Sports, class, pandemic worries — all the conversations start to feel cyclical as I chat with my male friends.
The boys, as we often refer to each other, claim to be close friends, but when it gets to important matters, like emotional turmoil, it can be hard to dig deeper. These conversations and relationships men form with one another consistently lack depth.
As human beings, we crave emotional intimacy. We need the type of love and nurturing our parents or caretakers once gave to us. This type of relationship comes through vulnerability — being open about what we need and when we need it.
When it comes to relationships between men, that type of meaningful connection starts to feel like an impenetrable barrier. This wall we put up between one another is established at a young age. Close relationships between men are labeled girly or queer from as young as age four.
As men, we are told to be self-reliant. To admit otherwise is breaking a cardinal rule of modern masculinity — a sign of weakness. Toxic masculinity leaves us stranded and emotionally stunted.
This, in turn, creates a harmful mental health system for men. When individuals feel like they can’t disclose personal information with one another, they can’t establish a support system that allows them to seek help when they need it. It’s one of the reasons men are over 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than their female counterparts.
Men are taught to bottle their emotions. They are expected to never cross that barrier and ask for emotional support and is one of the reasons why men are much more hesitant to seek help through counseling or therapy. Only about a third of people in therapy in the United States are men.
When we create a culture where men aren’t supposed to be open, it’s not surprising that there are real consequences. We hear clichés like “boys will be boys” or “real men don’t cry,” but they are actively harmful to creating a culture of listening and friendship between men.
Personally, all my close friendships are with women because I see the value in vulnerability. I have found the women in my life to be much more open and willing to have difficult and emotional conversations.
This type of social dynamic, where a man has all female friends, is often seen as "gay" because it doesn’t fit with the cultural context of what we expect men to be. We link intimacy with women or gay men, and it perpetuates emotional stagnation.
I can logically recognize that I should be having these types of personal relationships with the men in my life, too. But the idea of being emotional with another man is scary. It feels like an extreme violation to try and cross that barrier.
So how do we — or how do I — get across that threshold?
I think it starts with asking more questions about the men in our lives. It can be scary to pry and dig, especially when men are so resistant to open the door, but getting to know people is extremely liberating. It reminds us that we all struggle. There is comfort in knowing we aren’t alone.
It also means understanding the very human need for a deeper connection with one another. Once we accept that everyone craves these types of relationships, it becomes easier to create them in our own lives.
Most importantly, we must start to say the things that scare us. Taking risks, admitting we are in need and opening our own doors makes it so much easier for others to open theirs. When we model vulnerability, it is the start of normalizing emotional friendships with one another.
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