I know you, you know me, but what does that make us? Facebook has changed the meaning of the word friend and I am one of its victims. Some people have more than five hundred “friends” in their social network and it makes me wonder what happened to the word acquaintance? Facebook developers must have seen this as a problem, because they created the “top friends” application so we could all distinguish those we really know from those we rarely talk to. Thankfully, that fad has faded.
I have always envied my wife's relationships with her friends. They have a sense of longing for each other that spans the many miles that separate them. Each year they plan two or three "Girl's Weekends" and try their best to stay connected. They remind me of something C.S. Lewis wrote: "Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, 'sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.'”
I, like many men, have difficulties in the area of friendship. Oh, I have friends, but I don't spend time with them. We don't call each other on the phone very often and I sometimes am far too satisfied with reports from conversations our wives will have with each other. I might try giving the excuse that having young children makes getting together difficult, but Amy's example nullifies that rationale. Perhaps it's my extreme tendency toward linear thinking that gets in the way. Linear thinkers aren’t good plate spinners, and my “friend” plate is often the one that gets neglected.
Men are not all bad at friendship. Some men have insecure wives who feel threatened by their husband’s male friendships. They feel unattractive or undesirable if their husbands want to spend time elsewhere. Other men have wives who are very demanding. For them every spare moment must be cast into home maintenance or some other project. These men would not dream of sitting down and having a conversation with a friend at home for fear of glares and stares.
But, far more commonly, men just plain keep to themselves. They have some shallow work relationships but by and large the "island" mentality is alive and well. If you asked their wives they would tell you they even try to encourage their husbands to develop deeper friendships.
Most men don’t relate to each other the way women do. Hour long phone conversations between men who live in the same town are rare (thank goodness). We talk best when doing something kinesthetic. For example, some of my best memories with my friend Blain are talking while grilling hotdogs on our rickety old porch in Nanticoke; talking while testing a camp stove late at night on his patio; and laughing while chopping firewood here at my home in New Jersey.
I think many men are content substituting companionship for friendship. They view golfing in silence or watching a football game together as quality friend time. If asked what they talked about while they spent two or four hours together they reply, “Not much.” I do not begrudge such men their happiness. I just know it's not what I'm looking for.
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