Why are male friendships so difficult?
When I was a very young man, I bought the lie that men and women couldn’t be friends. In reality, I was being immature. Since that time, I’ve found friendships with women tend to be meaningful and stand the test of time. Meanwhile, the companionship I’ve felt with other men has proven to be wrought with strife.
Sometimes without uttering a single word, a lifelong friend will disappear. Other times, an old buddy will take parting shots as he goes. He’ll relish in revealing what he’s “always thought.” Whether ghosting or gouging, they always take a part of me when they leave.
I consider myself to be a pretty good friend. I certainly try to be, despite my psychological limitations. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what I’ve done wrong in these dissolved relationships. Maybe I have no self-awareness, and I lay a trap for well-intentioned people, appearing as a decent dude for a decade only to rip off my mask and reveal an absolute ass clown worthy of running from. Maybe I’ve had a bad habit of being too empathetic and drawing in the wrong people. Or maybe it comes back to the cautionary prophecy old men tell to young boys. “The people you’re friends with when you’re young won’t be around when you’re older.”
I spent the last few nights haunted by a rather terrifying thought: Who is left? This was the result of a tragic passing as I was recently crushed in yet another platonic “break up.” This time it was someone I’ve held dear for over twenty years. In fact, when Stella and I finally set the date, I was going to ask either my brother or this friend to be my best man. Shockingly, he may now be gone entirely from my life.
Long before I knew him, this friend had struggled with a deep melancholy. I felt it was my role as his friend to be a light, and I’ve tried to be there for him in good times and bad. Miracolously, in the last couple of years, his condition has improved, but even as the dark cloud over him faded, he seemed to develop resentment towards me. For a long time, I merely endured his cuts. He’d been a good friend, and guys joke around. I owed it to him to be patient in this time of positive change. Eventually, it became natural for him to fall into long winded speeches where he’d lob insults, assuring me it was for my own good. It was a lot for me to take, and we went from talking every day to speaking every couple of weeks to very limited communication.
A couple of days ago, I sent him a joke in a text. He thought it was funny, so I followed it up with another. The second was something borrowed, so I cited my source. I mentioned there was plenty of original material on my Facebook wall, and that’s when he decided to change the subject.
I am well aware some of what I post online can be. . . divisive. My preference is to tackle controversial subjects with grand theatrics to get conversations going. It works pretty well for the most part, and I’ve managed to keep the discourse civil. When things start to get out of hand, I ask the participants to be respectful, and they usually do. I’ve only had to block one or two people, and that was always for the sake of preserving a dialogue with a wide range of ideologies and opinions. I’ve only had to chide a couple of people for continually resorting to name-calling, him being one.
In the texts, my friend said he’d blocked me and proceeded to spit venom at me for the next couple of hours. He was all over the place, telling me he didn’t like who I had become while simultaneously bringing up things that annoyed him about me twenty years ago. He told me he’d been talking to “people who know me,” and they all felt the same way. I reminded him that I’ve been living three thousand miles away from where he and all of our mutual friends live for over fifteen years. This is when he goes nuclear, apologizing for having to inform me that my writing is amateurish “fan-fiction.” Everyone he talked to thought so too. He knew going down this road was likely a friendship-ender, but he needed to stop “walking on eggshells” and finally say what had been on his mind.
This was his third or fourth time of “finally” telling me.
I’ve struggled with defensiveness throughout my life, so when I tried to counter him and he said that’s what I was being, I took it seriously. I was bullied a lot as a kid, and I would just sit there and take it. I internalized the strife of my broken family, feeling a lot of blame for how my parents hurt even as I knew it really wasn’t my fault. Later in my life, it became second nature for me to reject any accusation laid out against me. My mind was overcompensating to protect me. It proved difficult for me to take criticism, and I would sometimes lash out against it. I’ve worked hard to correct this unhealthy way of thinking, particularly in the last few years.
Because of this, and because of the love I have for this friend, I handed my phone over to Stella. “Please help me,” I said. “I am struggling to find the middle ground here. Please tell me where I’m wrong.”
Stella didn’t believe I was being defensive. She said she was surprised I hadn’t lashed out. In the end, I think my reactions were just my way of defending myself against a bully that was supposed to be my friend. I was forceful in speaking in truth, in talking from the heart, and in telling him I wasn’t going to be his punching bag.
I wasn’t happy with just a second opinion. If there was any validity to the criticism, any lesson to be learned, I wanted to find it. I wanted to reach as close to a consensus as I could, so I went back to social media and posted this:
Hey, friends and family. If you don’t like my writing, you can tell me, and we can still be friends. So… if you feel like you have been walking on eggshells around me, now is your chance to let me have it. Comment, DM, text, call, throw a rock through my window, whatever you want.
In the comments, I wrote:
The reason I am posting this… I had a very good friend tell me I am in need of hearing the opinions of those who have been afraid to tell me their thoughts, because he earnestly thinks it will help me become a better writer. I want to be a better writer, and I am willing to go through the fire to be that. So, let me have it.
Some people left very kind messages, which always has the tendency to land more mutely than insults do for some reason. Others thought I was talking about my posts, not my books, and made well-natured jokes about my politics. No one stepped forward to criticize me, meaning either this person is the only friend kind enough to tell me the truth. . .or. . .
Or it’s impossible for him to see me for who I am and my accomplishments for what they are.
I don’t have a satisfactory answer as to why this anecdotal incident happened. I do believe some of this stems from his inability to participate in the silly debates on my social media without it becoming toxic. And maybe he resents my meager accomplishments, because he’s frustrated with his own. I don’t know. All I can do as I contemplate the why is sit here amidst the tombstones, pouring one out for my departed homies and asking you to share your thoughts in the comments.
Why are male friendships so difficult? Am I missing something? Are the failures my fault? And if so, how can I be good enough?
Also, if you have some constructive criticism about my books, come at me, coward.