Hollywood and pop culture portray male friendships as effortless bromances built on downing beers, watching football games, and picking up chicks. But in reality, many of these connections go about as deep as a puddle during a drought.
According to scientific research, “the male social world is built around half a dozen relatively casual relationships, whereas the female social world is built around one or two much more intimate, and hence more fragile, dyadic relationships.”
Having beer buddies, football friends, and car companions is great. But in my work as a men’s coach, I’ve encountered too many guys who’ve painfully experienced that when push comes to shove, few of their friends can provide the support they need. A deep, genuine friendship where two men can share their authentic selves is about as rare as a summer blockbuster that isn’t a reboot.
Even if your life is going well, connecting with others on a deeper level will improve the experience by a fuckton, to say the least. Good friends will not only make your life a blast but also help you become the best man you can be. But how do you take a friendship from casual and good to exceptional and great?
By doing the right things over time. Building a strong bond between two men doesn’t happen overnight, yet most genuine connections rely on a few simple principles.
Here’s what you can do to forge a friendship that will survive the storms of time.
They’re Not Just About Shoulders, But Also Faces
Many men mistake “activity buddies” for genuine friends.
I’ve had many of them. The one in high school with whom I’ve spent a whole summer break playing video games until sunrise. The one I smoked so much weed with during my bachelor’s we could’ve given Snoop Dogg a run for his money. The gym buddies I’ve lifted with until we passed out under the barbell. While all these experiences were intense, none of the friendships lasted.
We vibed shoulder-to-shoulder, but not face-to-face, which is typical for guys.
Most of our friendships revolved around doing something together. Watching football, going fishing, or hitting the gym. But if you want to build a genuine connection, you need to be together once in a while.
Instead of focusing on the activity, focus on each other. Talk. Share. Ask questions. Don’t distract yourself from the conversation.
A few weeks ago, I was on a holiday in Portugal with one of my best buddies. While we could’ve occupied ourselves with surfing, kayaking, and cave tours both along the coast and in the bars filled with slightly intoxicated and scantily clad tourist girls, we spent our time laying on the beach and talking about life. Being with each other forged a strong bond and deep connection that no amount of activities could ever have created.
Great male friendships don’t just run shoulder-to-shoulder, but also face-to-face.
They Provide Space To Share Without Judgment
For a lot of men, opening up is harder than getting our partners to decide where they want to eat.
We often lack the space to talk about our struggles and a toxic culture of “real men don’t cry” encourages us to stuff down our feelings like croutons into a dead bird on Thanksgiving.
This isn’t healthy. If you never vent about the stress at work, the fight with your girlfriend, or your difficult relationship with your parents, it will eat you up from the inside. There’s only so much a man can take before he breaks.
Good friends encourage you to share. They know that sometimes, you need support even if you don’t ask and don’t think any lesser of you for it. They just hold the space.
Even if your friend says “it’s fine,” there’s a good chance he’s far from it. Care for them, listen without judgment, and give your thoughts and share your experiences where appropriate. Doing so helps you open up yourself, which even though it’s hard, makes you feel a lot better in the long run.
Great male friendships provide the space to share and encourage each other to do so.
They Value Brutal Honesty Even if It Hurts
“A true friend accepts who you are, but also helps you become who you should be.” – Unknown
Sometimes, the best thing a friend can do is to say what you don’t want to hear but need to hear.
Most people aren’t completely honest with you. Their social conditioning and natural tendency to avoid conflict make them sugarcoat their words until double-glazed donuts come out of their mouth. This makes you feel better but doesn’t get you anywhere – and in hindsight, you sometimes wish they would’ve slapped you across the face to set you straight instead.
A few years ago, I was in a toxic and codependent relationship with a drama queen. For months on end, we fought teeth and claws, but I was too stuck behind my rose-colored glasses to see the truth. Many sleepless nights and two broken hearts later, I wish someone would’ve opened my eyes to the obvious.
Whether you’ve got a substance abuse problem, get stuck in the wrong relationship, or are otherwise going full speed on the ruin your life highway, good friends will tell you – and you should return the favor when needed.
This can be hard to do – the right thing often is. Your friends are old enough to make their own decisions, but the least you can do is be honest with them. Try to save them from their dumbest mistakes, just like they would do for you.
Great male friends say what the other needs to hear, even if they don’t want to – or you’re embarrassed to say it.
They Can Rely on Each Other When They Hit Rock Bottom…
As Oprah Winfrey once said:
“Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
There’s nothing worse than friends who aren’t there when you need them. Unfortunately, most people only show their true face once times get tough. If you’ve ever been down and in dire need of a supporting shoulder, but all you heard was the sound of crickets, you know what I’m talking about. Great friends don’t let friends down.
Often, it doesn’t even need much. A quick text. One beer together after work. A genuine hug. An invite to hang out. A simple “let me know if you need anything.” That’s all it takes to make a guy feel that he’s not alone.
Great male friends are there for each other when it counts.
…and Encourage Each Other To Fly Sky High
The idea that you’re the average of the five people you hang out with most is older than the Queen of England.
While the number is debatable, the fact is not. The wrong people will pull you down, the right ones will help you rise above. If you want to become the best man you can be, you have to build the right tribe.
The list of criteria for great friends is long, but over many years and friendships, I’ve found this to be one of the most important:
Great friends will always encourage you to become the best man you can be, regardless of where they stand.
I’ve always been ambitious, whether when studying, training for a bodybuilding competition, or building my own business. While most of my friends supported my dreams, others made fun of me and told me to be “realistic.” Achieving ambitious goals is hard as it is and the last thing you need is friends pulling you down and waving cookies in front of you when you’re on week twelve of a chicken-and-rice diet.
If you want to know how your friends feel about you, observe their reactions when things are going well – do they cheer you on, or do they pull you down to feel better about themselves?
Great friends root for you no matter what.
Wrap-Up To Help You Build Great and Genuine Friendships
Life-changing friendships don’t just happen. Regardless of what Hollywood wants you to believe, they’re the result of continuous effort. Instead of just scratching the surface, build deeper and more fulfilling connections.
1. Be face-to-face instead of just shoulder-to-shoulder.
2. Hold the space for sharing without judgment.
3. Say what the other needs to hear even if it isn’t what he wants to hear.
4. Be there for each other when you’re down.
5. Root for each other to become the best man you can be.
As someone who’s been a lone wolf for years, I can tell you that life gets a lot better with a few genuine friendships that go deeper.
Instead of being alone with your thoughts and stuffing down your worries, you can share them with others. Instead of wasting years of your life with dumb mistakes, your friends will tell you what you need to hear. Instead of watching you get stuck, they’ll push you to take it to the next level.
We’re all men. We’re all in this together. Your friends are the family you choose.
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