Great thread from Alexander, as usual:
There’s lots of great responses that I don’t need to repost here. Instead, I’ll give my own take on it. Undoubtedly some of these reasons will repeat what others have said, so if it seems like I’m ripping you off, then forgive me.
This take is pretty spot on when you consider that there is a strong transition from the extended period of youth that men have in the west (basically, their late teens and twenties) to the more established “productivity mode” that defines men in their thirties. You go from a state of having lots of free time to socialize to a state where you have virtually no free time to socialize.
You go to work, work takes more time and energy than anything else prior, plus you need to get ahead to start making progress on your student loans, so you lose some social time. Building a serious relationship that turns into a marriage means spending time with that other person, and thus losing more time with other men. Finally, you start having children, and you have even more intense responsibility, along with an amplification of work and home life importance.
But was it always like this, and more importantly, does it need to be like this now?
The short answer is no. Men in the past put aside time specifically to spend with other men: the so-called “lodge” or “stag” culture that was popular with the “Greatest Generation.” At the same time, you had only one person out in the workforce, thus freeing more time for both spouses to pursue social relationships (kind of hard to ditch the kids with the husband as a wife if you haven’t seen the kids all day either). They also experienced a 40-hour workweek that was actually that.
But we should also consider that social time with other men – with friends – does not necessarily have to happen in the absence of children. My father spent time with his friends every single weekend hunting, shooting, and fishing, and they usually all brought sons or daughters along. We shouldn’t necessarily assume the mode of social interaction must stay the same.
But let’s go a bit deeper:
This is me, and honestly, lots of other men I’ve met as well. The friends I made in college, which some people keep for their whole lives, are mostly a wash. This is my fault – as a young man, I didn’t understand how to select relationships based on common values. Instead, they formed along lines of common interest – in this case, music, since that was my major.
I woke up to this reality before 2016, but that election really hammered home the reality that most of my “friends” from college hated me, and if they didn’t, it was because they didn’t know me. That’s perhaps the saddest idea of all: My friends didn’t know me. Either they never knew me on a deep level, or I had changed in such a way as to be across a great gulf from them. In all likelihood, it was both. I returned to faith renewed vigor after college and discarded the more liberal tendencies of my youth, which meant I stepped far away from the atheistic hate that took root in many of my peers.
Such changes are by their nature going to filter out a lot of friendships, making them truly past friendships, which means less friends as life goes on.
Beyond values, there is the problem of evolving interests and experiences. Half my friends from college got married and had kids; the other half have just… continued living their lives. At a certain point, our experiences have very little in common with one another. I have friends that are still, in their late thirties at this point, still trying to pursue graduate degrees in the arts. What do we have in common? What would we even talk about?
Going on, I think this perception is not entirely false, but it has to do with the different ways in which men and women maintain and experience friendships.
My wife doesn’t get to spend much time with friends, but she talks to them constantly on the phone. This is something I just don’t do much of. I don’t really think about calling people.
I think this is because men’s friendships tend to be both built and maintained by common experiences and mutual tasks, whereas women can maintain friendships purely through conversation. We make friends through work, through common activities, or through intense experiences like war. Likewise men maintain those friendships through mutual activity – going golfing, playing DnD, hunting, whatever.
When those common activities go, the friendships tend to go as well. I’ve seen it in my own life with the numerous friends I’ve made playing WoW and other games over the years. If I’m not logging in to play, there’s really nothing going on between us. I’ve seriously considered re-upping even though I do not like Blizzard Entertainment just to have a common activity again.
I’m serious when I call my WoW friends friends. We’ve vacationed together and gone to each others’ weddings. I’ve shared more insight and male intimacy over ventrilo than any other activity I’ve done with other men. Which brings me to my next point:
We are friends. Friendships in 2020, especially those built on common foundations of values as well as interests, are not necessarily bound by geography. There is plenty of meaning to be found even if nobody around you likes to do the same things as you.
In conclusion, it is easy to think we have lost something, and we have, compared to our parents and grandparents. The lack of male friendships existing in the same mode as our grandparents is a symptom of a greater disease, which is the breakdown of our communities and the atomization of the western man into a totally mobile economic production unit.
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HOWEVER, we still have many opportunities to experience and build friendships, but we have to think outside the old boxes. We can make time like our grandfathers, but maybe it has to be at the computer, not at the lodge.
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There is this frustrating dissonance between the two points you make here (both of which I agree with). Like you, I selected my college friends based on interests and not values. Now I run into a similar problem where if they really knew me, they’d hate me. On the other hand, especially in Christian circles, it’s hard for an engineering guy like me to find someone with similar interests even though we share values. So it’s exceptionally difficult to find someone to bond with over shared experiences and tasks.
I think the white collar working environment also has exacerbated this issue for men and women. It’s taboo to talk about salaries, about when you’re unhappy, about stress, say “no” to late days for the god of productivity, etc. This makes an eery quiet where a lot of us are secretly unhappy. We are sharing misery so to speak, but then told we are, and forced to, compete with one another for raises and recognition. This divides co-workers instead of uniting them. A group of blue collar laborers are often, in my experience, good friends at work. Or at the very least, work well together with the occasional flare up. White collar workers are constantly each other’s enemies, leaving us vying to be the coveted boss and lord of the flys. And when you get there, everyone below you hates you.
Absolutely, I feel you. I grew up in a very “conservative” church and had zero interests in common with the others there. It made it really hard to form relationships with them, partly because of things like believing DnD was some sort of Satanic cult, etc.
I never thought of interests versus values when considering what maintains relationships. It generated an epiphany in me that the only “friend” I have is from my previous workplace, and we have absolutely nothing in common from a values perspective. He’s a CNN-consuming, progressive, orange-man-bad normie; I’m on the libertarian, question everything spectrum. Absolutely no match on that front at all, and we’ve never been able to talk politics without him blurting out some emotional dribble like “yea, the Nazis”–political discussions which are important, I’d argue, considering the sociopolitical climate of dividing groups.
Alas, it explains why there’s always been this odd disconnect where neither of us ever discuss anything meaningful or bigger than the current exchange of activities at hand. It’s just the video games we play that keep us interested, and nothing else. It’s really sad, actually. I find myself wanting it to be more but also have a gut feeling it will never be that way; I now find myself wanting it to end because the fraud of the whole thing is unbearable to think about. In fact, perhaps this isn’t an epiphany at all. Rather, it’s a more formal description of past feelings on these kinds of vapid relationships which us young men have been forced into at the whim of dying churches and decaying communities.
I doubt I’m alone in this camp.
Amazing. This is why I read this blog :)
I have found some great friends online, and met some of them IRL, all in the past 10 years. Really great people. Common interests isn’t enough, but thankfully interesting personalities and genuine appreciation for each other is there as well.
Something I learned: those who seek will find. If you set your mind on something, and believe you can, then you will. Waiting time may vary.
“As a musician, most of my past friends now hate me and want me dead.”
This is quite heavy stuff – I have to say. Have your past friends truly said that they hate you and want you dead?