Men are generally pretty bad at making friends—at least with other guys.
Especially as we get older, men often have fewer close male friendships. Yet, according to research, we crave intimacy in our friendships just as much as women.
Worst of all, this lack of close relationships could be very, very bad for us. Prolonged loneliness can have serious consequences for cognition, emotion, behavior, and health—and may even speed up physiological aging.
Growing Up Changes How we Relate to Other Men
It’s hard to say why guys aren’t great at making friends with other men.
Part of it seems to be the way we grow up: as we hit puberty and we begin to develop as men, we try to avoid any notion of being “feminine”—which often means trying to appear stronger and less vulnerable.
During our adolescence and through the great social experiment we call “high school,” we struggle with afflictions like acne, the sudden desire to be noticed by potential love interests, and the scary realization that we’re going to be adults soon.
Ironically, as we start our journey to becoming men, some of us become preoccupied by worries about not fully reaching some manly ideal. In high school I vividly remember being petrified that I would be a virgin for the rest of my life.
During this time, we may also start to see other men as competition—probably some primal vestige of our more Darwinistic caveman days, when the only thing that mattered was (A) Am I strong enough to fight you? or (B) Will I be the one who gets the attractive, nubile mate instead of you?
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Other Barriers to Male Friendship
The end of high school and college seem to be the prime time for men to make friends with other guys. This is when we start to zero in on our interests and begin finding paths for our adult lives.
The activities we choose at this time often become the centers of our social spheres. We may not feel comfortable walking up to guys and saying “hey, will you be my friend?” like we did on the playground in elementary school. But our common interests become a non-threatening foundation for friendship—they allow us to reinforce our value to each other without having to get overtly sentimental.
There has to be an activity where we can both contribute our own skills and appreciate/value what the other has to offer. When two men affirm each other’s usefulness and significance, friendship is almost bound to arise.”
–Matt, Distilled Man reader
But beyond college, as we settle into our lives, it gets more and more difficult to make new friends—and to maintain existing friendships.
Keeping friends as you get older is the difficult part. Life gets in the way. you may get to hang out every once in a while but just like anything that you want to grow it needs to be nurtured and attended to. That’s difficult with things to do around the house and children. Not to mention if you spend more time with your buddy than your wife or girlfriend thinks is appropriate then they think that you are neglecting them. So enjoy the quality not so much the quantity.”
–Fred, Distilled Man reader
Increasing time-demands from our jobs, from our spouses, and from our children make it more challenging. Overall, we have more “inertia” in our lives. And where we once may have explored other interests and made new connections, it becomes harder and harder to fight that inertia and broaden our social circles.
Social Inertia Isn’t All Bad, But…
This narrowing of our social circles isn’t all bad. Many guys are happy to maintain a few strong connections with men they’ve met in high school or college—and they don’t feel the need for much more socialization beyond that and their family.
I am good at making acquaintances with NEW guys that I meet. I can hang out, laugh, have inside jokes, etc. But on a weekend, I’d rather work in my yard all day and relax by the grill in the evening than hang with any “NEW” friend. But the friendship I share with my OLD BUDS is significantly stronger. So, it’s not that I’m not GOOD at making new friends, I just prefer not to.”
–Bart, Distilled Man reader
For some men, there’s a sense of starting to really know who they are as they get older—getting clearer about their values and the things they want (and don’t want) in life. This translates into having less interest or tolerance for making friends with men who don’t share the same ideals.
But many other men feel a loss of connection as they get older—and the sense that having more close male friendships would be valuable. Yet, it can feel like an uphill battle. Some of the common themes that emerge are:
- A subconscious sense of not “measuring up” to other men their age
- General social anxiety or lack of confidence having conversations with other men
- Worrying about not seeming manly enough if they don’t appreciate traditional “manly activities” like sports or working out
One big barrier for these men seems to be the lack of practice with “chatting up” a guy.
Growing up, most men are pretty motivated to learn how to approach and talk to women. It’s a natural part of becoming an adult (heterosexual) male—and even though it’s far from easy for everyone, the rules of engagement are clearer.
For this reason, many men find that in their adult years, they are still far more comfortable talking to women—even in a platonic situation.
Meeting guys without an “in” is almost harder than meeting girls (which is tough enough as it is). I can (theoretically) go up to a girl at a bar or coffee shop and start talking to her. Maybe ask her out and start a relationship. That’s normal. For some reason, in our society, walking up to a guy and doing something similar with a friendship being the only desired outcome seems strange and bizarre.”
–Jesse, Distilled Man reader
Is this a real barrier in our society? Definitely. But as you explore it further, you realize it’s a false barrier: there are no disastrous consequences when you go talk to a random guy. Yes, there might be some awkwardness at first. But pretty soon, when he realizes you’re not hitting on him or trying to ask him for money, you both relax and try to enjoy the conversation. Or, the conversation ends after a while, and you both go your separate ways—still no real consequences. Yet still it holds us back.
Tips for Making Guy Friends as a Man
If you crave more male friendships in your life but feel anxious or uncertain about how to do it, don’t worry—there is hope.
The first step is getting over any fears about “measuring up.” Remember, everyone gets insecure, and you’re always your own worst critic. Even if you think you’re being judged when you talk to another guy, most likely he’s being more critical of himself than he is of you. We all get nervous, we all get stage fright. Johnny Carson did 4,000 shows with the Tonight Show and said there wasn’t a single episode where he wasn’t nervous beforehand. The key is acknowledging your nerves and then calmly stepping past them.
Once you do that, there are a number of things you can do to increase your chances of making new guy friends.
But even if you feel desperate to make new guy friends, you’ve got to relax. It’s the same as the dating world: if you come across as too eager to “seal the deal” and get a girlfriend, you’re going to turn women off. So too with making guy friends.
It’s much like fishing: you have to get into a zen-like state where you simply enjoy the process of fishing. By going fishing, you know you’ll increase your chances of catching fish. But if you stress about catching a bunch of fish, you’re not going to be as successful.
Here are some tips that can help you increase your chances of making guy friends as an adult:
1. Break the Social/Work Barrier
As I mentioned earlier, work and family play a larger role in our lives as we get older. So why not embrace it? You’re not going to connect with every guy you work with on a personal level, but you shouldn’t be afraid to explore hanging out with co-workers outside of work. The irony of work connections is that you probably spend as much time (if not more) with them as your family. So often, you may find that your coworkers will be willing to embrace the “true you”—and vice versa—more readily than you think.
The only potential downside is if you feel your friendship might interfere with work. Though expanding your relationship from from one sphere to the next is generally positive—it can help relieve stress and make you more resilient at work. I had an experience where a close college friend ended up working with me—actually reporting to me—shortly after I moved to San Francisco. At first I was worried how working together would affect our friendship. I was surprised to find that we actually appreciated and respected each other more after spending time in a professional setting.
2. Go Deep on Your Own Interests
Of course, it’s only natural that since many of our friendships with other guys develop based on common interests, this can be one area to explore that can help us make new, like-minded connections.
While this aspect of male friendship might be viewed as shallow, it’s just reality. Very similar to the way that small talk becomes a pathway to genuine rapport, shared activities can become the bridge to real friendships.
Even if two men start as “football buddies” or “drinking buddies” there’s no reason a deeper connection can’t develop if both men want it to.
So, think about your interests:
Taking friends out of the equation, what are you already interested in? What excites you?
Languages? Music? Carpentry? Hiking? Spirituality? Yoga? Cars? Metalwork?
Take a class. Join a club. Put an ad on craigslist for an “activity partner.” Go to a new church…
It’s nearly impossible to have an interest that NO ONE ELSE is into. And the great part about this strategy is that it allows you to “pursue making friends” without doing anything you wouldn’t normally want to do.
And when you’re doing an activity you love, you’re more likely to be yourself. You’re in your element, you’re more relaxed…The shared activity takes the pressure off worrying about making friends…which ultimately makes it more likely to happen naturally.
3. Explore Completely Random Social Activities
Instead of going deep into one topic you’re interested in, there’s no shortage of groups and activities that are quasi-interest related…but really focused on just “hanging out and meeting new people.”
Meetup.com is great place for groups like this. One meetup group I came across here in San Francisco is called “Bay Area Hiking, Biking, Adventure, Photography and Vino.” Collectively, their events touch on each of those different interests, yet they remain open to all skill, fitness and experience levels.
This makes the events a non-threatening way to simply socialize. As the organizer says, “…All activities are geared to give you guys a fun, healthy, safe, enjoyable, way to meet other people and enjoy each others company, while getting some good exercise.”
Many of the guys who attend Meetup events are young, post-college professionals who either (A) want to meet women or (B) want to meet other guy friends, or (C) want both. So, there’s good chance that social events like this would be a great place to meet other potential guy friends.
4. Join an Organization
- Fraternal organizations
- Church organizations
- Sports leagues
One of the best things about joining an organization is, while organizations can help focus men’s energies around a common goal or interest, they also force you to interact with people who have different views and backgrounds.
And ironically, in this age of increased communication and options, it’s often easier to find ourselves accidentally gravitating towards like-minded people than to rub shoulders with those who don’t think like we do.
It’s healthy to consider other viewpoints beyond your own. Best case, you expand your mind and change your opinion. Worst case, you reinforce your previous beliefs and (civilly) agree to disagree.
5. Join a Professional Networking Group
You can certainly explore organizations specific to your profession. The nice thing about this is that you get the advantage of having a common interest (your industry)—but without the potential pitfalls of being direct coworkers.
There are also other cross-industry organizations solely for the purpose of networking. I recently met a Distilled Man subscriber, Dennis, who is a true gentleman and “connector.” Dennis introduced me to a networking organization called The Art of Active Networking. The group aims to simply connect people without any specific agenda. As the organizer says, “…people are finding jobs, leaving jobs to follow their dreams, getting dates, creating new ideas, investing in each other getting roommates, clients, connections and discovering a new way to think!”
Groups like this prove that networking doesn’t need to be a dry experience of “talking shop” and then blindly shoving business cards in each others’ hands before you go attack the crab dip. It really can be an opportunity to connect with people on a fundamental personal level.
In fact, as John Corcoran of Smart Business Revolution says, even in a professional networking situation, it’s often best to focus on personal conversation: asking about people’s interests outside of work or about their family or where they’re from. That’s when you see people come alive, when they’re talking about their passions: they may not enjoy talking to you about the latest trends in accounting, but they’ll be excited to tell you about their rafting trip on the Colorado river. Those are the conversations that can establish a business relationship, but also potentially lead to friendships with other guys.
6. Attend Local Events
Check your local event listings for performances, art openings, rodeos, fairs, fundraisers, festivals…Even if it’s just your local paper, there are likely announcements for local events right in your own backyard. But you can also look at sites like Eventbrite. Local events are a great way to simply “get out there” and meet people. The truth is, most of the people attending are there to meet other people—or at least not afraid of making new connections. It’s not hard to simply introduce yourself and strike up a conversation if you do it in a friendly way.
Will you become “besties” with every guy you meet? Hell no. You may not make ANY close friends. But, again, much like in dating, simply getting out there helps increase your chances of making an acquaintance that may eventually turn into a true friendship.
Volunteering is a great way to get out of your normal friend/work/family sphere…and potentially connect with new people. Many of the people you meet volunteering are also likely to be more open to connecting with strangers: just by the fact that they’re volunteering their precious time to help others shows that they’re likely more empathetic and less self-focused.
8. Connect With People Somewhere You Already Go
Is there a place you regularly go—somewhere you see people on a regular basis, but maybe you haven’t made a connection? A cafe, your regular bus or train route, a bar you frequent, even your gym?
Not all of us can be lucky enough to have the Cheers experience, where “everybody knows your name.” Though there’s a strong argument in favor of every man needing a “third place”—somewhere that’s not work and not home, where we have a community. Certainly it can seem harder these days because even when people are “regulars” at an establishment, they might be too absorbed in their electronic devices to really notice the people around them.
But you’d be surprised at how easy it can be to strike up a conversation with someone in a place like a cafe—especially if it’s someone you often see but have never said hello to. “Hey, you’re the guy who always wears those Skullcandy headphones. I’ve been meaning to grab a pair.”
The key is simply to make the initial connection, without trying to force a friendship at first. Often, breaking the ice once can lay the groundwork for a real relationship to develop over time.
9. Leverage Social Media to “Go Analog”
Odds are you are connected to far more people than you realize through your various social media profiles…and your connections’ connections. But maybe up until this point, you’ve never had a substantial interaction with some of those folks—they may just be a profile pic and a bio, who you occasionally interact with in 140 characters or less.
But what if…[suspenseful music]…(gasp)…you decided to actually meet up with some of these guys in person? Face to face.
It may not always be possible for connections that live on the other side of the country (or world), but there may be opportunities to meet up with contacts that live within a reasonable distance. When writer Bob Gordon was looking to reinvigorate his social life and meet guy friends, he started going to Reddit Meetups. He had an interest in raw denim, and ended up finding a meetup that he drove to, where he met a bunch of new, like-minded guys. Not all of them became lasting friends, but having the in-person interaction definitely helped create a new bond with some of his connections.
10. Get Set Up on a “Blind Date” by a Mutual Friend
Going on friend-of-friend setup “dates” can be a low-risk way to connect with other potential guy friends. Even though the idea of getting set up may seem awkward, it can often take the pressure off meeting new people. To start with, you have a common interest talk about from the get-go: your mutual friend. So starting a conversation is fairly easy. And I’ve personally found that most of my friends who are good people surround themselves with other good people, so I’m rarely disappointed.
11. Crash Parties
Before he became a Kopywriting badass and the “internet marketing version of Aziz Ansari” (according to Jordan at AOC), Neville crashed parties to expand his network.
His goal was more specific than just meeting new friends; he wanted to surround himself with rich and influential people (he was familiar with that adage that you are the average of the 5 people you hang out with most).
Since Neville usually crashed parties alone, quickly making conversation with guests was critical so he wouldn’t stand out. Neville’s “pickup line” for meeting other guys at parties was great: As he’d wait in line at the bar, he’d say something like “5 more people, ugh! I want my booze now! I’m Neville by the way.”
So simple, but it worked!
He would repeat that trick each time he grabbed a drink. And that simple exchange would often turn into multiple connections throughout the night. Inevitably he’d see a guy he met earlier in the evening who’d say “Hey Neville, meet Fred” and on it would go. Pretty soon he’d go from being the guy who came alone to a party he wasn’t invited to…to being the most popular guy of the evening.
Getting Comfortable Establishing Weak Ties
Perhaps the best advice for making friends is to “just get out there” and meet more people any way you can. For many of us, this requires shifting our mindset to focus more on developing “weak ties,” or acquaintances, at first.
In terms of experiencing the full richness that friendship offers, there’s no doubt that quality is better than quantity. If you have 12,000 friends on Facebook but no one to give you a hug when your girlfriend dumps you, then you need to reevaluate your social life.
But the truth is, we can’t exactly plan on who will be come our close friends. It’s a game of chance.
Record labels have the same challenge. They can’t plan on who will be their next multi-platinum artist. They simply have to cultivate a wide swath of bands and hope that one—if they’re lucky—makes it big. Meanwhile, they expect to lose money on the other 10-15 artists on their roster.
We have to have a similar mindset with making guy friends.
We have to get be comfortable simply making initial connections—acquaintances—which may or may not develop into friendships down the line. Can we predict how often those acquaintances will turn into friendships? No. But we also know that without putting ourselves out there and meeting new people, we’re unlikely to make new friends.
Practicing the “Runway” to Friendship
Much of the anxiety that men feel around trying to pursue male friendships seems rooted in the notion that the stakes are higher than they actually are. That by simply having a conversation, they are making themselves vulnerable and opening themselves up to be judged.
As Trevor’s quote below illustrates, we’ve grown accustomed to shrugging off rejection from women, but many of us are still nervous about how to act around men:
I know how to comport myself with women because I practiced hard in high school and in college. I’m wondering if how I carry myself and make conversation is confusing for guys I’m just meeting because I send mixed signals of insecurity or lack of confidence in the conversation itself.”
–Trevor, Distilled Man reader
As we discussed earlier, this nervousness and uncertainty is because we’ve never consciously practiced the “runway” to friendship with men the way we’ve worked on being accepted by women. It just didn’t occur to us.
So, the irony is that we can be (relatively) nonchalant about “just chatting up” a woman. But when we talk to men, we often revert to a binary view of the interaction: “Will he be my friend or not? Will he accept me or not?”
But in reality, the guy you’re talking to probably isn’t judging you. He’s just thinking about keeping up his end of the conversation (and possibly being self-critical in the process).
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, we become dismissive of the interaction because we’re just making small talk and don’t appear to have anything in common.
The key is to get comfortable being in that middle-zone: where you’ve made the introduction, but you’re not friends yet (maybe you never will be, and that’s OK). Because that is the potential runway to friendship.
The more fluent we are within that “uncertain” zone, the more chances we create to develop true friendships with other men.
Embracing The “New Networking”
One of the best ways to make personal connections is through the guise of networking. And this is far easier—and less awkward—now that our understanding of networks is changing.
With employees staying at jobs for shorter periods and as technology has enabled more mobility (and competition) in the workforce, the importance of having a professional network is even clearer. But we’re also seeing less distinction between professional and personal networks. This shouldn’t be surprising given that 40% of Americans are expected to freelancers by 2020. We’re starting to realize that, going forward, we must have at least some sort of network in order to survive.
And with books like The Tipping Point popularizing the idea of “mavens” or super-connectors, the value of connecting—in a professional or a personal context—is now more widely recognized.
All of this to say that one of the simplest ways to make an acquaintance and potentially develop a relationship is by just asking to “connect.” Often you can start developing a relationship by saying “I’m really interested in finding out more about what you do and your background. Can I buy you some coffee sometime?”
You might feel uneasy asking to connect without having a specific plan. But usually the best thing to do is just focus on helping the other person somehow. And often this means simply introducing to someone else you know who might be useful to them.
As Adam Grant shows us in Give and Take, this kind of selflessness can actually drive our success in big ways. You can think of it as making a goodwill deposit that may yield a return later.
They may return the favor and help you professionally (or personally)—or maybe not. Regardless, they’ll appreciate your genuine interest in helping them out. And that goodwill may blossom into a deeper connection later on.
Turning Connections into Friendship
Once you’ve established a initial connection, if it seems like there’s mutual “chemistry,” you shouldn’t be afraid to take things to the next level. As writer Bob Gordon notes, all it takes is for one guy to take the initiative and say “You’re cool, I dig you, let’s hang out.”
The “let’s connect over coffee” thing can be a good first step if it’s more of a professional connection. Otherwise, grabbing a drink or going to a show—really any kind of activity that you both might enjoy—can work. When you ask, as long as you’re open, honest, and confident about it, the other guy will respect you for having the cojones to invite him. And the worst thing that can happen is he’ll just say no.
But since so many men recognize that they could use more male friends, odds are he’ll be open to hanging out. After all, you’re not talking about going steady—you’re just talking about “two dudes hanging out being dudes.”
Put Yourself Out there, Be Interested, and Be Likeable
As you can see, once you get over the fear of “getting out there” and talking to other men, there’s no end to the different ways you can make connections, which may turn into friends later on.
Ultimately, the best way to get comfortable seeking out new connections is to practice: to do it over and over. To build the habit of connecting with people….Without any specific agenda.
Say hello to people (men and women). Engage them. Make conversation. Take an interest in their lives. You may become friends or you may never see each other again.
Will everyone want to talk to you? No. But usually that won’t have anything to do with what they think of you—it’s more likely to do with what they think of themselves.
Plus, there are fundamental techniques you can use to make yourself more successful and connecting with people. Let’s face it: Humans aren’t that complicated. Connecting with them isn’t a mystery.
A great place to start is Dale Carnegie’s “Six Ways to Make People Like You” from How to Win Friends & Influence People:
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- Talk in terms of the others person’s interests.
- Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.
And now, in the spirit of connection, I have two favors to ask:
- Please leave a comment below and let me know what you thought. Anything I missed? Any tips you want to share?
- Then, please send this article to one friend who might find it helpful.
Thanks for your help! Cheers!
Note: some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links, meaning if you buy the books through the link I get a small commission (at no extra charge to you). But I would recommend these books regardless.