Readers Note: This article was originally posted in January 2020
Never Assume You’re The Only One
I don’t have time — I’m doing just fine on my own.
These are the words many men will tell themselves and others when it comes to their need for friendships with other men. Men who live with this sense of bravado are called a “Lone Ranger.” This idea is based on a TV show from the 1950s by the same name. The “Lone Ranger” concept came back as a movie featuring Johnny Depp in 2013. I will leave it up to you to decide which was better (hint: it wasn’t the movie).
Here’s the problem with men who want to be a Lone Ranger — even the Lone Ranger had Tonto as his friend.
FRIENDSHIPS ARE BETTER FOR YOU
In the age of social media, where people seem to be more connected than ever before, it is remarkable how lonely we are.
In a report published by Global News, men tend to have fewer close friendships as they age. Studies show this has a direct impact on our mental health. In this same report, John Ogrodniczuk (Director of Psychotherapy at University of British Columbia) said, “Men tend to not have deep friendships in the way that many women do, which denies them the opportunity to share deeply personal and emotionally sensitive information with others. Because of this, many men can end up feeling lonely, even though they may indicate that they have friends in their lives.” He went on to further say that “loneliness is one of the most frequent stressors in men’s lives.”
Dr. Vivek Murthy wrote an article for Harvard Business Review, where he said loneliness could be “associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.”
In the United Kingdom, loneliness has been identified as such a significant issue that in 2017, they established a Minister for Loneliness.
LEARNING FROM JESUS
For those of us who do not believe we need close friendships, I want to encourage you to learn from Jesus. He surrounded Himself with men who would become His close friends. How do we know this? Well, in His most challenging moment on earth, He brought a few men with Him into the Garden to watch and pray with Him. When He was on the cross, He asked one of His friends to care for His mom after He died. These are deeply personal moments requiring a sense of trust in a few people who are close to you.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS
For most of the past two decades, I have spent my life trying to teach men to surround themselves with other men as friends. The reality is this — it’s hard to find men who want to have deep friendships where you can be honest and vulnerable about your life. I have found it very challenging to find men who will take the initiative to hang out with me for no apparent reason other than to have fun together. On top of this, there is an extra layer where I know it’s crucial not just to have a friend I can have fun with, but who can also keep pointing me back to Jesus. It is difficult to find men who want to invest the emotional, physical, and spiritual energy it takes to build trust, become vulnerable, have each other’s backs, and stand together.
LIFE GOES THROUGH DIFFERENT SEASONS
When I was a teenager, I had plenty of friendships — or so I thought. When my life went through its darkest moments, nobody wanted to talk about it and quite often avoided me. It was overwhelming at times, and I had very few places to go with that pain.
In my 20’s, there were a couple of men I had strong friendships with. However, as we all had children and changed jobs, then there was a distance that naturally grew between us. It was challenging to maintain the same level of friendship with each other.
When my work responsibilities increased, I spent more time traveling. For those of you who travel a lot for work, I feel your pain. Sitting in airports and hotel rooms are some of the loneliest moments in life. When I was home, all I wanted to do was spend time with my family.
I know of other men who have faced incredible loneliness as they move to retirement and are even more isolated from people when there is no common bond of a job to do.
DON’T GIVE UP
The easy thing for a man to do is give up any sense of hope in finding these types of friendships. We will tend to invest our energy in places where we feel like we are having success rather than some of the more difficult areas where we need success.
Sometimes, we have been burned by a close friend, and we don’t want to go through that kind of painful experience again. Your answer to being burned by a friend should not be to give up on all friendships.
Friends are human, and they will let you down (even Jesus discovered that). Staying in isolation is not healthy for you or for other men who are also lonely.
As difficult as it can be to find close friends, it is worth the effort. Here are some steps you can take:
Take the time to ask God to send some men into your life who you can be good friends with. God cares about these things — He cares about you not being alone.
Put yourself in different environments where you can begin to get to know some guys (or even develop friendships with other couples if you are married). This connection could be around hobbies, a small group at church, your kids’ sports environment, or a shared interest or mission.
FOR NO REASON
As you begin to develop acquaintances in these environments, send a text or ask your new friend if he (or he and his wife) would like to get together for dinner, go for coffee, etc. The big idea is connecting for no apparent reason but to get to know each other better.
SEEK TO SERVE THEM
Ask if there is anything you can be praying about for them. When they tell you something — pray for them. Follow up with them by text or phone or in-person to check in and see how it is going. Be a good listener — let them vent if they need to. If you can, help them out by reminding them what God says about the situation. Sometimes, you may need to be the answer to their prayers by doing something to help them out. Friendships are forged when you show a commitment to serving the other person in some way.
TEST THE WATERS
Talk to them about something going on in your life. Ask for their advice (do they give you godly advice, or is it something else?). Ask for them to pray for you as you work through this. Watch to see if they start to avoid you or check in on you. Listen to see if you hear about them talking about your needs with someone else. This will tell you if you have a friend you can trust or if there is a limit to how deep the friendship will go.
As you build the friendship, you will reach a point where you know you are available to each other at any time. When I am at my lowest moments, I have a couple of men I know I can trust at any time of the day. Those friendships did not just happen — they were cultivated and developed over a long time. But this is a two-way street. As God brings your friend to mind, send them a text or give them a call to see if they are doing OK and let them know you appreciate them and are standing with them.
Some of the loneliest men I have ever met are some of the most well-known people I have ever met. Never assume you are the only lonely man. The only way we will break out of the loneliness cycle is when we all start pursuing the kind of friendships God wants us to have.