know or click with. It's as if we're all still in the Old West, each man measuring the other to see whether he should launch an attack or expect one. Bonding is difficult, and often accomplished by talk about things that don't matter--sports is a huge topic--or things that shouldn't be talked about--coarse jesting. Conditioned to be withdrawn, afraid of being seen as feminine, men hunker down in their own little social corner, aware like those Old West gunslingers that life is not ideal, that it might be nicer to have a few more friends and a little less bravado, but that survival beats submission any day. It's a tough world we live in, us guys. Curt conversation, size-em-up eye contact, and the need to posture. They say the female emotional world is complex, but I'm thinking that the male side of things has its own share of difficulty. That chip on the shoulder is harder to carry than you might think.


Blogger Benjamin said...

I would say that generally, I'm pretty open to friendship, even though I'm not very good at "hanging out" in a group context. So if you're looking for a friend, Owen, by all means just holler!

One thing I am thinking about, though, is that most guys don't just want to be accepted... they want to feel like they have something to offer. So, it's all well and good that another guy might, "accept me for who I am," but it's much harder for him to make me feel or help me see that my friendship with him adds value to his life. The reverse is true, of course... many times my friendships are limited by my inability to express to another guy that I value his input in my life.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Ryan Hill said...

Owen...good thoughts in these last two posts. I'm glad you included in your previous post that the Gospel and not companionship or something else is the greatest need of any person because I think sometimes we forget to point people to the Gospel as we attempt to help them cope with or work through various issues or situations.

I agree so far with your assessment of the emotional lives of males, our tendencies to stay withdrawn, and the dominance of surface-level conversations when we do socialize. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about how the church can help to facilitate genuine male friendship, openness, and accountability. I know most men's ministries or groups say that want true openness, but I don't know of many that accomplish that goal. And, if some guy does start to really open up, it makes everyone feel awkward which then stifles other men from opening up.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Owen, it's really nice to read your views on male friendship. However, I have seen the diametrically opposite side of friendship between men.They are much more open,and approach each other without any pretense.They are much lesser complex than's true, once the initial awkwardness gets over, men have a much stronger bond and they even share their deepest secrets.This might differ in friendships between men of different ages.

5:14 AM  

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