The Grown Man’s Guide to Making and Keeping Friends

Be prepared: You may feel uncomfortable at first, and you can’t guarantee they’ll be down. That said, getting a “no” is much rarer than you might think, in Lioi’s experience: “People are usually pretty open, or are more open than you expect,” he adds. Either way, remember that this whole thing is a process: Just as you wouldn’t expect to lift weights once, or even twice, and see results, investing in friendships requires some effort and patience.

3. Try to actually look at each other occasionally. 

When men bond, it can often take the shape of a side-to-side activity, such as hiking or going to see a game or movie together. But in order for the friendship to grow, you’ll need to turn your head and sit face-to-face sometimes, Dr. Ellenberg says, which gives you an opportunity to have more fulfilling conversation (and deeper laughs). That can include hangouts like grabbing dinner, going out for coffee, or even video chatting now and then to catch up—as long as you’re talking face-to-face, it counts.

“Friendship is based on connection, and connection is based on authenticity,” says Dr. Ellenberg. “Rigid” masculinity, as he calls it, often implores men to stay buttoned up emotionally. But when it comes to healthy friendships, openness is a requirement and certainly not a weakness, he says. 

Again, you can start with low-risk conversations. “By spending time together and talking about everyday topics, a little more is revealed each time you hang out,” Dr. Rabinowitz says. He suggests starting with an interest that brought you two together—your running club, your job, your time in college—and then finding other commonalities: mutual friends, shared hobbies, parenting

As time goes on, you’ll naturally begin to talk more about what’s really going on in your head (maybe you’ve been anxious lately, or you’re struggling to make a big decision), and you’ll also just feel more at ease with this person in general. You don’t have to get deep all the time, but knowing you can be yourself, whatever that looks like at any given moment, is what solid friendships are made of. 

4. Be willing to break old patterns.  

According to Lioi, part of the reason some men have issues with friendship is that they repeat patterns that were modeled for them, either in real life (by older brothers or fathers, say) or in mass media. As an example, he says, when he was growing up, he never heard any of the men he knew openly discussing the challenges they faced in life, in their romantic relationships, or in fatherhood. “That’s not how I heard men talk when they congregated around me,” Lioi says. 

So much of this struggle with expressing feelings, again, goes back to early messages about masculinity that many men are taught as young boys, according to Lioi—including being told to suppress their emotions. As boys age and absorb these lessons, this can affect their friendships. “[Young boys’ friendships] are often very intimate, and then at some point it’s made known to them that it’s not cool,” Lioi says. “You’re supposed to be independent and strong, not vulnerable—it distances men from each other.” 

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