Why Men Fail at Friendship

The Card Players (Les Joueurs de Cartes) by Paul Cézanne, 1892

There have been a lot of responses to my old post “Five Foolproof Steps to Making Friends After 50.”  Only two men have commented about loneliness or the challenges of finding friends, though a few women have commented on how much more difficult it seems for husbands, boyfriends, or other men we care about, to maintain relationships–before or after 50.  But given the importance of friendships in later life to health, longevity, and happiness, this is a topic men need to take just as seriously as women do.  So to all you wonderful guys out there, check out this insightful article “Why Men Are Bad At Friendship (And What To Do About It)”  Your very life may depend on male bonding!  If you’ve struggled with friendships, let us know what makes it tough for you.  If you’ve overcome obstacles to friendship, please share your secrets of success.

11 Responses to “Why Men Fail at Friendship”

  1. Curtis 28. Feb, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    I’m going to weigh in here a bit. I see three things damaging the potential for males to build friendships:
    1. Bromance-the reframing male friendship as homosexual in nature in a society where masculinity is defined by how unlike women you can be.
    2. Male dependence on female validation for their masculinity. Men make women a huge priority over male friendship because sexual and social recognition by women is more validating to men, especially when other forms of validation have been stripped away from us.
    3. Dependence on various addictions to cope with an inability to vent emotions or cope with stress. I’ve personally ended friendships because of alcohol, marijuana, and excessive video game use.
    Men and women have different needs from friendship. Men do not have a deficit of skill, they have a different set of challenges that are not addressed by framing friendship through the lens of female relationships. But once again men are framed as deficient, rather than different.

  2. Kona 29. Mar, 2016 at 9:49 pm #

    Personally, it seems like the older I get the harder it is to find male friends. My wife is much younger than me and works and I am semi retired, manage our property and take care of our 6 yo son. I do the cooking and most of the cleaning. I attend community college part time . I can’t find Guys my age that is like. I am involved in team sports but Im always the oldes and pretty opinionated, so maybe thats the problem. Lol

  3. Kathy 30. Mar, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    Hi Kona, being the primary caretaker for kids can be quite isolating, even more so for dads who take on that role. Glad you’re involved in team sports, and it sounds like you have some insight about potential obstacles to connecting with the younger guys on your teams. As a boomer, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that just because people are younger than me doesn’t mean I’m the smartest person in the group. I’ve learned to listen with respect to the Gen Xrs and millenials. They may have different ideas, but not necessarily bad–maybe sometimes even better than ours. So maybe experiment with holding back a little on your ideas (which I’m sure are excellent) and asking others about how they think something should be done. It may not be the perfect approach in your eyes, but it could improve your relationships. Also, consider finding some other meaningful activities apart from sports which attract men closer in age to you. Good luck and thanks for sharing!!!

  4. Bill 03. Jan, 2017 at 2:07 am #

    At sixty five I dont get any satisfaction with friends or avtivities anymore.The rhythm of life seems so meaningless now and like a soul drifting on a strange sea the prospect of reaching land seems like having to repeat the actions and words of a worn out life .To trust another after so much betrayal seems impossible.All those years of art,music sport and reading have been completely worked out to the point any activity with a new friend would seem like the acting ritual of a robotic machine devoid of passion and thrilling emotions.Is this the beggining of the downward spiral that ushers in the endstage of our existence?Is it the start of an organic process that has no cure? How does an old man return from this state to join the living souls that celebrate lifes pleasures?

  5. Kathy 03. Jan, 2017 at 9:08 am #

    Oh, Bill–It breaks my heart to hear how you are feeling these days. Clearly you are an unusually intelligent man with many talents, struggling with the transition into this phase of life. I’m a few years older than you, and I empathize completely. There are days when I think there is nothing left to do except get my house and documents in order to make it easier for my daughter to deal with logistics once I’m gone. At other more optimistic times, I’m researching a new career, which may or may not be practical at my “advanced age.” I don’t have any magic solutions, but I do believe that as long as we are living, it’s our job to find ways to live a meaningful life of our choosing. I’m glad to read your last question about how to return to join the living souls that celebrate life’s pleasures, because that suggests you have not given up all hope. I hope you will reach out to a trusted friend or life coach to share your feelings and figure out how to regain your enthusiasm for life. Also feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to discuss further kathy[at]drkathyjordan[dot]com.

  6. Scott 04. Jan, 2017 at 5:19 pm #

    This is a topic that weighs heavily on my mind, being 55, divorced 2x, my kids – who are teens – live with with their Mom during the school year in CT and I live in California – and no, moving closer to them is not an option as their mother is impossible to get along with; we’ve been divorced coming up on 9 years so they are more used to the situation than I am.

    I’ve been in the Sacramento area now for almost 10 years, in the same job, and I’m looking to move because its just damn near impossible to make friends or even find a decent relationship – which is what I want – here. Part of it is California flakiness, I’m from the Midwest originally, but some of this is stuff I can’t do anything about – my height (women in our age group have been conditioned to want tall dark and handsome, while I’m dark and handsome LOL, I’m 5’5″ and fit, but that’s not good enough for most), and my age is a problem for some as they’re afraid they’ll end up being a nursemaid. I’ve never lived anywhere that I’ve seen more unrealistic expectations as here, but the more I talk to long-term friends I’ve got on social media – this is everywhere.

    If I were 6’2″, I would have my pick of GFs. That’s what sucks. Guess what? Its not going to happen. Its to the point that I’ve mulled getting a “Mail-Order” GF from a part of the world that’s not as hung up on how wonderful they are as American women are. And I’m not a disgusting guy. I get told over and over what a nice guy I am but I’m “not tall enough” and these women are attracted to taller losers that abuse them and treat them like crap, but hey – they’re tall.

    I read the Huffington Post article. It doesn’t apply to me one damn bit. The author is a jock – guess what? Although I’ve finished two marathons in my life, one at 53, I am NOT a jock. I’m the guy the jocks broke my glasses – over and over and over again – in gym class. They thought it was funny then, and most of them are still the same a-holes underneath it all that they were at 10, just with bad knees and backs from busting themselves up playing sports when they were young.

    I have no interest in having ANY male friends because quite frankly, jock boys are boring, and I’ve had to put with enough crap about being “gay” younger because I was smart, sensitive, and wanted to talk about feelings rather than my mile or triathlon times. I did a ton of run races and triathlons and quit because I got tired of the constant pressure of competing and then people either saying “You don’t work hard enough, you should be faster” to the Doritos crowd of middle aged people whose primary exercise is getting out of their chair to get another bag of Doritos so they can binge watch the latest edgy show on Netflix.

    It is extremely difficult to make friends if you’re a smart person who’s also a creative. People are already all cliqued up in the Meet Ups, they have their networks. I’m an accomplished musician, but because I’ve not pursued that as my life’s career (I like having my bills paid, and I have a BA and MA) I’m not accepted by other musicians.

    I did have a 6 1/2 year relationship here that did impact the friend making time and I agree that this is a problem in our culture that runs deeper – people have been told their relationships have to be rock solid and that you can’t have any friends. When that ended, I had a “business partnership” with a friend that I ultimately got taken advantage of and that crashed and burned, taking a considerable amount of cash with it.

    But there are days that I wonder – and I’m healthy and active – that it would be just simpler to take a suicide cocktail before I get truly old. Because I don’t see myself in another relationship – women aren’t interested in smart short fit guys – they want a jock boy – the Millenials are less screwed up on this, but I have no interest in trying to snag an early 30something as a companion – because she’s not going to want to be a nursemaid. In a couple of years, my children will be grown and not need me. Work is unsatisfying, and you can only buy so much crap to entertain you. Most people aren’t intelligent enough to be worth spending time with, and the ones that are already have their life networks. Don’t even talk to me about religion, because that’s all nonsense.

    What we have is the here and now, and the here and now sucks. I’ve put in a lot of effort to try and make friends, have relationships, and I would have been better spent my time trying to go further in my career.

    Yes, I’ve done therapy, and they’ve suggested some of this same stuff to make friends. None of it works. Some of us simply don’t fit into this world, and what it really comes down to is eventually the loneliness is so bad that suicide looks more attractive every day.

  7. Kathy 07. Jan, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    Scott–so sorry about delay in publishing your comment. I had some tech issues. I’ve read your comments twice and I feel really concerned about the despair you are experiencing. I imagine it is so upsetting to have “done all the right things” to find friends and companionship, and not get the results you want. Since you are having suicidal thoughts, please consider reaching out to a health care professional right away. Depression is largely a matter of brain chemistry (not your fault!) and there are medications which could be very helpful. As you’ve already discovered, talk therapy alone is not effective in changing how you feel. Please don’t give up on yourself. You sound like a very smart, attractive and talented man and you deserve to enjoy your life. All my best–kathy

  8. James 02. May, 2017 at 7:52 am #

    Scott, Kathy, and others,

    I hope that Scott makes use of his keen intellectual resources. As someone in a uniquely different situation, my approach towards life challenges may work only for those with similar challenges. Rather than compare my own life to others, I’ll share that I have been single for life, fifty-five years so far. I am the only surviving member of my immediate family, considering my parents died many years ago. Despite the absence of family members, I have managed to make social connections in a few ways: a. long-term romantic relationships (7 yrs, 3 yrs, and a 10 yr off and on relationship); b. fitness center/gym friends (guys do chat once you gain their confidence that you have traits such as “consistency”, “emotional stability”, and “strong character” – just be a decent and authentic guy); dance groups on Facebook (I started with Swing dancing and then found blues dancing, which will surely solve many of the connection problems, even if one is height or beauty challenged – Google blues dancing and see for yourself); and finally, church groups (I discovered at least two great long-term friends simply by attending the largest most social church in my neighborhood – nonbelievers can still attend the social events and find meaningful interaction during the game nights, picnics, or camping trips).

    As for feeling lonely, I do acknowledge that Christmas and Thanksgiving sometimes require a little extra effort since my friends usually have their family events, and I am mostly too proud to let others know I would like to be invited. I usually go to the gym to watch football on the treadmill (I disconnected cable TV years ago), and then eat a homemade vegetarian dinner (my Tufurky this past year was delicious). When all else fails, I have several other ways to create meaning, purpose, and happiness: a. dark chocolate, organic raisins and peanuts (instant buzz after a few minutes); b. nature walks (trees are great for feeling better and connected); c. vitamin D (this takes a few weeks to work, especially if deficient during colder months); and finally, I either watch classic movies or read something of interest. I’ve generally followed this template for years. I know most women have easier ways of connecting with other women, and I’ve learned to appropriate what works for women, even if it means stopping at the fitness center desk to chat up the attendant each day I visit. I now count a few of them as social friends, although we only see each other at the gym. I do the same at the grocery store as well with a few checkout workers. Over time, I see them as part of my social network (positive interactions). I would imagine if the financial resources allow, one could budget a monthly massage with a particular masseuse to help meet the social and physical connections over time. I have a health insurance plan that allows for three free counseling sessions, so I spread them over the year and go talk to her (women counselors and physicians work best for me) about core goals or concerns. Mostly, I’m still working on developing long-term relationships and social connections. So far, I have one nearby friend I can depend on if I really needed to talk or get help doing something. I remember Shakespeare in Hamlet having Polonius say something wise about friendship: test them, and once proven true, bind those friendships with hoops of gold (or something like that). Well, those are a few of my favorite things, and I hope you find something that works for you. :-)


  9. Kathy 02. May, 2017 at 8:05 am #

    Hi James–Thanks so much for taking the time to share your strategies for living a fulfilling life and connecting with others. I am inspired by you and I’m sure that you will inspire others who read your comments! k

  10. James 02. May, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

    Thank you. As you can see, I found the website again and hope others do so as well, especially men. Glad to know someone found what I wrote inspiring and/or meaningful.

  11. Sean 13. Aug, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    I thank the other contributors to this page, and I hope that they can find some comfort, I have a similar story to tell, only I have not really ever had a life that some of the others seem to have shared with others, I have always been alone and lonely, despite being married (separated now).
    I’m 52 now, I have periodically kinda restarted my life on a few occasions, and have never really managed to keep friends, for more than a few years. This is, to my mind anyway, because I have never really found friends that have been close in the required common ground that I feel is needed. They are either opinionated to the point where I feel they bully me, or they have too little going on to be able to communicate on a reasonable level. All of that said I also am not good at making friends and never have been, and cannot seem to find people/male friends that are similar to me [whatever that means???? I’m not a particularly enthusiastic man and am lazy (this really is a problem) to the point of sloth, so I don’t know how I can expect to find a friend with common ground without having interests of my own]
    I much like some of the other contributors have thoughts of suicide, but know that I will never do it as I’m too cowardly to carry it through, not that I think that the act is particularly brave it’s just that I am not able to do it.
    I have been deeply hurt in the past by relationships and by friends, but I do know that I must be difficult to be around sometimes as I have an automatic negative view of myself, and of situations which in turn spills over into opinions on others, “and the cycle continues”
    I hear people say you must go out, you must take a walk, you must seek out people, you must put yourself out there, well those things may be true, but if you feel those things are insurmountable how can you expect to make them happen, I take my dog for a walk and I see the other dog walkers there and I chat to them, but it’s over and nothing happens and frankly I don’t enjoy walking, or running or exercise or anything of that nature.
    I think I’m a sensitive soul, or at least I did think so, I’m in a caring profession, but no longer now seem to have the empathy that I thought I used to possess and the sensitivity that I used to think I showed for others seems to me to have been a thinly veiled over sensitivity towards myself, as I’m obviously easily upset, and have a thin skin.
    I too feel the pain of being a man of shorter stature, and I also feel that my sensitive nature (albeit towards myself) is not acceptable around most idealistic women
    I don’t really a have a ‘thrust’ or a point to what I’m saying I just wanted to share and to say although I seem to have consistently failed in relationships or friendships I have a modicum of self awareness to know that I am at least partially, if not entirely, to blame for my lack of a social network.

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