This post is the 3rd in aseries of essayson male perspectives on marriage and friendship.
Shortly after my wife and I were married,we started hanging out with some other newly married couplesthat lived by us. Imagine our surprise when we found out that they fought about the same things that we fought about. Imagine our relief. We were so happy to know that we weren't the only ones that disagreed over toilet paper, tooth paste, or sex.
Spending time with other couples helped my marriage, but it was finding guy friends to hang out with that made the biggest impact.
I got some advice from guys that have been married longer. It took a while for me to learn the "don't fix, just listen" thing. An older friend of mine was listening to me talk about a particular argument that my wife and I had, and he stopped me and said, "I know this is going to sound strange, but you messed up," he said. "All you had to do there was be quiet, listen, and give her a hug when she was done. Then maybe build her up a little." Apparently sometimes women just need a man to listen to them. Weird.
I had a place to blow off some steamwhen something really frustrating happened, whether it was in my marriage, at work, or in class. It's pretty easy to bring your work home with you, so to speak. Have a frustrating day at work and the irritation can stay with you all the rest of the day unless you find a place to get rid of it. Luckily, one of my good friends is a coworker, and never the cause of said stress, so sometimes after work I can give him a call and we'll go blow stuff up playing Halo 3 for a little while he listens to me complain about work. I return the favor. After a couple hours of that, how can one possibly still be stressed out?
Time away grants a little perspective. When you see someone every day one can begin to take them for granted. Taking time to go on a trip or have a guy's day is good for a person. About once a month my guy friends and I like to get together to hang out for the day, playing video games, eating, and doing incredibly nerdy things like Dungeons and Dragons. Sometimes we'll go longer, like weekend camping trips or road trips.
Returning home after time away always makes for happy returns. The things that may have bothered me before don't seem so important now. We miss each other a little bit, and plus, guys kinda smell. It's nice to return home to where things don't smell quite as bad. Sex after a long absence is good too. ;)
Just having fun makes you a little bit of a more interesting person. Some guys are nothing but work and TV. Even guys who are actively involved with their kids and their wives can get stuck in a rut. Getting out of the normal daily routine is good for you and your spouse. One, you laugh, which releases endorphins, making you a generally happier person to be around, and two, when you come back you have interesting stories to tell and things to discuss.
Now, these things have come over six years of being married. I didn't get all of these things right off the bat. In fact, it took some work to build a group of friends who could provide these sorts of benefits.
Why Men Need to Maintain Their Social Support Networks
A friend of mine recently relayed a story to me about someone she knew who went through a tough divorce. He was complaining to my friend that women have so many resources available to them. There are magazines, talk shows, and strong social networks. What do men have?
When this guy's friends heard how upset he was about his divorce, they told him, "Don't worry man, I'll get you laid."
What a response.
Why Do Married Men Suck at Making Friends?
Socializing, like most activities, is a goal oriented task for most men.
A big part of a single man's motivation for making friends is dating. Single guys are often looking for a girl to impress, to provide companionship. If it's not a girl, then it's to kill time when they're not working or dating. Friendships fill the time.
After marriage, the focus tends to go on the spouse and on work. Men are rather single minded, for the most part, and we don't multitask well. It tends to be true that good men will often focus on their marriages to the detriment of their other friendships. This is all part of cleaving to your spouse, but if a man becomes too focused on one thing, then he can find that when things get hard and he needs a little outside help, he has no network to rely upon.
Women seem to have an inherent need to be social. It's part of who they are. Men have the need too, it just seems that we aren't aware of it sometimes.
What's the Solution?
It needs to become a priority, guys. For so many years, women have worked to create this social network, and guys have worked to build stuff, build careers, and build families. The time of the loner in his cave has got to come to an end. Whether you build your network via fishing with your buddies, road trips, or online, you need friends.
Most of you out there who have successful careers are constantly monitoring your professional network. What's going on at this or that company, how is so and so's career, etc. This is what the ladies do. They check in with each other, find out how their friends are doing, how the kids are doing, what difficulties they're having. We can do this too, without even seeming effeminate. It just takes a little effort.