Mano a Mano (a Mano)

When I was a younger man, my childhood best friend would set out on our own versions of an all-American road trip. Limited by parental allowances and money saved from summer gigs, we zigzagged from New York to New Mexico, metropolis to countryside, discovering the excitement and education that comes from travel. Once we found ourselves on empty – both fuel and funds – we’d head back home full of memories and mementos from the road. More importantly, we learned a lot about friendship and the importance of socializing with strangers and familiar faces alike.

Now in my early 30s, the dynamic for many of my friendships looks remarkably different. Relationships lead to marriages, which lead to children, careers, and obligations that have a way of making what once seemed like into false dilemmas. “It’s either my work or my personal growth.” “Either my children and significant other or my friends.” While it’s easy to fall into the trap of the “either/or,” a number of recent studies indicate that for men, we do so with greater risk to our overall well-being.

Though the digital age has brought us a click and signal away from the furthest corners of the world, an advantage in several discernible ways, another more alarming trend correlates with our digital connection. The fact is that, with our ability to constantly stay plugged in, we become increasingly disconnected from personal relationships. And oftentimes, the first relationships to meet the social guillotine are those face-to-face friendships that were once so vital to our development.

When faced with the sobering reality that, according to a study referenced by the National Institutes of Health, loneliness is as physically detrimental as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, we may not realize the dangerous game we play with our health when sacrificing social connection for our other obligations. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way.

It can be tough to confront the reality of our ability to court loneliness, especially as males. Yet, here are a few suggestions that have played a crucial role in my past and present development that may also help you reconnect, and stay connected, with your fellow male friends.

1. Start a men’s meetup

As we sat at our local dive, a close friend and fellow musician had a radical, spur-of-the-moment thought. Why not gather a bunch of guys together over food and drinks, agree on a specific topic or required reading, and let the social process flow, as we tended to do, mano-a-mano, with regular frequency?

For someone who spends a lot of time on the road, constantly interacting with new faces, I couldn’t wrap my head around that such an effective solution could also be waiting at my front door. Now a few months in, the group has taken on a diverse demographic of backgrounds and thought, anchored by the desire to share in the human experience with men of all stripes. It may be you and one other friend to start, but building a men’s social group can reap incalculable benefits, personally and in terms of society, and would certainly combat loneliness.

2. Join a sports league

As adults who are not exactly professional athletes, our bodies may now creak and groan whenever we try to do athletic feats that came naturally to us in our youth. Recently, I reconnected with a member of my collegiate tennis club whose social life, like many of my close friends, now had a career, wife, and impending baby to contend with. Feeling somewhat lost in the hustle and bustle, we decided to meet up for a friendly hit. That sporadic meet up pushed me to connect with tennis drills and leagues wherever I may be traveling.

From Denver to New York, I have found groups and individuals willing to step out on the court with a stranger and share a physically and mentally rewarding experience. While not everyone seeks to embrace their inner Agassi, a great chance of connecting to a sports outing of your choice awaits in most American communities through organizations like the YMCA and Meetup*.

3. Take a road trip

Once a yearly adventure, road trips with my closest friends have now become few and far between. Though I am fortunate to still enjoy the excitement and education of being on the road, there are several advantages – learning to share resources and skills, expanding one’s knowledge, or strengthening interpersonal bonds – for sharing the experience among a group of friends. If you’re not sure where to start planning, a look at this list will certainly get the gears turning.

It goes without saying that family and careers can be wonderful ways we share our individual selves with a larger world. Still, if the loss of our friendships is the consequence of trying to meet our day-to-day obligations, men run a greater risk of creating social imbalance within their lives that can crop up as health challenges do later in life.

  • So pick up the phone.
  • Grab a drink and a chat.
  • Take to highways unknown.
  • Pick up a racket or bat.

Whatever path you choose (it doesn’t have to rhyme), put your well-being first by keeping a place in your life for male friendships.

*While Meetup enjoys great success in connecting local communities around shared interests including sports, a healthy level of due diligence should be conducted before joining any league.

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