Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Brief Essay About Male Friendships

Right – big subject…

…and one which I more than most could write for hours about. Not because I am male and have friends, helpful though that is, but because I can always write for hours…

…so I’ll try to be succinct, if only by my standards.

In early June, I wrote quite candidly about how I find it hard to talk about ‘friends’ in my new neck of the woods. I say ‘new’: I’ve been here since 1999 so maybe I ought to rephrase that. Only… well exactly, that’s half the problem…

…anyway, I acknowledged ‘guilt’ and a tendency of mine to ‘overthink’, although I don’t actually recognise the latter as a downside. So let’s take my relationship with Jon Bonner as an example: I’ve known the guy for five years now, we’ve spent many Sunday afternoons in one of our church’s House Groups discussing both personal and biblical matters, he’s helped me out with lifts on several occasions… and yet I found it hard to refer to him as a ‘friend’ (in the word’s real meaning, not the Facebook sense). Why? What was blocking me?

I think I may have figured it, folk! And I am unashamed to list this as a predominantly male feature. Apologies to any ladies (or indeed men) who may feel offended, I just think it’s a fundamental component of the dynamic of male friendships that is not always present between women. And that’s not a judgement: it’s not about good or bad, just fact. As subjectively perceived by me, anyway.

When I think about the guys whom I consider true friends, they all have something in common. I could bump into them tomorrow, having last seen them either today or thirty years ago, and begin a conversation with those famous words:
“Do you remember when we…?”

sits back and awaits mixed bag of head-nodding and head-shaking

Male friendships are, in my opinion, based on shared experiences. Some good, some bad, but all shared. Not all involve alcohol, though if I say ‘Prague’ some friends will smirk. My best and oldest friendships are founded on shared concerts, matches, trips, school years… on something visual as well as emotional, on something that, whether it was a single instance or something that was repeated over time, means we can look each other in the eye and think “Yes, we shared that”.

I should at this point stress that, in saying this, I wish not suggest that all female friendships are based on gossip and idle chat. But, whereas I see Karen build friendships at the school gates, I struggle to do that. I build relationships, yes: but when I apply my own F-test, they often fail. Unless… exactly, unless there is a “Do you remember when we…” moment.

What about male-female friendships, I hear you clamour. Good point, I say. I am blessed with cross-gender friendships that go back decades, so I will give it some thought

 * thinks *

…and do you know what, when I think of those friends my mind does not instantly seek to pick out specific moments. When I see them, conversations are far less likely to begin with the “DYRWW” question. So in my own personal, unscientific, not statistically significant experience, the “DYRWW” factor is one fer tblokes.
With Jon Bonner, pace-setter and friend,
after the 2012 Bristol Half Marathon.

This brings us back to Jon. On September 9, we ran a half-marathon-matching (in fact, -exceeding) 22.24km. The run came to an end with a sprint down Portishead High Street and subsequent high fives. For me, that did more to cristallise the friendship than all those previous conversations, enriching as they had been, could do. Then, three weeks and two further training runs later, we ran most of the Bristol Half Marathon together and Jon, having paced me to my sub-2hr target (1h49’54”, since you ask) was there at the finishing line when I crossed it a few minutes after him. As well as the hugs and high fives there was an instant and unspoken shared appreciation of what we had achieved, of what it had taken and what it meant to us. And, whereas a friendship needs words and discussions to embellish it, to keep it fresh, those original foundations are unspoken.
Well that’s my take on it, anyway! I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago. I didn’t realise I’d finished it but when I revisited it there wasn’t anything to add. So I hope you enjoy it: me, I’m leaving the country for the day tomorrow, so I’ll miss the backlash. Just… please let me back in, eh? Or I might have to tackle the follow-on consideration (along the lines of can you have a true friendship with someone youve met on a Social Media site but never seen in the flesh?) from far, far away
then again, physical location hardly matters in this day and age. Or does it?

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