“Men in America are essentially friendless if we define ‘friend’ as a covenant-type partner, a soul mate, and a brother.” – Stephen Arterburn, author of The Secrets Men Keep
When’s the last time you told another guy you love him? Not necessarily romantically, but in a platonic kind of way. If you’re anything like me, the question alone is enough to make me stop and think for a little while.
Aside from the intimacy that we show toward younger boys and very close family members, it’s not very often that we utter those words or even hug in a way that’s more than the one-arm-over-the-shoulder or fancy handshake or dap of fists. Now, that isn’t to say that those gestures of camaraderie aren’t meaningful. I think they are very important and show a sense of respect. But they aren’t the same thing as a long embrace held between men.
So, why aren’t men more intimate with each other more often? It’s a question I’ve been pondering ever since I was little. I didn’t quite understand why girls were automatically accepted into a warm circle of women who were all smiles, inside jokes, and quick to embrace as a sign of intimacy. Every experience I’d had involved bonding through either sports or going to the barbershop. And to be honest, my mom used to cut my hair until I was a junior in high school, so I was late to the party when it came to male bonding in a barbershop setting.
…we’re still a generation of men who don’t know how to connect with one another on a deeper, more meaningful level.
In my own research on the topic, I discovered a great book by Stephen Arterburn, The Secrets Men Keep: How Men Make Life and Love Tougher Than It Has. Written ten years ago, it served as one of the first texts that helped me figure out what has already been explored when it comes to many of the questions I had for The Pillow Talk Project. And although there are some elements I feel are outdated when it comes to millennials, he shared some truly compelling realizations about male bonding and intimacy:
Ask most men today who their best friends are or were and they’ll usually point back to the period where they were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. The fraternal feelings that come from such close ties are instrumental to a man’s ongoing development at any age. Unfortunately, our culture disperses young men to the four winds following high school and college. They take their wives with them but leave their best friends behind. And the result is an emotional need that is never met, turning adult men inward to placate their longing for male companionship via pseudo-self-fulfilling work, sports, hobbies, gadgets, and the like…. (70)
How many ways are there in our own culture for men to tell their sons that they have become men, that they have entered the circle of their fathers and grandfathers? Unfortunately, most fathers and grandfathers don’t have a ‘circle’ into which to invite their sons. And if they did, there are few rituals or ceremonies (such as the Jewish Bar Mitzvah) to serve as rites of passage. It is difficult in Western cultures for a young man to cross over from adolescence to manhood and enter into the embrace and friendship of other men….(74-75)
Now, if we really take the time think over Arterburn’s observations, we find a compelling fact that still rings true today–maybe even more so when think about the disconnectedness that happens as a result of social media: we’re still a generation of men who don’t know how to connect with one another on a deeper, more meaningful level. This is especially true when it comes to hip hop black masculinity, which is drenched with the sentiment that no man is a friend, just an enemy that hasn’t revealed himself yet.
…it wasn’t until I experienced intimacy with male friends who were brave and fearless enough to go there that I realized it was something I’d been yearning for, without even knowing it.
I’m not saying that every man in the U.S. cosigns with the combative view of masculinity prevalent in hip hop and rap. But what it does push us to think about is why we don’t see enough images of men standing together, outside of fantasy football, riots and protests, sports events, and business meetings. There are men who aren’t afraid to connect with one another, to say “I love you” when it feels right, and even to embrace a close friend they deeply appreciate it. I’ve experienced these people myself. But these have been in moments that are quite rare, and are often by men who are not from the U.S.
This is an area that I definitely struggle with in my own life. From finding ways to connect on a deeper level with my stepfather who has been in my life over 16 years to forging a new relationship with my biological father, who I recently reconnected with. I’m constantly trying to figure out why it always feels so awkward. And even when I think about how finicky and fragile some of my male friendships have been in past years, I realize time and time again that a lot of that is due to the fact that I’ve never been taught how to connect with men on a deeper level outside of fighting or just passing acquaintances.
I’m sure other men can speak to this in their own lives, but it wasn’t until I experienced intimacy with male friends who were brave and fearless enough to go there that I realized it was something I’d been yearning for, without even knowing it.
As Arterburn reveals, “One of the most important things men can do for their children is allow them to witness their father interacting with other men in healthy, close relationships, and inviting their children to participate in those relationships on occasion.” I agree. It is through that modeling that perhaps we can teach future generations of young men how to connect with one another on a deeper level. But for those of us grappling with this now, I say, “Why wait?! Let’s figure this out now, together.”
Do you have examples of strong, close relationships with other men? Want to share your two cents? Fill up the comments section or contact me directly.