HuffingtonPost Column: Men’s Mental Health Demands Male Friendship
I wrote this piece for the HuffingtonPost. I feel strongly that many men lack the friendships they need and they should be encouraged to pursue and maintain their friends, especially when they are married or have girlfriends. Oftentimes, men drop their friends in favor of their wives or girlfriends and then have no one to turn to in a breakup or divorce.
I’ve represented hundreds of men over the past 17 years in family court and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is how vitally important it is for a man to maintain his friendship network separate from his wife’s or girlfriend’s. It’s crucial to his mental health. As important, if not more so, than good diet and exercise.
Major life changes like a breakup or a divorce are extremely stressful, and one of the best ways that humans have of relieving stress, besides being physically active, is to talk about what’s happening. That’s a hard thing for many men to do in general since they are not encouraged to share their feelings, and oftentimes lack a vocabulary to describe what they are actually experiencing. The fragile male ego is often scared to open up, especially to new friends.
This is why relationships are so important, because we develop a common vocabulary that allows us to express our thoughts and feelings in unique ways. The tone of what is said will convey deep meaning. My law partner and I have a long term, intimate knowledge of each other’s lives, I can tell by how he answers the phone, how his day is going. He knows when I’m lying to him about everything being “fine.” He can literally tell when I’ve thrown out my back by the tone of my voice.
Men need to have these relationships, but too often I’ve seen them abandon their old friends when the new love interest arrives. That’s normal, but they fail to reconnect, and that’s a bad thing. The social life starts to revolve around her friends and activities at the expense of his friends and interests. Which is fine so long as their relationship is stable and fulfilling, but when the inevitable rough spots happen, as they do in all relationships, he has nowhere to turn for support, advice, maybe just someone to vent to and not feel so alone.
Feeling alone can be devastating. It can lead to depression, and in men, that often comes out sideways as anger. While it’s far more acceptable for men to express anger amongst themselves, it is poisonous in a romantic relationship with a woman.
When a man is in pain, and has abandoned his buddies camaraderie, often the last thing he wants to do is pick up the phone and say “I’m hurting, can we go for beer so I can share my emotional angst?” This why friendships need to be maintained, and it’s in a woman’s best interest to make sure that the man in her life has a strong network of support of his male peers. The stronger a man’s network is, the more likely he is to use it, and seek out helpful advice, direction and insight versus feeling alone and depressed when a rough spot happens in their relationship.
The men I’ve shepherded through court who have been able to weather the storm the best, have a strong support network. These men are able to find connection with other men, who have been through similar situations and they don’t feel so alone.
I’ve been blessed over the years with great friends who have made the effort to keep the friendship connections alive and fresh. I have friends dating back to when we were in diapers. They have proved invaluable when I went through life’s unpredictable curve balls – a business that went under, a relationship that changed from lovers to co-parents of a dog, medical scares and the ever present challenges of being an entrepreneur. We all have good days, and bad days, but like the Bible says, “this too shall pass” the key is being able to keep your cool through it all. This is where long term friendships prove their worth, not just in helping you through the bad, but laughing about it later, and reminding you that you’ve been through worse.
If I could make one wish for everyone, it’s to maintain the friends that you have known for years, because you can’t make New Old Friends.