Remember all your guy friends in college? The dudes who were in the same hall in your freshmen dorm, your study buddy for that rough history class sophomore year, the bros from the intramural rugby team you joined junior year, and the whole crew you used to meet up with every weekend senior year at the one bar that actually checked IDs and kept out the underclassman. And if you were in a frat, well then you were literally surrounded by guys you called “brothers”.
But here in the real world, building friendships with other guys isn’t that easy. And even in the age of Facebook, most of those college buddies have fallen by the wayside. It’s understandable. You’re no longer seeing each other everyday, everyone’s focused on their careers, and then there’s the added distractions of marriage and kids to slowly take over the free time of your closest pals one by one.
According to Dr. Geoffrey Greif, the author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, one reason for the so-called “post-dorm drop off” is that friendships between men are usually based around shared activity and nowhere is there more activity than on a college campus.
“The advantage of living in a college dorm is that you don’t have to plan anything,” Greif explained to me. “You can sort of wander down the hallway and run into a party or a group of friends. And you can do that at anytime.” It’s a benefit we lose once we leave campus life. “Afterwards, [following graduation] requires a little more planning or you’re actually putting yourself out there to try and socialize and meet people,” Greif added.
David Bentall, author of The Company You Keep: The Transforming Power of Male Friendship, agrees with this explanation that guys tend to center their friendship on sharing an activity. According to Bentall, men build pretty much most of their friendships with other guys based around a common activity or experience. “It tends to be that those bonds are around something that corrals us together and we find ourselves in the same corral,” Bentall told me.
And what place is easier to form those bonds than a campus full of corrals? Classrooms, extracurricular organizations, dorms, fraternities etc. So it isn't especially hard to make new friends after college, but rather when compared to normal adult life it’s incredibly easy to make buddies in college.
And in normal adult life, friendship between men is something that takes a little work to understand.
“I was always interested in men’s roles,” recalled Greif, who’s a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work. He wrote his Master’s thesis on men’s consciousness raising groups and his PhD dissertation was on single fathers. But it was in his 2008 book Buddy System that Greif delved into the nature of the friendships between men.
In his book and throughout our talk, Greif describes male friendship as being “shoulder to shoulder” when compared to friendship between women, which he claims is based on “face to face” interaction. “Men feel more comfortable doing things with their friends, whereas women feel more comfortable in more emotionally expressive interaction,” he said.
According to Greif, a woman can call up her female friend and schedule a time to hangout and talk, but a man will need to a reason to ask his buddy to spend time with him, something to do together. Go to a local watering hole, you’ll find two gal pals sitting at a table having a discussion, face-to-face, over drinks; while at the bar are a couple buddies sharing beers, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, watching the game.
Greif breaks down the various friendships between guys into four tier types that he categorized as “must”, “trust”, “just”, and “rust”. The first group, “must friends,” is made up of your closest and best buddies, which Greif described to me as “the people you must call“ following a major life event, good or bad. That’s followed by the secondary “trust friend” category. These are the guys that you trust and would like to hang out with more, but, they’re just not in your inner circle of friends for whatever reason,” said Greif. The third tier of “just friends” is for the guys “you don’t mind seeing for lunch if you run into them. “ The last type, “rust friends”, are the buddies you have history with yet don’t really stay in touch but when you do get together “you pick up right where you left off.”
While Dr. Greif looked at the nature of guy friends, Bentall, the former CEO of a Vancouver-based construction company turned executive/life coach, was more interested in the positive impact of the closest of male friendship when he began writing about the bond between guy friends, specifically his own. “It actually was the experience I had over two decades being intentional about relationships with other guys; realizing that it made a huge difference in my own experience and second realizing how rare it was,” he told me.
For Bentall, the deepest relationship between two buddies (Greif’s top tier “must friends”) is what he calls “true friendship” and it continues beyond those experiences or activities that throw guys together, like going to college together. “Male friendship, where it’s pursued for the sake of friendship, is about the connection,” he explained. “It’s about the relationship as opposed to the corral you’re in. A meaningful relationship goes just beyond being in the same corral. It may start there, but it’s more than just that.”
According to Bentall, while we tend to idolize the Hollywood image of the tough stoic loner, (think Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western), the advantages of having close friendships with other men can improve nearly all aspects of our lives. “If we have quality healthy friendships, it can benefit our career, our life. It can benefit our marriages, our parenting. Our body, mind, and spirit,” Bentall said.
And most of all, if you’re a subscriber to the “go it alone” philosophy of life, according to Bentall, you’re conflicting with your own nature. “Although men don’t say it, we all need this,” he said. “We all have this inborn desire to be known by other guys. We all want to have the security of friendship and support. It’s part of our DNA, part of how we’re made.”
So how can you make new friends in the post-college world?
Well the first thing you can do is get over your own hang-ups and actively try to make friends. “You can’t sit around and wait for people to contact you,” said Greif. “You have to be the person willing to reach out to other people….but it’s hard because individual men often feel uncomfortable calling other men for a ‘date.’”
Yeah, that’s right: “a date” (You squirmed reading that, didn’t you?). So look around your corral, which is probably your office, for another guy to bond with, maybe it’s that Mike dude in Accounting or that guy around your age a couple cubicles down, and invite him to grab a beer at a bar sometime and watch the game. “That feels a little less scary to some men than saying ‘why don’t you come over to my apartment. It’ll just be me and you watching the game,’ explained Grief.
If you can’t find any guys you want to be buddies with in your corral, then consider reaching out to a past buddy who was lower on your version of Greif’s tier (trust, just, or rust) and ask him to come out and grab that beer. According to Greif, guys move up the ranking of male friendship all the time. “Somebody moves into town, you knew them 20 years ago and you find you’re much closer than you ever were in the past,” said Greif. “Or you have a great conversation with somebody and you say ‘wow, I’m going to move you into my inner circle of friends.’”
Another option is to get into another corral by finding a shared activity to meet other guys. It’s the classic advice given to anyone wanting to make a new friend: “Join a club.” Love playing sports? Then join a kickball team. Want to get better at painting or drawing? Then take an art class. The point is to do something you enjoy, because as Greif explained, “even if you don’t meet anyone you’re at least doing something you like.” Of course, as Bentall pointed out, meeting new guys around your favorite hobby or sport won’t automatically lead to true friendship. “It’s not about finding a corral, it’s finding men you can trust to share something of your life.” And the first step in finding out if you can trust any of the guys you meet in the new corral is asking them to join you for that beer.
But whoever you end up hanging out with, just like on a romantic date, don’t make too much of a big deal about it. “Don’t anticipate that it has to be best friends for life,” warned Bentall. “It may lead to a lifelong friendship, it may lead to one [beer] and that’s it.”