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
In the June, 2015 3-day Men Mentoring Men (M3) intensive workshop, a dialogue began on pornography. M3 founder and workshop facilitator, Dr. Ed Adams PhD., requested that the men consider the impact of pornography on their lives and love. This discussion opened up the potential effects of pornography on health, relationships, and addictions.
Joe Ehrmann’s philosophy of redefining and reframing what it is to be a man, as exhibited during his TED talk in Baltimore, dovetails perfectly with the mission of M3. He identifies the current cultural consequences of the phrase “To be a man” as the most detrimental in society today. The damage of this message comes from the times and situations in which it is delivered; when a boy or man is expressing himself in ways that are considered unmanly. He is told to stop acting that way; stop the emotions, stop the tears; don’t be a mama’s boy; don’t be a sissy.
I lie to myself and I lie to others, particularly when I am in the presence of men because there is a piece of me that feels deficient and defective. This piece of me is part of who I am; it is unacceptable and irreparable and therefore must be kept hidden at all costs. Most of the lies I keep to myself.