Being able to form strong bonds with other men is often essential to protecting a man’s well-being. The problem, however, is that a lot of men struggle to form deep, emotional, and meaningful connections with other men in their lives, including those people they love or care about the most, such as their father or best friends.
In contemporary society, men find it easy to bond in an active or competitive way, whether that’s in the form of sports, martial arts, the military, competitive games, or outdoor activities. Men will also traditionally bond in ways that confirm their masculine identity, such as partying and drinking together, and in a business setting.
However, not all men are passionately interested in these kinds of pursuits. They may want to form deep, genuine connections with men that don’t depend on masculine norms like competitiveness, winning, dominance, violence, primacy of work, or pursuit of status. And there’s nothing wrong with having these preferences. They don’t make you any less of a man. They just mean you might have a certain personality type or inclination that attract you to some activities and not others. For example, if you’re a highly sensitive man, you may prefer quiet one-on-one conversations to partying with your friends in a loud and busy bar or nightclub.
Fortunately, there are all kinds of social situations and contexts that allow for these kinds of conversations. Here are some examples of non-traditional ways that men can bond.
Going Out to Eat
The bro-date or man-date is extremely underrated. They are crucial to any bromance. Two guys might feel uncomfortable going out together for lunch or dinner, unless (God, forbid) someone thinks they’re a gay couple. Which really goes to show how unhelpful and ridiculous masculine norms are. One of the 11 masculine norms that men feel expected to conform to is disdain for homosexuals. The way this manifests is that many men will avoid behavior, interactions, or relationships that – in their eyes or anyone else’s – might be perceived as or mocked for being ‘gay’.
Women don’t really have to contend with this issue. Two straight female friends don’t meet up for dinner and worry about being perceived as gay, nor are they likely to care if they were. This is a generalization, of course, but the masculine norm of disdain for homosexuals really does affect the kinds of relationships men have with each other. Which is a shame.
There’s nothing wrong, effeminate, or abnormal about two guys going out for a meal. Yet, if you’re ever in a restaurant and see two people together, it’s far more common to see two female friends than to see two male friends catching up with each other over some food.
The benefits of having a one-on-one meal with a male peer or friend can’t be overstated. Often, when men are in groups, it becomes difficult to have open, honest, and heartfelt chats because the dynamics change. Men are more likely to be competitive and jokey when they’re amongst a group of guys. If there’s something you want to get off your chest, it may seem inappropriate to do it in this kind of context.
When it’s just two guys hanging out, on the other hand, men may find it easier to talk candidly about their emotional life. This is especially true for introverted men, who may prefer one-on-one conversations to larger group interactions since the former more easily allow for deep, meaningful conversations. Introverted men thrive on these types of conversations and may feel more drained by and less interested in surface-level or frivolous topics. (Which is not to say that introverts are a boring bunch who shy away from banter, of course.)
So, if there’s a friend or male peer you’d like to have a more honest dialogue with, make plans to eat somewhere together. Turn that into a regular thing and you can build a male bond that can act as an extremely crucial and unique part of your support network.
Road Trips or Long Car Journeys
A long car journey can be an ideal time for men to connect, as it’s a situation where it’s just two men. There are no outside influences you have to worry about judging you. You have complete privacy. Also, a lot of guys feel more comfortable speaking about deep issues when they’re not looking at each other since it can be a bit unnerving to have someone look at when you’re exposing your vulnerability or tender emotions. Being in a car allows you both to look straight ahead and talk. When you’re in a car together, you don’t have an excuse to escape. Many men find that their most serious conversations with other men, including their fathers, take place during car journeys.
Traveling or Going on Vacation
Traveling with a guy friend can be another way to really get to know each other. Often, when you travel with a friend or go on vacation with them, that’s the true test of friendship, as you will get to intimately know each others’ quirks, tastes, and eccentricities (for better or worse!)
When it’s just the two of you traveling together, you’re going to spend a lot of time in each other’s company – certainly for longer periods than you would ever hang out back home. If you don’t drive each other crazy abroad, then, hopefully, you can form an even stronger bond. The unforgettable sights, activities, mishaps, and chance encounters you both experience can be something you both cherish and look back on fondly together. Think of a guy who you honestly think would make a great travel partner and start planning an awesome trip together.
It can be difficult for men who are struggling with their mental health to reach out and seek professional help. But a lot of men find it’s easier to speak to a male therapist because they feel they will truly understand their struggles as a man; how their mental health issues have become so tightly wrapped up with modern notions of masculinity.
The bond between a therapist and client can often be a very close one. Which is unsurprising, after all, since the client is bearing their soul and revealing their innermost secrets. In order to do this, a man has to feel he can trust the therapist he is speaking to, and feel assured that the therapist genuinely cares about his hardship.
The advantage of talking to a male therapist, as a man, is that it may help you to form a genuine male bond when, perhaps, you feel this is something you are lacking. Opening up to a male therapist can help you to realize that it doesn’t have to be humiliating or embarrassing to reveal your vulnerable side to another man. The therapeutic relationship can allow you to see that men are entirely capable of responding to your suffering with empathy and compassion.
Your therapist is not your friend, of course, although relations may be friendly and lighthearted. What your therapist may teach you, however, is that it’s okay to trust other men when it comes to sharing intimate details about your life and that it can be an invaluable thing to have a man in your life who you can have a heart-to-heart with.
Support groups, whether they’re male-only or not, are another sanctioned setting in which men can be totally open with each other, without the fear of being judged or put down. When men feel a burning desire to get something painful off their chest, they may grapple with the worry that, if they tell another man, or a male peer finds out, that it will forever ruin their male pride. Once the dirty secret is out in the open, it can never be a secret again.
This worry, nonetheless, is often misplaced. While some insecure and narrow-minded men may criticize you for showing vulnerability, true friends wouldn’t do that. One way to get over this worry and feel comfortable expressing your emotions is by attending a support group. Whatever your problem, be it related to your mental health, drinking, or drug use, there will be other men in the room who are also struggling. And they will try to understand the turmoil that you’re going through, offering an empathetic ear, their life experience, advice, and support. Ron Tannebaum, the co-founder of intherooms.com, a social networking site for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol, said:
“12-step meetings. It doesn’t get any more real than that, and I’ve never felt closer to men than I have in those rooms. Throughout my life I thought I had strong male relationships, but it was only when I entered recovery that I found out what true male bonding was all about. I, by the grace of God, found men who reached out to me and taught me how to become a real man. A man with integrity, a loyal, trustworthy and monogamous husband, a good father and role model, brother, friend, employer, sponsor and a responsible member of society. My male friends are the cornerstone of my success in life, they helped me become the person I always wanted to be, me.”
Men’s support groups, in particular though, may be ideal spaces for men to open up about their emotions. In a male-only space, men are probably more comfortable being vulnerable, and less likely to ‘man up’, compared to if women were present. A mixed gender group could make you feel a bit more awkward about expressing more intimate details or discussing specific topics, such as relationships.
Deep down, men want to feel that they are understood, especially when it comes to their masculinity, which is why male-only mental health support groups may be best suited to this discussion. There is likely to be a widespread understanding of how gender impacts mental health. This helps men to know they’re not alone, which can feel like a huge burden has been lifted. It’s a relief to know you’re not suffering in isolation.
Fred Rabinowitz is a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California and he has outlined some of the benefits of men’s groups. For example, he argues that male support groups help men to trust other men again. In the competitive, macho culture that we live in, men may find it hard to connect with each other in an emotional and non-judgemental manner. But in a men’s support group, you can talk about who you really are. In this unique kind of environment, you can drop all of your personas and facades and find acceptance from other men.
Find Your Tribe
If you’re just yearning to connect with another man who shares the same interests as you, then consider joining a group dedicated to that interest. These are usually organized on Facebook or on sites like Meetup.com. You may be passionate about all kinds of hobbies or interests, such as debating, writing, books, art, philosophy, science, politics, and spirituality. By joining a group based around a common interest, you can meet men who you can connect with easily and quickly.
Most guys love electronics, gadgets, and technology. For this reason, a lot of men have some of their best bonding experiences when talking about tech-related stuff. Whether you’re straight, gay, or bi, there’s a good chance you’ll have a fascination with technology. Men, after all, tend to display a natural preference for things over people, so when you have a bunch of guys surrounded by hi-tech things, it’s a chance for them to express their common interests and connect on that level.
Bonding with other men in sport may not be for you. And that’s alright. You may not be really into sports – or you might be, but perhaps interested in more solitary physical activities, such as weight lifting or running. If this applies to you, consider the above options as ways to bond with men. If you can foster these kinds of situations and relationships, then your general well-being will improve massively in the long run.