July 26th, 2015
The New York Times article entitled, “The Challenges of Male Friendships,” highlights the desire men have for meaningful friendships and describes many of the factors that cause many men to experience difficulty entering into and maintaining friendships, particularly over time. Too often meaningful friendships with other men become a casualty of modern life. The incidents of relocation, marital difficulties, divorce, job loss and other major life events serve to exacerbate isolation and disconnection in men. The consequences of feeling alone, disenfranchised, and unsupported may lead to depression in men.
The belief that it is best to “go it on your own” and the emphasis on self-reliance as a manly trait serve to undermine the value of male friendships in our society. The double sided imperative for men to continually exhibit strength and to deny or hide emotional needs are unrealistic and cut off pathways to these relationships.
It is not uncommon for men to feel shame when expressing vulnerability. Men understand the pressure conveyed, beginning at an early age, to resist expressing feelings or show weakness.
When men express their emotional needs in an open, honest, and emotionally safe setting such as a men’s support group, the men listening to what is being shared relate to the common truth of what is being said and admire the courage it takes to share inner truths. While the New York Times article expresses the benefits of men being in a relationship with men of a “similar vintage,” the richness of male relationships across different generations is potent. Men’s ages may be different, their dress and language may not always match, but the commonality of experiences remains largely the same. When men meet regularly with the intent to explore and improve their lives as well as the lives of those they love, men find that they have a great deal to teach one another.
I experience these benefits myself since I have participated in a men’s group called Men Mentoring Men or M3 for over 10 years. Men Mentoring Men is a secular non-profit support group open to all men who are willing to explore the male experience. The mission of Men Mentoring Men (M3) centers on “helping men live happier, healthier lives.” The group’s goal is to expand the possibilities of masculinity far beyond the restrictive, false notion of masculinity expressed in popular culture.
M3 is a safe place because it abides by the rules that no man intentionally shames another man and that what is said in the group remains within the group.
Every meeting or event held by M3 strives to be interesting, emotionally important, and relevant to the lives of the men participating in the group. The article certainly makes a strong case for the benefits of male friendships, but the benefits derived from emotionally safe encounters between men, exemplified groups such as Men Mentoring Men, cannot be overstated. The impact of these groups extends out much farther than the effect on the participants themselves.
By Robert Hackman