There are many humiliating things an adult man must do: make up words for engine parts when talking to a mechanic; explain to a stripper that the ATM won’t give him any more cash; somehow convince a woman that this has never, ever happened before but totally isn’t because of her. The most humiliating, however, is trying to make a new friend.
Here’s why: Let’s say you meet a cool guy at a party. He’s as obsessed as you are with Breaking Bad, spent his 20s in a punk band you liked and lived in Moscow for three years. He cracks you up, is super-nice and seems to totally get everything you say. Starting to see the problem? You’re halfway to writing a sonnet to the guy.
If he were a girl, or if you were a girl, or if you were both gay, or even if he were a girl and you were gay but willing to make an exception, then you’d just ask him out. But what excuse do you have for hanging out again? You’re an adult. You don’t have playdates. Unless you golf, have a regular poker game or can come up with a business to start together, there’s no reason to see him again. What are you supposed to say—“Here’s my card. If you ever want to go get a drink or dinner and not have sex, text me”? It’s so difficult to make friends as an adult that men had to invent fantasy football.
Women make new friends all the time. That’s because women are always doing stuff that requires large groups. They get drinks. They have book clubs. They go out to nice restaurants. They shop. They get their nails done. If romantic comedies are accurate, they constantly attend art gallery openings. Men hardly do anything. There are lots of reality shows about groups of female friends who hang out (and get into vicious arguments with one another). There are no reality shows about groups of guy friends because it would require a split screen showing a bunch of guys at home masturbating (which didn’t even draw enough viewers to keep Chatroulette popular on the internet).
It became even more difficult to make friends as soon as we all started getting girlfriends. Because now you don’t just have to get along with another guy—four people have to get along with one another. To give you an idea of how unlikely that is, in the NBA you have to go back to the 1974 Knicks. In my family, you have to go back to when my sister was a fetus.
So yes, making friends is hard. But the truth is that it has always been hard. We cowered behind our mom as she asked our kindergarten buddy over for a playdate. Having a junior high friend over to your family’s house for dinner for the first time was nerve-racking. The only reason we made friends in college is because other guys were right there, all the time, in the same dorm. All we had to say was “Do you want to do the thing I happen to be about to do?” Plus, that thing was drinking.
And no, men do not need friends like women and children do. When women have a problem, they talk to their friends. When men have a problem, we solve the problem. We do alone things, like hunt deer, play online poker and whittle. There are no whittling circles. Men can happily survive for a week in the woods without talking to anyone, as Bear Grylls has proven—though if there’s a camera around we will apparently talk to it incessantly.
Still, we need to make the effort to make new friends. Because man friends are awesome. Man friends lead to delightful trouble and deep, if slightly conservative, life lessons, according to every buddy movie. You need a Bob Hope to get you on the road, a Steve Martin to keep you alive while on the road and a Zach Galifianakis absolutely never. When you get a guy in trouble, fun things happen; when you get a girl in trouble, it’s just a sad 1970s Bruce Springsteen song. Basically, without buddies we become video-game-playing, internet-surfing, sports-watching homebodies—which is not an attractive look. Neither is winding up in a Mexican prison with genital warts, but at least you have a story to tell your kids.
We have no excuse for not making new friends since we have the perfect guys right in front of us: co-workers. Sure, we’re competing with some of them for promotions, and sure, there’s a good chance they’ll quit, so committing to a friendship with them is a little like befriending the kid in school whose dad worked for an oil company. But we have so much in common. Like hating our boss. And the banter we build up at meetings when our boss says stupid things. And those funny e-mails we send each other after our boss sends a clueless e-mail. The point is, we should let up on our boss a bit.
When we stop making friends, we stop trying new things, we stop thinking new thoughts—we stop being boys. We stop, in essence, being the kind of person someone would want to be friends with. If you can’t ask a co-worker out in this cowardly age of texts and Facebook messages, then go old-school: Have your mom call his. Even if stuff between you guys doesn’t work out, there’s no doubt your mom will wind up with yet one more friend