I was having a hard time of it. Really struggling to keep my head on straight and emotionally spent. A friend called just to see how I was doing.
He did not share his opinions.
He did not try to give me advice or win me over to seeing things his way.
He did not start talking about all the things my situation reminded him of.
He did not start talking about other people.
He did not do much talking at all.
In that moment, what he did not do defined as much of what I consider authentic friendship as what he did do.
So what then did he do, this friend?
My second sentence from the top is a giveaway.
He just called to see how I was doing--- with no other agenda.
After he asked the question, he listened. Really listened. So well I could tell he was not quietly constructing the next thing he was going to say. He was present for me.
Many men today have a difficult time doing this. I’ve spent years learning it and am committed to getting better at it for the rest of my life. I’ve come to see not doing it can leave me and other men feeling isolated, lonely, friendless and depressed. Learning and practicing this has provided me with untold benefits, surprises and treasures. You may have heard the expression, “if you want friends, be one.” Well here is a pretty good place to begin. When was the last time you called up a man friend just to see how he was doing….and then listened?
With the kinds of training and conditioning boys and men receive that pits them against each other in the competition and comparison game, the homophobia that only more recently is beginning to ease up in some cultures, and the epidemic problem of depression in both young and older men, men are often challenged to find models of true friendship, and further to create and sustain their own. Many men carry a big load of hurt from absent, neglectful, emotionally distant or abusive fathers or father figures. And from an early age we’ve been separated from other boys and men by ruthless competition. It’s no surprise that many men only feel comfortable being close and vulnerable with women, or more particularly with one woman. That dependency comes with it’s own problems for both men and women.
What do I mean by “true friendship” with other men?
I’ll begin with two elements that the great American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson believed formed the backbone of his closest relationships with men. I believe they form mine as well.
Emerson said that these two elements were equally important.
“One is truth. A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and so equal that I may drop even those undergarments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another….
…The other element of friendship is tenderness. We are holden to every sort of tie, by blood, by pride, by fear, by hope, by lucre, by lust, by hate, by admiration, by every circumstance and badge and trifle—but we can scarce believe that so much character can subsist in another as to draw us by love. Can another be so blessed and we so pure that we can offer him tenderness? When a man becomes dear to me I have touched the goal of fortune.”
There are most certainly as many ways to express friendship as there are actual friendships, and the language with which we express our truth and tenderness can vary in form.
I so appreciate the work of Gary Chapman and his series of books beginning with The Five Love Languages. Gary talks about how people have different preferences for the way they both receive and give love in relationships. The way they prefer to receive and get most filled up is generally the way they deliver it to others, usually not recognizing that their friends or partner may have a different preference. The five languages are:
Acts of Service
Words of Appreciation
My top two love language preferences that are pretty much guaranteed to fill me up are Quality Time and Words of Appreciation.
One of my great passions in life is to spend quality time with friends, which can range from a half hour phone call to a multi-week outdoor adventure. Because it is so difficult for many men to initiate that, I often find myself to be the one to do so and am so thrilled and grateful when others initiate, even if I have to decline an invitation to talk in the moment or get together right away.
The important thing to understand here is that when you learn the love language preferences of your friend, new or old, you are taking another step closer to true friendship by speaking their language instead of just your own.
For example, if I get that my friend’s preference for receiving love is helping him work on his car, house or boat, (Acts of Service) I offer to help. It’s also a pretty good fit as my preference is to spend Quality Time, which could really be doing most any activity as long as we are hanging out together.
There are many more aspects to the art of friendship and many reasons friendship is so important to me and others. My hope is that every man will in his life have close true friends, not to do what he can do for himself, but to reflect the best in him in order for him to be his best.
Another man I respect shares this about true friendship.
With every true friendship we build more firmly the foundations on which the peace of the whole world rests. --Ghandi
Like what you’ve read here? Let the author know about your interest in the forthcoming book:
Lone Ranger No More: A Guy’s Guide to Making, Keeping and Letting Go of Friends
By Randy Crutcher