How To Make Friends (In Real Life)
Illustration by Mr Giordano Poloni
Four ways to increase your circle of friends.
A 2015 study by the Movember Foundation, the charity behind the annual fundraising event in which men grow moustaches for the month of November, found that some 2.5 million men in the UK do not have a single friend they could turn to for help or advice in a crisis. The same study also discovered men’s chances of friendlessness almost trebles between their early twenties and late middle age, with married men less likely than single men to say they have friends to turn to outside the home. What’s wrong with us?
The truth is that platonic friendships between men are often hampered by our socio-cultural hang-ups. Needing a friend implies a lack of independence. Talking and sharing are seen as somehow effeminate. Tenderness is often derided for being that little bit less than platonic. If that seems like an overstatement, look how we commonly use the portmanteau “bromance” to affectionately mock close friendships between men, or how in hip-hop culture open admiration for another man is sometimes appended with the phrase “no homo”.
All of which would be mildly amusing if it weren’t set against the context of a 2015 study by the charity Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably), which showed that four in 10 men have thought about taking their own lives at some point. Clearly, we all need friends, be they football friends, work friends, or just friend friends. Friendship, after all, is one of the basic human needs. So, here’s some friendly advice on how to make new friends (and not just the Facebook kind).
Be comfortable with vulnerability
“If you want some new friends, you’re going to have to actively go out there to try and make some, and that makes you vulnerable, because you’re saying, ‘I don’t have all the friends I need,’” says Mr Oliver Burkeman, columnist for The Guardian newspaper and author of The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. “The counterpoint to that is once you cross that border and let yourself be vulnerable, you often find that the harsh judgment you feared does not happen. Not because people are especially nice, but because they’re so wrapped up in their own insecurities they simply don’t have the time to think about yours.”
Strategic admissions of vulnerability can also be very flattering. “It’s called the Benjamin Franklin effect, meaning that if you ask a favour of someone, like their advice on something important to you, it makes them feel like a trusted expert and a good person.”
“Men tend to conduct their relationships shoulder to shoulder, whereas with women it’s face to face,” says Professor Geoffrey L Greif of Maryland University and author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, based on interviews with 400 men and 100 women and one of the largest studies to date. “This means, in general, men go to the pub to watch the game or take part in some kind of sport. Women tend not to need a reason to meet up to increase friendship. They will meet up for coffee to just talk. Men tend to need an activity as a precursor to pursuing a friendship."
Try taking a night class or joining a club in order to meet new people. Or, if you’ve met someone you like, rather than just asking if they want to hang out, you might feel more comfortable inviting them out for a round of golf or some other kind of activity that you think you’ll both find fun. A shared activity helps to break the ice and create a shared history, which will hopefully lead to friendship.
Be loyal and trustworthy
The old adage, “To make a friend, be a friend” is more relevant than ever. “Men like people who treat them honestly,” says Professor Greif. “They need to know that their friends have their back and will stick up for them when things aren’t going well. They want their friends to be straight-talking and trustworthy. For instance, if I open up and tell you my secrets or reveal my weaknesses, I need to feel that you won’t make fun of me.”
“Friendship occurs through a reciprocal admission of vulnerability,” says Mr Burkeman. What makes other people like us is not qualities such as intelligence or good looks, but our ability to share with them secrets that, if revealed, will result in our humiliation. Friendship flows from trust and acceptance.
Try not to compete all the time
Who can pull the most birds? Who’s got the funniest banter? Who’s the cleverest? Men are socialised to compete with one another, which is fine, but that shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow friendship. “Competition isn’t friendship, and it sometimes makes it difficult for men to reach out to one another,” says Professor Greif. “Try to get past it.”