The Friendships Throughout a Man’s Life

Does it seem that your friendships are different than when you were younger? This next post on the various friendships in a man’s life, is excerpted from my recent book, Get Out of Your Man Cave: The Crisis of Male Friendship.

I started this series, New Year; New Types of Friends by suggesting it was a good time to evaluate your friendships. I then wrote posts on The Philosophy of FriendshipThe History of FriendshipThe Psychology of Friendship, and The Physiology (physical aspects) of Friendship to explain why friends were important to men and to describe the barriers to making closer, intimate friendships. Upcoming posts will include examples of real-life friends in entertainment, politics, sports, and literature. I’ll also include a post on how long it takes to make friends and my formula for developing deeper, more authentic friendships.

My hope is that this entire series helps you see why having a small group of men –what I call a GodBuddies, is the most preferred and beneficial type of friendship. 

Our Friendships Change 

Friendships in a man’s life will change over the course of your lifetime. In most cases, your adult friends are different than those you enjoyed in your childhood years. Your needs change, as do the needs of your friends. As you get older, the reality is that you will gain and lose friendships at every stage of life. 

So how does this occur? Why do you lose good friends –even some of the best friends of your younger days?

It may seem obvious but there are a variety of circumstances during each stage of life that will impact how you make and keep friends. As you into adulthood, there are situations will that separate friends from each other, such as: 

  • Where you decide to live. 
  • Which school you choose or whether you enlist in the military. 
  • Who you marry. 
  • Where you settle down. 
  • When you start a family.
  • How much time you invest in building your career.  

There are numerous reasons why some stages of life are tougher than others. Each stage presents men with different priorities which leads to fewer opportunities to discover something in common with other guys you meet along the way. Allocating your time becomes more critical. Sometimes, a friendship changes because one or both of you change, or because your needs for the relationship change. 

Here is a brief description of the friendships in a man’s life and how each stage impacts our relationships.

Childhood & School-age Buddies

As kids, you likely had multiple friends with whom you played baseball, kick-the-can, and did just about everything together. You went to the same elementary and middle schools. Relationships developed with your neighbors and classmates. You made friends with members of the same baseball team, Boy Scout troop, or youth group at church. 

Then it was on to high school where you made some new friends. The competition began with each other for a spot in the starting lineup and even the same girls for dates. You and your friends got into all kinds of trouble together. You outgrew your clothes fast and your friendships even faster. 

Fraternity Brothers and Military Comrades

After high school, many of us go on to college or into the military and begin to find a new identity away from our parents. The values we’ve known since childhood turn into new responsibilities and new ideas about life. We learn some new things (both good and bad!) and make new friends with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds. We might join a fraternity at college or learn about brotherhood from other guys in our battalion. Both paths lead to family-like connections with other men. 

Experts say that our college years are when many males transition from boyhood to manhood. It’s a stage when some guys gain confidence that leads to bigger leadership roles and greater advancement. But some guys also develop anxiety, depression, or grief over the separation from their family and friends. They begin to suppress their feelings since the college culture pressures them to “just man up.” They learn to develop their “Man Face.” 

The “Man Face” theory emerged from a study of 10 college men’s experiences and society’s expectations for them as men. To try to meet these perceived expectations, the students described putting on a performance that was like wearing a mask or putting their “man face” on. They described a process of learning to conform to certain societal expectations by putting on the proverbial mask of a man but struggling to know when to take it off. They learned to hide behind photos of themselves laughing and pretending to be best friends on their social media platforms. But they were hiding their real self. 

Friendships in a man’s life at this stage are considered friends of proximity. These are often short-lived and superficial relationships since they often disband after this stage. 

Young Adult Friends

After guys graduate from college, they tried to keep in contact with the dudes they just spent several years alongside in the dorm room or in the barracks. They start a new full-time job or move back to their hometown or to a completely new part of the country. They learn new routines or return to old ones. The frequency of phone calls, emails, or texts with their high school, college, or military friends becomes even less. 

Activities are often the starting point for friendships at this stage but just hanging out together becomes more difficult in new surroundings. The lack of time due to the increasing busyness of adulthood minimizes opportunities to connect. Men may find a few softball or bowling or drinking pals or make casual friendships with some co-workers. But for the most part, those relationships remain superficial.

Mid-life Friends as Couples

Once they are married, many men enjoy getting together with other couples, most often arranged by their spouses or girlfriends. Sometimes they find commonality with the other husbands through conversations around sports, weather, and sometimes even politics. But rarely do they reveal anything about themselves at this stage of life that the other guys could view as a struggle or a weakness. They’re still trying to fit into the culturally-induced masculine roles.

Eventually, in mid-life, they may move out of the city and rent an apartment or buy a house in the suburbs. Their advancing careers begin to consume their time, they get married, have children, and settle into the great American dream. Life becomes so busy that they have no time for themselves, much less any time for any friends.

As couples, men tend to lose some of their freedom at this stage. They are no longer able or willing to hang out with their friends due to the added family duties. They find that the relationships with their best friends start to fade away. Their friendships become less of a priority. Author Michael Monsour noted that “marriage curtails opportunities for cross-sex friendship formation because spouses spend most of their free time together rather than separately in social situations that might lead to cross-sex friendship formation.” This means married men are typically more intertwined with their spouses and less dependent on their friends for their social needs. they find that their wives become their live-in confidant and friend so they cut themselves off from their male friendships.

Friendships in a man’s life continue to change during this new phase of life. He still needs to talk about things his wife may not be interested in, such as sports or hobbies or even struggles at work. With more limits on his time, he simply stops making time for friendships outside his marriage just to keep up with his  growing responsibilities. 

So now he’s lost his childhood and school friends, his fraternity or military brothers, and his bowling or softball pals. He begins to deal with the stress of adult life by developing some bad habits that do nothing to help his continue to grow as a man. His social circle keeps getting smaller and smaller. 

Mature Life-stage Friends

Friendships during midlife (typically defined as age 45-64) may become important again. Mid-life is when his teenage children start to avoid spending any amount of time around their parents. It’s also the time when men find the new void in their schedules after attending sporting and school events for all those years. This void also means they have more time to work. So they do. They also spend more free time in their proverbial “man-cave” to isolate themselves from the world to deal with their stress. They might get together with some of the guys to watch a game occasionally. However, few of those relationships go any deeper than sports, weather, and politics. 

Then in older adulthood, which typically starts around age 65, several other changes affect their friendships. Reduced family obligations after the children move out of the house, can change the focus. Retirement increases their free time even more. Health limitations, and even death, also start to reduce their existing friendships. Reduced mobility impedes their ability to meet with existing friends. Declining vigor reduces our motivation and energy to devote to making new friendships. With fewer and fewer friends, older men especially become even lonelier and spiral toward depression, often with sad outcomes.

In a study titled,Isolation: The Emerging Crisis for Older Men authors Brian Beach and Sally-Marie Bamford say social isolation and loneliness impact older men more than older women. With over 1.2 million older men reporting a moderate to a high degree of social isolation and over 700,000 reporting feeling a high degree of loneliness, Beach and Bamford conclude that older men show the highest risk. To combat isolation, the authors provide several recommendations, such as engaging in the voluntary sector or national and local government, to better connect older men and address their loneliness issues. 

One way to combat isolation is for men to rediscover their purpose for the second half of their lives. The movie About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson is a perfect example of a man who feels useless after retirement but later finds a new purpose, which reinvigorates him. 

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God Buddy Focus

Now that you have heard about how friendships throughout a man’s life change, let me make a suggestion on how to help your transition through these life stages: Find yourself a GodBuddy! 

I firmly believe that men must find and develop some really close, authentic friends in their adult years who become your personal board of directors. These men will teach and help you through each of the aforementioned life stages well. 

This week: 

  • Review the types of friendship in a man’s life written about in this post. Do you still have some friends from earlier life-stages? Does they still add value to your life? Do you add value to their life? 
  • Are there gaps in the types of friends you need? 
  • Review the Relationship Self-Assessment you completed earlier. Download it here if you have not completed it yet. Did it reveal any barriers to friendship in you?

My next post will cover the amount of time it takes a man to make friends. 

Please add your comments below and pass this post on to someone you feel might benefit from it.

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