You’d think that strong relationships would be at an all-time high in an age where social connections are more available than ever. So why is it that close male friendships are at a historic low?
Recently, a study from the Survey Centre on American Life discovered that the percentage of men with at least six close friends fell by half since 1990, from 55 percent to 27 percent. The study also found that the percentage of men without any close friends jumped from 3 percent to 15 percent, a fivefold increase.
This Great Male Friendship Recession comes as no shock to ministries like Impactus. It has been evident that men are becoming and feeling increasingly isolated and alone.
But what options does a man have? And is it really that big of a deal?
The Bible is clear – we were made for relationship. Those haunting words from God in the very beginning are a good enough reminder that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Daniel Im has said that isolation is the “go-to move” that Satan uses to stop us from reaching our full potential in Christ.
Is there a way to reverse this male trend? How can we see these Friendship Recession numbers go up and to the right?
Here are three key ways to help build strong connections with the friends you have:
1. Struggle Together
One powerful way to foster deep connections among men is by experiencing difficulties together (Galatians 6:2). When you struggle together, you grow together.
Or take sports and hobbies, for example. Engaging in team sports, challenging hikes, or physically demanding tasks can bond men through shared effort and triumph. The struggle, sweat, and wins and losses can help you as you accomplish something together.
Pursuing a hobby or passion project that involves mastering a skill can also bring great connection. Whether it’s woodworking, coding, or cooking, learning a new skill puts everyone on the same level playing field. Especially online, there are many great ways to connect with like-minded men through groups, cohorts, and online communities.
Proverbs 17:17 reminds us that deep friendship is both needed and built for adversity. When was the last time you struggled with someone?
2. Take Initiative
Male friendships rise and fall based on initiation. Often, like two people who arrive at a 4-way stop sign at the same time from different directions, men often wait for someone else to make the first move. Unfortunately, this leaves many friendships stalled at the starting line.
Breaking the ice and initiating a conversation can be intimidating, but it’s a vital step to combat the male friendship recession. It is also an essential part of being a man! Christ’s example is of a man who took initiative and went first.
I can’t help but think of Christ’s invitational nature, inviting people into a relationship with Him seemingly wherever He found Himself. Whether it was guys in a fishing boat (Matthew 4:18-22), a petite seeker who climbed a tree (Luke 19:1-10), or a rich man struggling to find God’s way (Mark 10:17-22) – Jesus embodied “invitation” and we can too.
You can live an invitational life.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to acquaintances or coworkers for coffee, a meal, or a shared activity. Make the call. Send the text. Resist the inner voice that says, “That’s weird!” or “What if they say ‘no’?” Be the guy who does what everyone else is waiting for.
3. Practicing Vulnerability
Lastly, the ability to be vulnerable is often underestimated in male friendships, but it’s vital for establishing authenticity and trust. No friendship can be deep without vulnerability. Here’s a couple of ways you can do that:
a) Go first.
Lead the way by sharing your own story, thoughts, feelings, and challenges, and encourage others to do the same. Be ready to listen when your friend begins to share, and whatever you do, do not poke fun or condescend if they show emotion.
b) Don’t believe the lie.
It’s impossible to read the Gospels and not notice how Jesus was in touch with His emotions and vulnerability. He wept when His friend Lazarus died (John 11:35), He flipped tables when God’s Temple was being corrupted (Matthew 21:12-13), and He anxiously pleaded for His cup of suffering to be taken away (Luke 22:39-44), to name a few.
Jesus was unafraid of being vulnerable – with His Father and His disciples.
Break free from the old way of masculinity that discourages the expression of emotions. Showing vulnerability doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. In fact – some of the strongest people you will meet are those who are willing to be honest about what is going on below the surface.
The Great Male Friendship Recession is a real challenge, but it’s not a death sentence. By embracing shared hardships, taking initiative, and practicing vulnerability, men can reverse the trend and learn to establish meaningful, lasting friendships with other men, finding strength, support, and care as they do.