In this guest blog post, David Figura, a newsman and author of the book “So What Are The Guys Doing?”, was invited by his former colleague Chris Mele to answer some questions about about men and friendships.
David’s book offers a brutally honest first-person appraisal of men facing middle age, their marriages, friendships and lives and how they can go sideways unless we nourish them.
At what point did you come to realize and appreciate the importance of male friendships? How old were you?
It was after I turned 50. Over the years, my attitude toward the need for getting together on some regular basis with male friends was eroded by my commitment to work and family – with an emphasis on work.
I didn’t get or understand the need for having balance in my life.
I was a workaholic – and what free time I had leftover I gave to my kids and to my relationship with my wife, in that order. I was a soccer coach, president of the school’s boys and girls varsity soccer booster club. I went away on Boy Scout outings.
Unfortunately, I often gave lip service (failed to act or carry through) on time alone and doing fun things with just my wife, Laura.
As the empty nest years got closer and closer with the kids going to or eyeing college, I was miserable and constantly arguing with Laura.
It sucks when your wife is your best and only friend and you’re having marital problems.
Laura started actively taking steps toward spending more time with her friends. This developed into more “girlfriend getaways” and weekly gatherings with her female friends.
My free time was often spent often alone, feeling resentful about Laura and all her friends and their activities. I had no one to go out with for a beer, breakfast or to go fishing.
I was in a bad place.
Add to all that, a woman I had dated long ago looked me up and wanted to have an affair – which I nearly took her up on.
What I did afterward – specifically, the changes I made (including seeking marriage counseling) — set me on a different course in my life.
Steps included initiating marriage counseling, changing jobs — and starting a low-stakes poker club that meets monthly, a co-ed volleyball team that plays throughout the winter and a summer horseshoe throwing group that meets weekly and goes out for beer afterward.
What are the major obstacles to guys starting or maintaining friendships among other men?
Inertia is a powerful thing.
Change, taking risks – even though you know deep down it’s the right thing — can be difficult. The biggest obstacle for me was initially I didn’t want to, or failed to see the need for change.
Like many guys, I was reluctant to reach out, to join something – to actually schedule time with male friends. I had nothing going and that lack of activities was reflected on the family calendar on the kitchen refrigerator. That calendar was full, though, of my wife’s get-togethers with her friends.
Another big obstacle to getting my friendship network again – and for many guys, for that matter – was that I was rusty at it. I had let my friendship garden go, always depending on my wife to orchestrate or schedule our social agenda – even our vacations.
Moving around didn’t help.
With several different jobs and moves in my newspaper career, my friendship garden was full of weeds. There was no group of high school friends or nearby family my age to turn to for day-to-day activities. I parachuted into several communities and responded by focusing even more on work.
I reached a point, though, where I decided I was in charge of my own happiness and I began acting on it.
I taped a note on my bathroom mirror that read, “It won’t happen unless I do it.”
At first, it was difficult getting together with guys. I had to commit.
However, I pressed on. I’m glad I did.
What are the benefits to having male friends vs. turning to your partner/spouse as your friend?
For me, I didn’t realize what I was missing until I got balance back in my life. I found that having something to look forward to each week, each month – apart from my marriage and family – has been rejuvenating, stress-relieving, fun.
More important, my friends are there for me, and I’m there for them.
I could give numerous examples of where that’s happened. It’s great, comforting to have guys you can rely on in tough situations, and who rely on you.
Surprisingly, it’s really helped bolster and enrich my relationship with my wife.
I look forward our time together. I appreciate her more. She has her activities, I have mine. I came to realize I’m the best husband, father and friend when I’m happy with myself.
Any advice for icebreakers or ways to get friendships started if you feel like you are in friendship desert?
Like I said, inertia can be a powerful thing. You’re in charge of your own happiness. It’s all about attitude and acting on that attitude.
My advice is to start small and don’t get discouraged. Ask another guy out for breakfast, or for a drink after work, or to get together to shoot baskets at the local Y.
If it works, think about making it a regular thing. Schedule it.
Next, make a list of your passions, activities that interest you.
Start doing some research online and scan the local newspaper about opportunities. Talk to folks at work, acquaintances. Have your wife or girlfriend ask her friends about what’s out there in your interest area (s).
It really helps to join a league, a club that’s already doing your preferred activity. I started off by joining a co-ed volleyball league without my wife. She was initially busy doing her thing those evenings, but after a couple of years ended up joining the team and is still a member.
Finally, don’t get discouraged.
Think of fishing. Keep casting. You can’t catch a fish unless you wet your line, and you won’t catch one on every cast.
How far back do you and your closest friends go? And how do you keep it going?
I have lot of close friends from way back (high school, college). However, as a journalist I’ve moved around a lot, to the West Coast and back. It’s been hard to keep in contact unless I make the effort.
That means traveling to visit them, attending reunions, scheduling annual get-togethers, such as fishing trips.
However, you can’t always be looking back. The friends I’ve made from the activities I’m currently involved in are definitely among my closest friends.
We have had memorable experiences together, shared each other’s joys and concerns. Attended the weddings, graduations and other celebrations of each other’s children.
They have taught me that good friends make for a good life.
David Figura is the outdoors writer for NYUP.com and The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y.
For more about his book, “So What Are The Guys Doing?” go to www.davidjfigura.com