The Honest Reason Why Guys Need More Male Friends

Photo: Dmytro Sheremeta / Shutterstock
group of guy friends hanging out sitting on back of car

If you woke up in the middle of the night upset, or you had an emergency, or your wife told you she wanted a divorce…how many guys do you have in your contacts that you could call, no questions asked? 

The answer is the most significant determinant of your physical and emotional well-being. The number of men who say “none” is staggering. To be healthy, you need three. To be really healthy, you need five or more.

Building real male friendships requires time. It’s like going to the gym. Only the muscle mass is way, way more important. It will save your life. And give you a greater chance of living a life of meaning and purpose. And be a better dad and husband. And human.

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How to get in touch with your emotions — and become so much stronger

Put the macho BS aside. Stop trying to prove you are better than everybody else. Love your friend. I don’t mean just saying those words. I mean, hug every one of them when you see them. Have the guts to share what is happening in your life. Ask them for help when you are hurting. Show that you can get honest with your emotions and be a strong man. Getting real makes you 10-times a stronger man. 

I posted recently about the science behind premature death in men. It’s startling. By the time we get into our later years, men die by suicide far more often than women. Fatal addiction of all kinds disproportionately impacts men (not to minimize the damage to women too, but male opioid deaths are twice those of women), and every deadly disease is accelerated by loneliness. 

In the most comprehensive longitudinal health study at Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers concluded that loneliness is more harmful than smoking, obesity, and other factors. We have known this for a long time in the study of “blue zones” where men (and women) live to be very old in large part based on community. 

As is becoming apparent even to the popular press, male loneliness is at epidemic levels. The Harvard study cited above measures close friends as someone you could call in the middle of the night if you were sick or upset. Many, many men have none. That results in premature death and all kinds of aberrant, desperate behavior. We, as men, are not in a good place. It’s time we all do something about it. 

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How to end the cycle of isolation

What are we, as men, supposed to do to break our isolation? How are we supposed to make the kind of friends we can call in the middle of the night without thinking twice about it in a world of social media and gender pressures leading so many men down a rabbit hole?

Every Sunday night, I invite inspiring men to speak to a group of us (see below for details). A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends discussed this topic brutally and courageously. My friend had a successful career in private equity for a long time. Through a series of events, he decided to step off the treadmill at 45. He has a fantastic wife and three great kids. 

But what slapped him in the face when he decided to take a new direction: He had no real male friends. Many, many “friends.” But they were all transactional. The kind that would ask him to play golf and, when he made clear he was no longer in private equity, go silent until the following year when they asked him again if he had gotten “back in the game.”

For the last three years, my friend has been working hard to look back over his life to figure out how real male friendships dropped off the grid and how to build friendships now. He admitted to being a work in progress but had helpful advice. His efforts have focused on committing “time, mutual effort, and trust” to his new male friendships. He’s been building those friendships around areas of passionate interest in his life: the environment, hunting and fishing, and art. 

The talk has made me think hard about male friendships in my life. 

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What recovery has taught me about building friendships

At one level, we in the recovery community have a cheat on this issue. Part of getting sober requires building male friendships based on time, mutual effort, and trust to slay the dragon of addiction. But in the middle years of my 26 years of sobriety, I managed to get away from authentic relationships. About five years ago, that changed radically for the better; I have been reflecting on how I got back (or perhaps for the first time) to having many men I could call in the middle of the night without questions. 

For most of my adult life, I had an ego problem. Even in sobriety, my persona was brash, attention-seeking, rude, and a con. In a word, I was an asshole. Many friends were either assholes or found my performance art amusing. I thought my professional success granted me the right to shove it in your face and, as a result, earn your admiration. Never once was I truly willing to admit my humanity. 

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The disease of ego

“Kintsugi” is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that embracing flaws and imperfections can create an even more vital, more beautiful piece of art. During all those years, I was unaware that this was the path to genuine male connection.

When I look at the macro issue of male loneliness, I am struck by how many men I know are stuck in some version of my disease of ego. We are taught that our worth as men is tied ultimately to money. And the one with the most money wins. I am here to tell you that it is a false narrative and a death trap. Every deal I ever did, no matter how big, successful, and enriching financially, made me happy for 30 seconds. 

Then I was off to bag the next one because there was always some guy more prosperous to make me feel bad about myself. It was indeed an addiction. And one that had many, many negative consequences. 

The worst was that I didn’t have real friends and could never find myself. I was play-acting my way through life. And like my friend, I, too, was desperately lonely.

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Pain and suffering as a launching pad to growth

Many spiritual practices point to pain and suffering as the touchstone of growth. Five years ago, I had to go through an actual crash to understand how far off track I had gotten with my egomania. I wouldn’t put my mask down until I had no other option: die or get real. (If you care, you can read about that here).

A fundamental question we all must ask ourselves as men is: What will it take to put down your ego and get real with another guy? If you don’t know the answer, it will be tough to put in the time, mutual effort, and trust to build meaningful friendships. No guy in his right mind will trust a guy who is full of it like I was.

If you are willing to put your ego aside and stop with all the false bravado and stupidity society has put us up to, the question arises of where and how to find like-minded men. My general answer is everywhere. Once I had that lens, I began to try consciously to open the door again and again to meaningful conversations with guys I randomly met. If they respond with money job status talk, I move on without judgment (that was me). But often, if I was willing to get real, guys I met were ready to meet me halfway. They were dying too. 

It helps to develop passions that you can bond around. We guys like to be doing something while we have those deep conversations (not looking at one another). My current ones are running, swimming in the cold Boston harbor with a group of lunatics, and reading tons of books. I have made great male friends through all three of these interests.

My advice? Yes: time, mutual effort, and trust. 

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Looking beyond the veneer of superficiality 

I would say the same thing, perhaps less politely than my buddy did. Stop being a jerk. Be courageous enough to put your ego mask down. Be vulnerable (when he says “mutual effort,” he means to talk about what’s on your heart … and if the other guy keeps talking about money and jobs, walk away, no judgment). 

Don’t worry about looking wrong. It’s the ways we are broken that bind us together. Everyone who “looks good” is dying underneath. Find stuff you love and men who share that passion. At every opportunity, open the door to a real conversation. 

When you find extraordinary friends who inspire you and whom you can confide in, cherish and cultivate those relationships. Because there will come a time when you need someone to call in the middle of the night, and having those relationships in place won’t just save your ass in the middle of the night but cause you to have a way longer and happier life.

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Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children. 

This article was originally published at Substack. Reprinted with permission from the author.