I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Matthew Rodriguez for an article in SELF that’s titled The Grown-Ass Man’s Guide to Making and Keeping Friends. One major takeaway from reading this, as well as a panel I had been on titled Male Mental Health & Wellbeing Awareness was how many guys are very isolated–and how that isolation can be devastating for our mental and physical health. But how do we go about making friends as adult?
We need support systems.
Again, we really need support systems.
The plural of ‘systems’ is important because if our only support is your partner, if indeed you have a partner, it’s just too much of a burden on them. Finding ways, no matter how introverted we are, for expanding our support network and making friends is essential to our mental health.
What Are the Lowest Stakes Toward Making Friends?
So, you’re probably thinking–Yes, yes, okay, but ‘How?’
Making friends is not as easy as it was when you were sitting together for a whole year in First Grade, or when your best friend is on your soccer team or plays in the school band with you OR lives in the dorm room down the hall (someone once told me they called dorm life as having ‘insta-friends’ and this was long before Instagram (or any social media for that matter…)).
How to go about this? The article gives some possible steps.
First off, if meeting new people and making friends brings up any anxiety at all, you can start with having the stakes be as low as possible. Try to find small ways of connecting with others that start with something that you already enjoy and know someone else enjoys too. Maybe it’s Settlers of Catan, maybe it’s football. But if you can start doing this (over a game night in one of the many board game meetups or when you’re sitting at your local sports bar) you’ll be planting seeds of connection.
You’ll get to know someone else through this and as you do try to take a risk: “Let me ask you a question, does it take 20 minutes for you to get your 4-year-old to put on her shoes before school?” or “What dating apps did you use before you met your partner/husband/wife?”
Maybe those questions are still too overwhelming. What type of question would be the lowest risk you can think of to start making friends? Remember that we’ll all have our own comfort level with this.
If doing that is too much, start where you are internally: Recognize in yourself when you are showing up as the man you want to be seen as instead of the man you are. Maybe you want to be seen as having the most respectful kids in the world, that you are having mind blowing sex every night, or that setting boundaries with your intrusive parents is a piece of cake. Just notice in your body when you’re pulled to have the Ideal You show up instead of the actual you. Don’t make any changes yet–just notice what this is doing for you. What is it helping you avoid when it comes to making friends?
Realize that the more you create this sense of who you are for your others, you’ll quickly realize that people aren’t becoming friends with you–just the cardboard cutout of a person. This can only lead to more loneliness, anxiety (to keep the lie up!), and ultimately sadness/depression–or just plain exhaustion.
The unknown secret is that the thing you’re feeling, that negative thought you’re having, your reason for going to therapy–or staying away from therapy–is not something only you feel. We need to understand that we are not alone.
So what’s a step you’d like to take this week toward making friends–or just establishing a connection? Let me know how it goes!
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York, New Jersey, Virginia and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been providing counseling for men and their families for over 10 years. Justin wrote a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity f or many years and can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, and fatherhood.