Throughout my life, I have appreciated women friends greatly. Most are open to talking about everything together no matter how intimate. In fact, that is the life blood of our connections, isn't it. My women friends have never failed to be supportive, funny, understanding – and always there in good times and bad.
At the same time, I have often envied men their kind of relationships, particularly when they are among strangers. No matter how much their cultural, social and economic circumstances differ, they share sports - “How 'bout them Mets” - as a common starting place. You must have noticed this too when, for example, they are stuck at airports, are having an after-work drink together or in the kitchen at a party.
My mistake, I think, has been in assuming that with time, their relationships deepen and become more personal, more like women's.
Earlier this week, I received an email from a 58-year-old,
retired freelance consultant and TGB reader who lives in Wisconsin that goes a long way toward confirming my error. The issue is something I've occasionally heard before, but dismissed too easily. Here is part of Bill's email:
“I am a man with an active and inquisitive mind, and don't give a rip about sports, hunting, drinking or being an Elk, Moose, etc. I can talk business and politics but ultimately, it becomes a bunch of men spewing their frustration, dissatisfaction (what goes unsaid is their general helplessness to change things). Aside from reading and caring for the lawn and gardens I've never really had hobbies.
“I'm happily married and envy the wonderful friendships my wife has with women. I've always found women considerably more interesting than men and that doesn't help one find groups of men to get together with.
“It seems socially inappropriate (and not particularly welcome) for me to seek out groups of women.
“I assume there are at least some other men who share the same problem, but no one talks about it.
“Any thoughts on how men can find new groups of friends?”
I wonder if some of the difficulty is generational. Without any proof whatsoever my sense, from personal experience and observation, is that younger men – in their 20s and 30s – more readily reach beyond the superficial with their male friends. But that doesn't help Bill.
By email, I consulted my wise and learned friend in England, Marian Van Eyk McCain of Elderwomanblog. She showed her partner the part of Bill's email I had quoted to her:
"He said, 'That's me!,” wrote Marian. “He struggles with the same problem: how to have the same sort of connections with male friends as I have (and he has) with women friends. We've often talked about it and it is something I've been pondering for years.”
So, Bill, there is one compadre. Too bad he is so far away. Marian continued:
“I'm remembering a conversation I had about this some years ago with a guy in the village. I'd heard someone was trying to start a men's group and I thought he and his pals might like to join. I knew they were very close and did lots of stuff together like going to the movies and to the pub and playing music.
“He asked me how would a 'men's group' be different. And when I said that they could talk about their feelings, maybe help each other with issues, mutual emotional support etc., he said: 'Men don't do it that way. We couldn't. All those things happen, but for us they happen sort of invisibly somehow, as a side effect of doing stuff together. We never actually admit it or talk about it.'"
Well, that friend of Marian's isn't helpful either. I don't believe Bill is talking about full-blown encounter sessions, beating drums in the forest and baring his soul with other men, although when personal issues come up (the kind that go so far to cement women's connections), it would be good to feel comfortable talking about them.
It is so easy for women, in the same conversation, to range among intimacies, debating politics and showing off gorgeous new shoes that I don't know the dynamics of how we do it.
As with all of us, men and women, there are fewer opportunities to meet people following retirement, but women seem to be more adept at finding simpatico friends. As Marian also said, “Yeah, Mars and Venus. Two different planets. Better believe it!!”
So today, I'm calling on the men who read Time Goes By to chime in with your thoughts on Bill's dilemma. Some personal experiences might be useful - if you guys can manage to choke them out (sorry, couldn't resist).
Women may join in too, of course, but we know I didn't need to say that.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Alzheimer's Part 11 – The Early Years: Before Alzheimer's.