How do Guys Stay Friends?

true-friendshipDuring my twenties, I traveled the USA as an itinerant semi-pro bicycle racer. Together, with my friend and teammate Ben, I took to the road every March, not to return home full-time until September. In my Chevy Monza, the value of the bikes on the roof outpacing the value of the auto below, Ben and I spent over 500 hours per season, side by side, in the car. We spent dozens of nights together in Red Roof Inns. For the eight years we raced, Ben and I were inseparable.

We haven’t spoken more than twenty sentences to each other in the twenty years since.

It just… happened. We were solid traveling companions. We had great conversations, yet we understood the beauty of silence. We were unafraid to be honest with each other. We shared interests outside of bicycling. Our musical tastes overlapped. We were both bright in our areas of expertise. Ben was dependable. If we needed to leave at 7:00 am, he was on time. He always had his share of travel expenses. We were good at pumping the other guy up after a bad race, and honestly happy when the other did well. We were, by every definition, friends.

And still, not long after I quit racing full-time, we ceased being friends. We didn’t have an argument. It wasn’t an acrimonious parting. There was no longer a reason for the friendship to exist. We both had wives. We both had children. We both had careers. We live only 42 miles apart. Despite the bonds we had formed after eight years on the road, without the logistical and practical need for the friendship, the emotional stuff was insufficient to keep the friendship alive.

My wife’s best friend lives 650 miles away. They speak often. They are caught up with each other’s lives; in the lives of the children and grandchildren, the mutual friends. In the early 1980s, they worked together as nurses for several years. Now, thirty-five years later, they are still the closest of friends. What keeps these women together?

In speaking with men I know, my experience seems more common than not. What seems to bond men is the shared experience.  I was as close to Ben as any two friends can be. Yet, when the shared experience is gone, too often, the friendship dissolves.

It’s a puzzlement. What bonds you to your friends? Are you and your buddies merely guys who happen to hunt, or play hockey, or watch ballgames together? Or from that, are you free to share emotional intimacy? What happens when hockey season or hunting season is over? Does the friendship go on the shelf until the next season? Or does it take another form during the rest of the year?

I’m curious as to how guys stay friends. How does it happen, for you and your buddies?

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The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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Comments

  1. John Kowalski says:

    I think you nailed it with two of your questions. You asked, “are you free to share emotional intimacy?” for most men the answer is no. We were raised to be the emotional balance. We were told to “be strong for your mother, family, country, etc and we became good at it. It builds a callous on our emotions that as we get older becomes harder to pierce. Women share emotion freely and have that additional bond that cements the relationship for life, but can also create volatility in those relationships. Have you ever had your wife say, “can you believe the nerve of that woman”? Have you ever said that about your baseball buddy? Nah. You commented that what holds men together is common interest and I find that to be very true. But, for all of us, interests change and without that intimate emotional bond it causes us to drift apart. Men can still be great friends but we don’t need daily contact or update. Sometimes all we need is pitchers and catchers to report, or golf weather and we’re thick as thieves again.

    • I think you’re spot-on. I suspect if “Ben” and I were tossed back together, we’d be friends again. No reason not to be.

  2. Chris says:

    In my experience, most men don’t seem to understand or appreciate the emotional side of a friendship, and thus don’t understand when it is gone. I believe that for women, having that emotional need met is a far stronger and more apparent need, and thus drives them to maintain friendships. Men certainly have the same need, albeit at a potentially lower level. Coupled with men being largely experiential, as you mentioned, men simply have an easier time making superficial friendships, but rarely develop or understand the need for deeper friendships.

    • Chris, Ben and were pretty darn close. We shared a lot of stuff. It might just be a very basic difference in the way our brains are wired. We are not you. You are not us. Thanks goodness.

  3. Lois Stanley says:

    Interesting question. You don’t mention the male/female friendship. I have several male friends over the past 15 years. One thing I note is that we listen to each other and try to give each other support.
    I have one male friendship that is 60+ years old. We share a history as our families were friends from the same community. When we get together, it’s like we were never apart.
    My female friendships are supportive and we bond emotionally. No topic seems taboo. We share the same ideas, needs, philosophies. We keep in touch from distances over the years. Not necessarily often but we do touch base. I find technology helps a great deal. An email is an easy read or write.
    Societal expectations are different for men & women. Men must be strong and emotions show weakness. It takes a very strong, self-confident male to rise above those expectations and show his feelings. Whereas it’s OK if women care and show it.

  4. Larry says:

    Any friendship takes work. You have to be involved in the person’s life either through experiencing it or hearing about it in some way.
    I find that my need for friendship has changed as I’ve gotten older and busier. Generally, I don’t have the patience or time for long phone conversations.
    I have friends in the next town over and the infrequency with which we get together is ridiculous. I feel sad about that and occasionally make efforts. However, due to scheduling everything seems like more of an effort.

  5. Time certainly is an issue. Lives become crowded and time is finite. Still, Ben and I are 45:00 apart. It just isn’t pressing enough. Is it that a wife and kids is sufficient? I don’t know.

  6. Rick Montanez says:

    Great post… I think for many men you need to have something tangible to keep the relationship going. For instance, I’m a fraternity guy. I stay in touch with a some of my college buddies only because of events we’re attending, if we attend. I have one really close friend, who I have lost contact with, but then regained contact when he was getting married and asked me to be in the wedding. I love our friendship and so does he… but we’ve also gotten flack from people because we’re close. i.e., it’s strange for men to be so close. But we’ve both swallowed our pride in that regard and put our friendship above any societal judgment.

This is what I think...

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