Late in my twenties, I had a crisis of identity. One that revolved less around who I was, and more around who I was hanging out with. More specifically, it revolved around the question, “If I were to get married today, who would be my groomsmen?” Even though I have seen other wedding parties that threw gender narratives out the window, there was a strong inclination in my head that these people needed to be male. I started thinking about the criteria these men would have: intelligent, mature, loyal, funny, relaxed, and what I came later to understand as vulnerable (at that time, I just called it “chill”).
I looked at the males around me, and none of them fit the bill.
The funny thing was that these ideas of a male group dynamic came before I started any research or any work in the human services. This was an innate feeling, one that came naturally and strongly. Now, please don’t mistake this as a form of hegemonic masculinity, claiming that all men need this or want this. Masculinity is fluid, intersectional, and different for all males. I can’t also be certain that these intense feelings I had were a result of watching movies like Fight Club or The Sandlot. But the feeling was there, that there was something I missed and something I craved. This want of a brotherhood.
I believe if you talk to a lot of men, they will identify a theme revolving around true, real, male friendships. In fact, it’s one of the most common themes in the males I have spoken to in the podcast. Many of them have talked about their own personal relationships with friends they have gone into business with (Mike Payne), friends that were their best men (Spencer Clarke), or finding a lack of friendship when they became a dad (Chris Corley). Not only that, it is a researched fact that an abundance of male friendships has been shown to increase our mental health, and a lack decreases it. Not with friends that were just hang out friends. The friends had to be people you could open up to. This want of brotherhood seems to be internal and almost necessary to achieve your full potential as a man.
The males that I identified who had a strong male cohort had the advantage that they either grew up with these guys or found them by other means (eg. Boy Scouts, band camp, sports, etc.). In other words, forms of intention create brotherhoods, specifically in groups we engage with as young boys. These brotherhoods have similar features:
- Males engaged in shared, goal orientated activities
- Presence of a mentor or mentors (regardless of gender)
- Initiation, or point of entry
- Codes of conduct/honor
Now, keep in mind that the same features found in healthy brotherhoods can be found in things like drug gangs or other unhealthy gatherings (the Klu Klux Klan, for instance). Not only that, if you miss out on these forms of brotherhood when you are younger (either from lack of access, finances, or even want), it is much harder to engage in them when you’re an adult. More barriers appear when you step out of organized social places, like school or college, places where connection is made easier and like minded groups appear without much trying.
As for me, when I was in college or university I didn’t try hard to be a part of a like-minded group. I had my friends, I had my girlfriend, and I thought I was set. However, my social situation changed when my girlfriend and I broke up. I felt like I had lost important friends, and my only avenue for connection was the people at my work – the aforementioned males that didn’t fit the bill.
Brotherhood can come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but the way you come upon that brotherhood is the most important.
Brotherhood can come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but the way you come upon that brotherhood is the most important. The first step is to find out more about yourself:
- What are your interests? Are they flexible? Are you learning them, or are you an expert?
- What are your points of entry for friendship? Is going for a coffee or a beer something that you like? Or do you want your friendships to be active?
- What are your non-negotiables, the ideas, the values that you have that will not be bent or broken? Basically, what are your boundaries?
The next step is the hardest: get yourself out there. Look at websites or places where people hang out and see what’s happening in your area. Is there a Meet Up for something you’re loving? Is there a book club? Is there a sports league? Video game tournament?
If there isn’t one in your area or town, why not start one yourself? Invite five of the males you want to commit more time to and ask them all to do something unique, active and engaging. For example, ask them to go for a hike. Ask them to go camping or on a canoe trip. Ask them to play in a mini soccer tournament, or go for a bike ride. Start a book club, or a movie club. Commit to it, and ask others to commit as well. One person can decide the activity and everyone else can be on board, then the next month another person can decide. Be committed and be intentional, with the goal to have fun and connect.
The goal here is entry into friendship, because brotherhood doesn’t just come from shared interests. It comes from a state of comfort and a feeling of being valued by a person or people. Real connections are made when we shed the identity that people say we have, and embrace the identity that we have within ourselves. Not only that, but also by embracing the identities that other males share with you, however flawed they may be. Real connections are made in the moments between what you’re supposed to be doing, not in the activity itself.