Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Happened to Male Friendships?

Men need other men, unfortunately, many in our society say this is false and that a close relationship between two men is weird or sexual.  However; men need each other just as much as they need women.  They need each other emotionally and physically and always have.  It has only been in the last 50 or so years that close male relationships have been looked down upon.  It has become abnormal for two close male friends to put an arm around his fellow or give him a hug.  In fact today, you often see young men walking with their closest comrades with a large gap of space in between them.  They fear what others might think if they get too close.  In today's American society, if there is any kind of contact between men it is done with great caution as to make it seem as manly and unintimate as possible.  Let me educate you, if you if you are not yet schooled on the "appropriate" ways to have contact with other men in our society.  There are three basic rules that must be followed.

1. Contact must be brief, any lasting contact is seen as highly feminine and as many men would put it   "gay" Implying that any man having contact with another man must be homosexual.

2. This contact can never be direct.  A man cannot make eye contact with the man he is having contact with.  This directness could be confused with something romantic and must be avoided.

3. The last rule in male contact is that distance must be made after the contact.  This implies to the onlooker that this was in fact not romantic but just a friendly gesture and that you have now made a very unromantic space in between you and the other man.
Once you understand these rules there are several ways to express this "appropriate" male intimacy; there is the high five, the knee slap as two men who have been sitting next to each other stand up, the butt slap often seen by athletes, The hand shake, and we must not forget the ultimate expression of male intimacy, the "man hug."  For those unfamiliar with the man hug this is a handshake that turns into a quick one armed hug as two men pull each other in from the handshaking position, this gesture is usually accompanied by two quick pats on each others backs followed by a quick separation.  We also see male closeness and bonding in the form of sports.  Wrestling, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, etc.  All these sports have the potential for a lot of contact between men.  This is a safe way to have closeness that is not viewed as sexual or inappropriate.  In this way a man's need for closeness can be met without ridicule.

unfortunately this type of intimacy has been engrained into  boys from a young age and the closeness of male relationships is becoming a thing of the past.  Not too long ago in American culture male intimacy was not that rare of a thing and was actually very normal and very non-sexual.  There are thousands of photos from the late 19th and early 20th century that depict these very real relationships that today would be looked down upon or seen as "gay."  In his book Picturing Men, John Ibson compiles many of these photos and works to decipher what happened to male relationships
The above photos show what these friendships used to be like.  Today there are very few men who would be caught dead in a pose like that with their buddy especially if that pose would end up being photographed.  It is a sad depiction of what our society has become.  Men are afraid to have close relationships with each other.  They are afraid of the stereotypes that will accompany this type of closeness. However, I would bet most men if they look inside really do want that closeness.  Not in a sexual way but in a way that says "I have your back." "You are my friend and I would give my life for you."  That kind of friendship says to a man "I have a friend who will stand by me in battle."  I have a comrade who I can talk deeply with and who understands me in  a way that my wife might not be able to."  That is a very powerful thing indeed and something that most men want to have.

 Men need other men!  They cannot reach their masculine potential by hanging around the girls all the time.  Men want closeness with other men and want association with other men and in our society they are desperately grasping at it trying to get it.  What you do with this information is up to you, however, it would be nice to see our children grow up in a world where they are not in constant worry about how their expression of friendship will be viewed.  That would be a good day.


  1. When I was a foreign exchange student in the Philippines, you would not see heterosexual public displays of affection, such as hand-holding. HOWEVER it was quite common to see males walking down the street holding hands with other male friends, and girlfriends holding hands in friendship, too. I like this a lot, and miss it in the US!

  2. I am currently reading a book by Niobe Way entitled, "Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis of Connection." One subject the book tackles are the reasons why boys (and men) seem to lose a closeness as they grow up--they lose a closeness with other males. She points the finger at our misogynic and homophobic contemporary American culture:

    "Masculinity, as a social construction, is ne that poses as the antithesis of anything that is associated with being female (i.e., emotional, physically weak, and dependent). Thus the definition of manhood is what is NOT female, and beginning in the late twentieth century, what is not gay. In other words...homophobia as well as misogyny are at the root of mainstream or 'hegemonic' masculinity."

    She goes on to say: "...Western societies systematically restrict boys 'access to affectionate physical contact, especially with other boys--or such contact is sexualized and forbidden. They are discouraged from the expression of grief and upset through tears, and encouraged to suppress emotions (except anger) and to ignore physical and emotional pain.' In essence, being a man means not being a stereotypic woman, or in cultures such as the United States, gay person."

    If this isn't an accurate description of how "manhood" is depicted in contemporary American culture, I don't know what is.

    The other day I was on a brief train ride with a good buddy of mine. As we were on the train, I had my arm around his shoulder and his head was leaning on my arm. Although it felt good and right to me and was an expression from me to him of my love for him and our friendship, I have to admit to wondering (in the back of my mind) what other people might "think."

    Heaven forbid two men love each other as brothers (as the Biblical David & Jonathan) and express it in this sick culture we live in. Someone once told me, "Be the change you want to see." So, in my own way, I am.