The modern man, often confined by age-old stereotypes, sometimes neglects genuine connections. Being characterized as “strong” and “stoic” might lead him to prioritize transactional relationships over meaningful friendships. In the wake of these challenges, many men struggle with expressing emotional vulnerability and find it difficult to weave friendships into their daily routines, causing further disconnection.
However, recent research underlines the undeniable value of strong social ties for well-being and cognitive health, citing it as a potential risk factor predicting neurological decline, such as dementia, for the socially isolated. In such a landscape, finding ways to mend these fractures, especially in the face of societal expectations, becomes crucial for men.
Here are two science-backed strategies that can help men forge stronger and enduring friendships.
1. Letting Your Guard Down Can Make You Feel Less Alone
Male friendships, especially when it comes to straight men, are marked by a distinct sense of competition and one-upping each other from a very young age. Boys are often conditioned to establish a social hierarchy in their circles, and it is not surprising that the memories of this oppressive pecking order remain fresh in their minds into adulthood.
Wholesome and vulnerable man-to-man friendships play a big role in reducing the social pressure on men to prove themselves as “alphas,” competing with one another to cement their role in a space that gives them but two choices: be the bully or be bullied.
A classic study published in Psychology Bulletin reiterates an essential truth about friendships: opening up about one's flaws, follies, and weaknesses builds the strongest bonds. In contrast, trying to put up an unnecessarily brave front might alienate the person one is attempting to befriend.
Due to the gendered structure of our society, there are facets of the male experience that can only truly be understood by men. It is possible that by virtue of belonging to the same gender, two people carry similar wounds, similar dysfunctionalities, and a similar longing for acceptance, forgiveness, and affection.
By opening up and being vulnerable with people who have gone through the same journey as you, you create opportunities for healing and transformation.
To put this into action, consider starting by letting your guard down and expressing your appreciation for your friends. It could be as simple as telling them how much you value their friendship or offering a heartfelt compliment. Don't shy away from sharing your vulnerabilities or lending a listening ear when they need it most.
2. Letting Your Friends In on the Action Makes Friendship Easy
Once we have the emotional foundation of a friendship in place, we are then prepared to deal with the logistical challenges of maintaining long-term friendships, of which there are many.
As we grow older, our calendars tend to get fuller, and we frequently find ourselves hurrying from one obligation to another. The prospect of setting aside time for friends may appear daunting, but what if there were a possibility to incorporate your friends into the activities you're already participating in?
When seen in this light, inviting your friends to participate in activities you're already passionate about emerges as an effective way to build stronger friendships. Instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself, proactively involve your friends in your pursuits.
Whether it's inviting your friends to join a sports league, starting a DIY project together, or even asking them to be your workout partner, involving friends in your daily activities has been found to be incredibly rewarding.
For instance, a study published in PLOS ONE explored the impact of leisure and social activities on the mental health of middle-aged adults in Japan over five years. The findings indicated that engaging in leisure activities, specifically hobbies or cultural activities and exercise or sports, was significantly associated with improved mental health in both genders. Notably, participating in leisure activities with others had a more positive impact, particularly for exercise or sports, indicating the potential benefits of social engagement in leisure activities.
The approach of creating routines within your friendships can thus be a game-changer that not only strengthens your connection but also allows you to spend quality time together while doing something you love. Plus, it's a fantastic way to introduce your friends to new experiences and interests, which can further enrich your friendship.
There is no denying that societal expectations and the advent of technology challenge the depth of male friendships, but it's clear that forging enduring bonds requires a departure from traditional norms. Don't be afraid to show your emotions and let your friends in on your schedule. Friendships are immensely valuable. Nurture them as much as you can.