As a kid I often found it hard to make friends. Living in a rural town where the closest boy my age lived over a mile away, any friend I did have was fiercely guarded for fear of never finding another. I only had one best friend and that was only until we got to the 6th grade, when I was summarily replaced. The fact that I still recall this event 35 years later speaks to its impact, and I’m convinced it was this lack of boy companionship growing up that influenced all future male friendships.
Whether consciously or not I began placing high expectations on others after I moved into high school. I fully expected anyone calling himself my friend to be as intentional and committed as I was. And should I ever sense he wasn’t living up to his end of the friendship bargain I would quickly and quietly bow out in search of others more worthy.
I’m certain I could have graduated from college without one single friend to call my own were it not for joining a fraternity. The bonds of brotherhood forged during those years set a bar so unbelievably high that as I got into the real world no one could possibly live up to it. I can vividly remember the loneliness I felt a year after leaving school because I desperately missed the friendships I had left behind.
Forging my way further into adulthood and closing in on my thirty’s I continued coming up empty handed in my search for a ‘best friend’. Anytime I arbitrarily met another with potential, I was soon disappointed for the same reasons I had all those years back. By my 30th birthday I was a man with countless acquaintances but no one considered a close friend. Being blind to these lofty demands of others, I beat myself up for years thinking no one found me worthy of being labeled their friend; and I’m certain it played a significant part in the depression I would suffer a few years later.
I would carry those frustrations for another decade. And while I occasionally invested time into friendships I routinely failed to see my efforts reciprocated. I would find myself connecting with others who were far more interested in meeting their own agenda than forging a close friendship. It eventually forced me to create walls of distrust with anyone I met and as such I put minimal effort towards building any relationship into something more than occasional drinking buddies.
It was 2008 that I first discovered ‘men’s groups’, or men who intentionally joined together for one common purpose – to do life. Men who voluntarily chose to share the inner working of their souls with complete strangers. It was unlike anything I’d ever been a part of. The entire notion was counter to everything I had come to believe about men and friendships as these didn’t involve beer, poker, or strippers. Instead they were groups of men who, recognizing their own needs, laid bare the most intimate details of their life in an effort to grow as a man, father, and husband. In much the same way I was, here were others who found themselves without the company of sincere, trustworthy, honorable male friendships and realizing its importance decided to do something. My curiosity at the unknown far outweighed any trepidation I had about embarrassing myself; going to that first group remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The result has led to life change that continues to influence me. On the surface the term I call intentional relationship seems far too mechanical and sterile. The word ‘intentional’ smells of self-interest and insincerity; it’s as if I’m engaging in a relationship with underlying motives. Yet therein lies the beauty – I am– and so is everyone else involved. And that primary motive is becoming a better person.
Today my life is filled with intentional relationships. I purposefully sought out a much older gentleman to become a personal and spiritual mentor who I meet with weekly; I’ve dedicated my time to meet with others once per week to talk through life, relationships, challenges, and faith. I mentor with younger men who are walking the path I’ve already journeyed.
I’ve come to discover that most men are without a ‘best friend’. Much like I had been, they were traded in for someone else on the playground and have never come to grips with it. They now find themselves without the means to talk through the weightier issues of life with someone other than their spouse or a shrink. And they are suffering for it.
A fellow dad blogger, Bruce Sallan in his post “Why men need men other men” stated an all too obvious but little recognized fact “Too many men that are married with children are just not interacting with enough other men.” Somewhere along the way, whether it came from Harley Davidson, The Marlboro Man, or Mad Maxx, men forgot life shouldn’t lived by themselves in quiet desperation.