The Importance of Male Friendships - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

Way too many of the men I work with do not have deep friendships. This goes for the married guys, the single guys, the new fathers and not-so-new fathers. If they are in a relationship, their closest confidant is (and it’s great that it often is) their partner/spouse/husband/wife and that’s great. 

But it’s just not enough. 

No man is an island, said John Donne, but rugged American individualism and the idea that I should be able to figure out everything on my own, has really done a number on us. A word I’m using more and more in sessions is ‘interdependence’. It’s something to strive for and it’s somewhere between 1) I am completely reliant on someone else (this idea brings up terror for most men I know) and 2) I am complete on my own and can figure out any situation. 

Again, it’s just not enough. 

There is incredible value in being vulnerable and being able to express emotions such as sadness, guilt, and fear. Some guys can do this with their partner, but find it very hard to consider showing that to a male friend. I hear lots of reasons why:

  • I don’t want to bother them
  • They’re probably very busy
  • They’ll think less of me (e.g., I’m weak)

What I find fascinating is how when I ask what they would think if a friend called them to talk about something vulnerable none of those reasons appear. They want to be there for their friend. But being the one to reach out seems impossibly hard. 

How Do I Start?

Social connections positively impact both physical and mental health. Male friendships, in particular, have been associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

I’m going to write that again because for so many people it seems counterintuitive: 

Male friendships, in particular, have been associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Consider what your life would be like if that could be the case. It may just be waiting for you after the start of one text or phone call. 

Action step: What friend would you want to hear from if they were struggling? That’s who you should reach out to this week. 

Feel free to blame me: “Hey, Sean, this therapist with a blog said to reach out to a friend about vulnerability. Isn’t that nuts? Well, do you mind if I talk about this really difficult moment I had with my five-month old [add work, family, etc. stress here]?”

Tell the person you’re not looking for suggestions. You’re not expecting them to solve your problem. You just heard it would be a good experiment to say how worried you are about well, whatever it is: your mother’s health, your partner’s work stress, your infant who you can’t get to stop crying at 2:30am. 

Male Friendships May Save You

Male friendships are too important to be underestimated. Breaking free from societal expectations and stereotypes surrounding masculinity allows men to form deep, meaningful connections that contribute to emotional resilience, stress reduction, and improved mental health. In fact, men who do this don’t just benefit themselves, but they have better relationships with partners, their children, even their parents and siblings. 

That first phone call (or if you’re a millennial or younger, text message) is probably the most difficult step.

But by fostering open communication, supporting one another through life’s challenges, and prioritizing the importance of friendship, men can build a foundation of well-being that positively impacts every aspect of their lives.

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He practices counseling in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.