Male Bonding

A 2023 Oscar nominee for Best International Film and Grand Jury Prize winner at Cannes, The Belgian film Close tackles the theme of young male friendship. The film begins with a beautiful depiction of a close summer friendship between two 13-year-old boys that takes a very dark turn after the school year begins and the social norms for male behavior take their toll on the relationship between them.

The film’s story is fiction, but it clearly exposes some truth about the ways boys and men are expected to behave with their friends. As a mother to two boys, I worry that boys and men in our society are pressured to stand tall and firm in the face of whatever life throws at them. That is an extremely isolating and limiting expectation that can be detrimental in dealing with the important friendships and other relationships in their lives. Being authentic about feelings and vulnerability is not something that our culture seems to value as acceptable male behavior, even though it is critical to a meaningful and joyful existence.

Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

Brene Brown

The decline in friendships among men has been widely reported in the past few years, with the Survey Center on American Life finding that less than a third of men reported having had a conversation about their personal feelings with a friend during the past week. That compares with nearly half of women. Men are also far less likely than women to receive emotional support from a friend, with about 40% of women reporting receiving emotional support during the past week versus 21% of men.

When we first started this blog, Julia wrote about US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book Together and the loneliness epidemic that he identifies as a major health risk for Americans. Dr. Murthy recently discussed with podcaster Krista Tippett what is truly important in life and how to forge and maintain more meaningful connections. He talks about how challenging it can be to form deep, authentic relationships in a country that prizes individuality and material objects. Dr. Murthy sums it up well: “The ramifications for not being connected could not be more profound.”

What Dr. Murthy talks about should resonate with everyone, but perhaps men in particular can find inspiration in his words to help them to prioritize and build more meaningful friendships and connection. Julia recently wrote about a group of men who’ve created a regular meeting spot at a local Starbucks. In many ways, the unstructured time and lack of expectation around this gathering are the things that make it so welcoming. Younger male adults, particularly those with demanding jobs and/or family responsibilities, could benefit from more unstructured and intentional time together, as we covered in our post about Billy Baker’s book, We Need to Hang Out.

Sometimes just an impromptu phone call or text is all it takes to lead to something more meaningful for you and for the other person. Maybe you can even start a new tradition for you and your friends. How do you find ways to connect? We’d love to hear from you!

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