Thursday, September 22, 2011

Men and friendship

This morning I heard from a longtime friend who, like me, has recently moved from Houston to another city. “Big community here and easy to get lost,” he wrote. “The wife and kids seem to have plugged in socially, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about meeting folks.”

Me too. Is it a male thing? Or a middle-aged thing? Or both at once? My buddies are scattered around the country—Iowa, Houston, New York, Boston, D.C.—and I am apparently in no hurry to add to their number. On Sunday afternoons I watch the Texans on satellite TV with chile con queso and a beer as my only company. I’m not lonely, but I worry that maybe I should be.

At a certain point, men no longer go out of their way to cultivate friendships. For twenty years, when I arrived in College Station, I would find my heart rising to see Bedford Clark in the office across the hall. We would close the door and trade witticisms and outrages. Now at Ohio State, I have no colleagues—I don’t belong to a department—and it feels strange not even to get the looks of hostility I used to get from leftist English professors. (No one at Ohio State knows that I am a spy from the other side.) But I can’t say that I miss having colleagues. I miss Bedford.

I think men, as they age, come to value the history that they share with their friends—their friendships are repositories of memory—more than they value “shared interests” or whatever else it is that draws younger persons together. Not that men don’t look for excitement. Just not in new friendships. And many men, even when tempted by the excitement of new sexual experience, withdraw into familiarity. The prospect of developing a new history with a new wife, and uprooting and plowing under the old history, is horribly unattractive—no matter how good-looking the new woman might be.

Men aren’t lazy about friendship. They are committed to habit. Come to think of it, this also explains why male friends can go months without talking to each other, and yet neither one will feel as if the friendship has lapsed or even diminished.


Terry Teachout said...

For what it's worth, my experience doesn't tally at all with yours. I continue to make new friends at fifty-five, most of whom are younger than I am, and some of them have become quite close.

D. G. Myers said...

Hm. That may explain why you and I haven’t become friends, Terry—despite my intense admiration for your writing.

Rand Careaga said...

At my wedding six years ago one of the male guests (the UCSC alum enumerated below) archly asked "How do you like the friends your wife has selected for you?" My male friend of longest standing is Carl Stone, the noted vertical-market composer. After him, I still maintain a high school chum (1966 forward) and a UC Santa Cruz fellow Saga serf and housemate (1975 forward). I cherished the friendship of a professional colleague from 1981 until his sudden and unexpected death at around this time sixteen years ago. The last male friendship I formed dates from the end of 1996. I've had far better luck hanging onto women friends—in some cases, of course, because of a lingering erotic attachment, although in other instances that same element has absolutely closed and locked the door.

Are you still in touch with Cecilia V, the writer/illustrator?

D. G. Myers said...


About the only persons with whom I remain in touch from our Santa Cruz days are you and Mark Jarman. Other than my best friend (whom I met in grad school), my friends date from my two decades in Texas, although none of them is really a Texan.


Anonymous said...

Dr Meyers, this is a very touching and complex post you did, and i see a book here. if i was a NYC book agent i would sign you up right now and shop the book propposal around right now: i am sure many males want to understand this complex issue. good on you for writing it, more more.

Kyle said...

Bit random liberal as i am you and Dr. Clarke were my favorite professors! I had no idea you were friends! Thats so cool.

I took two courses with Dr. Clarke, unfortunately only one from you.