There is an extremely helpful antidote for men being eaten up by distrust of our fellow man—a long term friend.
Many of the men I have known and work with over the years bear the same general baggage I haul around—“trust issues.” Guilty as charged, indeed, I do. Having been burned in relationships with women in the past, used in friendships, swindled in business relationships, and the inevitable let downs from family, I always have my guard up around my fellow humans. Most men do. This may be why most men gravitate towards dogs rather other two legged creatures.
There is an extremely helpful antidote to being eaten up by distrust of your fellow humans—a long term friend. This can sometimes, and to some degree, will be our mate or romantic partner. Yet, even when those relationships overall go well and are supportive, they are far too intimate to be conducive to safely building trust. They are so deep and we invest so much in our romantic relationships, it is far too easy to get our nerves burned and our feelings hurt in that context. With sex, money, self-image, and boundaries constantly being negotiated, that arena is too close to being a battlefield sometimes. As they say, “Love is war.”
A close friend of any gender that has been with you over the long haul is a great gift. Those who have seen you in your worst moments (and best), rode with you through those ups and downs—ahhh! Such a friend is priceless. Those who were with you in your marriages, your break ups, your hiring’s and firings, your children’s births and later, drug problems and arrests. Those who have seen you switch your spiritual orientations a few times, and on and on. They are akin to platonic “soul mates.”
As I have gotten older, I have realized that my nearly incessant striving for the next goal or level of success—was not as important or satisfying as I had hoped. Completing that degree, starting that new business, mastering a new martial art, investing time into a prized project were all grand. In our mechanistic and success oriented culture, indeed, such things are the all and all—the exterior signs of significance of what it means to be a “successful” man.
In striving for these noble and worthwhile goals takes tremendous energy and even deeper levels of investment of that most sacred of all commodities in life—time. Time is necessary for success in nearly every worthwhile endeavor. Yet, time is precious exactly because of its scarcity. In hindsight as a middle aged man, I wish I had spent more time with my friends. Those moments of laughter and healthy confrontation are the oasis to the shallowness that plagues our current culture.
How can long term friends help us deal with our trust issues as men? They owe us nothing, and we owe them nothing—yet they still show up. Show up when we hit the bottle too hard after a divorce or layoff, and let us know to cool it—after having one or two beers with you. They do not care if you are cute or not, yet they will still want to spend time with you. Since they know you better than almost anyone, they know your base line. Hence, they can (and do) tell you when you may be slipping off balance—“slipping into darkness.” They also can let you know when you are doing well, and rejoice with you in that. They truly celebrate your success—with no ulterior motive apart from enjoying your presence and existence.
I have such a friend. I have known him since middle school and I am now middle aged. He has seen me through so many life cycles I can’t count them. I trust him more than I have my own blood. He is not perfect, and there is much we do not agree upon. Yet, he still loves me like a true friend. He tells me when I am full of shit, and when I am on point. Having such a friend renews my hope in humanity as a whole, and more importantly—renews my hope in my own self. With even just one such friend, a man is infinitely blessed.
This friend recently came to visit me overseas with some of his family in a country far from his home at great expense. We have been to each other’s weddings (for me, plural) and to the funerals of our parents. We have a foundation of time investment in each other that reaps profound dividends of richness and grace. If a man can find such a friend, he will greatly enhance the quality of his life—even more than the exterior achievements can provide. My only regret is not spending more time with him, and other such friends that I could have invested time in.
I fear a bit for the younger generation of men. The alienation of online culture and social media seems to be putting even greater distance between people, as they adjust to the pseudo-connections that make up the bulk of the online world. I hope my four sons will have at least one long term friend that will stick with them through the tough times—even unto the grave. May that day be far in the future, so I can enjoy more time with my long term friend.