Transition

 

Men and Friendship - 2


"Thy friend, which is as thyown soul." Deuteronomy

Ten years ago, in my book ‘Who Was That Masked man Anyway?", I wrote a fun little story about a friend I had as a boy going through puberty. His name was Mush. Well, actually his name was Martin but given his physical stature at the time, Mush was far more descriptive. Mush was a good friend and we had many wonderful experiences together. But, as with most men who had easy friendships with boys, as boys, that friendship paled as we grew up and eventually just disappeared. That story asked a very basic question about men; why do we so rarely enjoy deep, long lasting and spiritually bonded friendships with other men?  

Now, a decade later, I find myself once again asking questions about friendship between men. In my daily coaching practice I regularly see the lack of close friendships between men coming up as a concern, often masqueraded as many other things but ending up in a loneliness, sense of isolation or discontent in other areas of life. I am concerned that it is so universally an emptiness and wonderfully excited that men are noticing it and talking about it. What I usually find is that it is not a social loneliness that concerns us but a soul loneliness which effects our entire lives. With great cultural support, we have become masters of denial around the question, and often miss it entirely until our middle years when questions of life values become important than questions of survival. 

It is often assumed that lack of male-male friendship is a uniquely American phenomenon based heavily in homophobic fears and that other cultures, particularly Latin and Mediterranean cultures are different and far more open about the value of friendship. Qualitative research, however, points to a very different conclusion. Men have trouble with friendships in almost all cultures but the need for soul connection to other men is intrinsic to our being and leaves, therefore, a hole in our experience that begs to be filled. Although most women report close friendships with other women, male-male friendships are almost as rare as real male-female friendships in our culture. This points up a basic weakness in the socialization of men to protect individualism beyond reason and a disregard for that which is healthy for the society as well as the individual. In his, unfortunately out of print, book (very few men's books last more than a year on the market), "Men & Friendship", Stewart Miller says, "...by and large modern philosophy is about aloneness. We are forlorn, abandoned. Social and political theory, too, especially here in the United States, emphasizes isolation rather than relationship...there has never been a country so committed to individual wants as opposed to collective needs. The concept of individualism as a social idea...was virtually invented in the United States." It is no longer our exclusively.

Men have "social networks" and "buddies" but when it comes to defining what a real friendship is, most men go blank with fear. There will be resistance to that statement. There is a test, however. The qualifying question when determining whether you have "real" friends or just think you do because it's more comforting to think so than to create the friendship is; "Would you put your life in the hands of this man?" Would this man hide you and your family in the face of great potential harm to himself? Would you be willing to ask him to do it? Would you do the same for him? These are hard questions but I think the answers to them lead to a pretty good definition of friendship and one that very few of us care to deal with. It is a question of love and self-love is defined by our ability to love others which is gender blind.

I think the time has come to open that door and look at what other questions are created.

© 2007, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at www.etropolis.com/coachken/ or www.etropolis.com/coachken/what.htm or www.etropolis.com/coachken/speak.htm or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.



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