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Why Men’s Friendships with Other Men Matter


mens friendships

Humans are social creatures by nature. Most people, even those who identify as more introverted or shy, benefit from authentic and genuine social connections whether those connections come from family, romantic relationships, peers/co-workers, or meaningful friendships. While romantic relationships tend to sit at the top of society’s relationship hierarchy, platonic friendships can be just as important to one’s social circle.


Men’s friendships in particular are worth discussing as research shows that friendships amongst those who identify as male are on the decline and reports of loneliness are steadily increasing, per the Survey Center on American Life. Some even say men are experiencing a friendship recession. What exactly is happening for men that is disconnecting them from close friendships and what can be done to ensure men stay connected?


Male Socialization and Impacts to Friendship


The decline of male friendships didn’t happen in a vacuum – in fact, there are various societal implications that likely contribute to the current state of social disconnection that many men are facing globally.


An important aspect of this conversation is acknowledging the ways that many boys and men are socialized to exhibit traditional presentations of masculinity aligned with patriarchal ideals. For example, boys are often taught at a young age not to show emotions connected to vulnerability (i.e., sadness, loneliness, fear) by being told to “man up” and “stop crying like a little girl,” all of which sends the message that male emotions must be suppressed.


When boys are taught to suppress certain feelings at such young, impressionable ages, they learn that they can only express themselves in very specific male-coded ways or else potentially face ridicule, male isolation, and social rejection. These boys eventually can become men who take those fears and beliefs about rigid masculinity into adulthood which can impact the way they show up socially and how open they can be when it comes to establishing connection with other men.


Of course, men can have platonic female friends, however, heteronormative socialization and societal messaging about opposite sex friendships (another product of patriarchy) tells straight men that relationships with women should be sought out for romantic and/or sexual connection, rather than platonic friendship. As such, men oftentimes turn to their romantic partner for emotional support, placing more emotional labor on their partner rather than dispersing their emotional needs amongst their social circle.


Male Friendships and Performing Masculinity


Due to gender being a socially constructed notion, people of all genders can feel as if they are placed into a box of socially acceptable gendered expressions of self. In this way, it can be argued that there are ways in which people “perform” gender-coded behaviors in order to fit into the scripts and messaging about what it means to be a man or woman. For men, it can be argued that patriarchal-minded men in some ways perform masculinity so they can adhere to gendered expectations and feel accepted within male friendships.


What performing masculinity means is that men are not feeling safe to show up authentically within their friendships due to the often-unconscious desire to adequately present socially acceptable displays of masculinity and avoid femininity. For example, a male who is a fan of reality TV might hide that from his male friend group out of fear of being teased for liking something that society deems “for women.”


Within community with other men, a man might feel as if he wants to share something he is going through but stops himself because he’s heard explicit and implicit messages that he must be emotionally stoic. Performing masculinity might show up in male friendships via the concept of “closeness in the doing,” which means that men’s experiences of closeness and intimacy with other men comes from engaging in traditionally male-coded activities.


For example, someone might feel more comfortable asking their male friend(s) to hang out through playing sports. Of course, men and people in general tend to bond over mutual interests, however, there may be unconscious motivations for some men who can only hang out with friends within the context of male-coded activities and spaces.


Men feeling as if they have to perform masculinity within their male friendships tends to keep connections surface level and lacking in depth of intimacy. If men are operating from an inherited list of masculine traits that they must perform to achieve social connection, it’s very likely they will struggle with feelings of loneliness due to not being able to show up authentically for fear of rejection or ostracization by fellow men.


How Men Can Form Fulfilling Friendships


Making friends as an adult can be tough. Many people are often inundated with obligations and responsibilities and nurturing social connections tends to take a back seat. Below are a few personal and external ways you can explore friendship.


Friendship Reflection


When it comes to forming close friends, there is often reflection that can be done first from a personal level. This can look like getting curious about your values within friendships, your boundaries, your time and emotional availability, anxieties, and anything else that feels important to consider when seeking out new friendships.


Whether you mentally consider these questions or journal them, it can be a great starting point in regards to identifying your values, what you would like to give and receive from friendships, and what would be out of alignment with your friendship needs.


For example, do you want friends who you can hang out with face to face or would you prefer digital social connection via online platforms/social media? Do you have boundaries around friendships that consist of heavy drug/alcohol use? Do you want to avoid surrounding yourself with men who align with certain beliefs or ideologies that you find problematic? These are just a few questions to consider when taking inventory of your friendship needs.


Practice Emotional Vulnerability


Not every friendship has to be deeply emotionally vulnerable as friendships can serve multiple social and emotional needs, but it can be special to have friendships where you can open up about more sensitive topics without fear of judgment. There is a myth that men don’t express their feelings with other men, which can be true for those who are socialized to suppress their emotions, however, you don’t have to follow that script. It’s true that oftentimes, men struggle with emotional vulnerability with other men, but it’s not something that can’t be practiced.


You might even think of vulnerability as a muscle. When you neglect utilizing a certain muscle, they can feel unstable and wobbly, but with exercising the “vulnerability muscle”, overtime, you will likely experience yourself feeling stronger and more confident to share your feelings with other men.


Put yourself out there


Whether you’re finding friends online or IRL, it starts with putting yourself out there to connect with others. You might start by finding a social event within the scope of your hobbies or interests. For example, if you’re a gamer, you might join a Discord group with others who play the same game. Or, you might seek out a networking event, a sports league, a cooking class, or a book club. There is no right answer to how you find friends, but it does require you to first be willing to shift outside of your comfort zone.


Seek out men’s groups/group therapy


As conversations about men’s mental health become more prevalent, there have been more men’s groups and group therapy available for folks who want to connect with other like-minded men on their path towards growth. Men’s groups can take all shapes and forms and can be easier to access as virtual groups have increased in popularity.


These groups can be healing for men as it can be a space where they can feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings, struggles, and more with other men who are similarly there to connect and be in community with other men. For those who are newer to the idea of being vulnerable with other men, it can be impactful modeling to see others share their true selves and be accepted and supported.


The Benefits of Friendship


There are social, physical, and emotional benefits men can experience when they engage in genuine and authentic relationships with people of all genders, but especially other men. Men have an opportunity to help change the trajectory of harmful forms of masculinity via understanding the ways that they have been conditioned by patriarchal ideals and choosing to forge another path towards healthy masculinity for themselves and others.


Emotionally, men can become more comfortable sharing their feelings with other men when they know they can do so among a person or people who will not judge or label them for not being “man enough.” It also serves men to have multiple avenues for emotional support rather than solely relying on their romantic partner or even suppressing their emotions.


Men actually experience tangible physical and mental health benefits when they have a strong friend group. In fact, a study that was published this year reports that men who experience high-quality friendships are more protected from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Researchers have also found that those who experience fulfilling social connections are less likely to die from heart problems and chronic health conditions.


Genuine connection can flourish when individuals allow themselves to be vulnerable around people who will validate and hold space for their experiences without judgment. It may be hard to find these types of spaces when the dominant culture is patriarchal, however, your community exists if you are open to searching for it!

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Kayla Tricaso is the Office Manager and Patient Intake Specialist at Modern Intimacy. When she is not working at Modern Intimacy, Kayla is in graduate school to become a therapist who specializes in trauma.



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