Before you really dive into this post, I want you to pause and write down the names of all of your friends you would call if you lost your job and needed help. Now, look at that list and cross off anyone to whom you haven’t spoken in 6 months. And, finally, cross out anyone who doesn’t know your story – your struggles, triumphs, and pain.
How many do you have left? How many are men? Did making that list stress you out a little? Did it inspire you or make you sad?
I begin with this, because while it is fairly easy to make the argument that relationship is one of the marks of the mature masculine, it is also, quite possibly, the hardest for men to achieve and stick with. Relationship not only encompasses a desire to have relationship with others (especially other men who will challenge, counsel, and console you) but also actually forming that relationship with at least one other man.
What is relationship?
It would be easy for me to just say that relationship is a friendship, but it goes so much deeper than that. Certainly, sharing interests and enjoying company is important, but that’s just touching the surface of relationship. When I think about relationship, I always recall my old pastor’s depiction of various relationships. He use the illustration of a house, specifically three parts, the porch, the living room, and the kitchen.
The porch: Remember when houses had porches? And people would sit out on them and greet neighbors as they walked by? The porch relationship is just that. It is one in which you engage with people on a basic level, nothing too controversial or too deep. This is the relationship you have at work, when you discuss sports around the break room or with a friend at the store when you discuss upcoming home improvement projects. It’s nothing special, but it’s the building block of all our relationships. Most people will stay on your porch; some will be invited into the living room.
The living room: This relationship builds on the porch. In addition to all of those conversations, you’ve invited someone a little more into your life. The people in your living room get to see a little bit of who you are: what you enjoy, what your family is like, and how you live. They get to understand you a little more, beyond the polite banter. Your life is more open to them. Fewer people will be allowed in the living room, but even fewer still, if at all, will be given access to the kitchen.
The kitchen: How do you know when you’ve really been accepted by a friend? For most of us, it’s when we feel comfortable enough to walk into their kitchen and, without asking, grab a cold one from the fridge. But, how many people do you feel close enough that you can do this with? The friends you have a kitchen relationship with are let into the deepest parts of your life. They know your fears, your struggles, and your triumphs. You trust them and live your life, your full life, with and in front of them.
The desire for and establishment of the kitchen relationship is the relationship that is at the heart of the mature masculine. This relationship is rare and oh, so precious.
Why is relationship so hard?
My mother is a shining example of relationship. Yours might be too. In fact, we can probably think of many women who have deep, caring relationships with other women. But for men to have those kinds of relationships, the kitchen relationships described above, is a more difficult matter. Why? In his book, “The Friendless American Male”, David Smith lists several male barriers to true relationship:
– Aversion to showing emotions
– Inability to fellowship (to share and enjoy the company of other men without needing anything else)
– Inadequate role models
– Inordinately competitive natures
– Inability to ask for help, and
– Incorrect priorities
All of these go counter to both our nature and nurture as men, but we must overcome them.
Why is relationship essential?
It’s natural to say that relationship is essential because it makes us better. This is true. Relationship also can counteract something that is plaguing the American male: loneliness. David Smith shares that “Anthropologist Robert Brain says that unlike any other culture, our acute loneliness must be seriously considered in any search for solution to nagging contemporary societal problems. Loneliness, and a lack of commitment to others, are factors in our high suicide, divorce, alcoholism, drug, murder, rape, and abortion rates.” The New York Time reported last year that the suicide rate for men in the 50s increased 50% between 1999 and 2010. The chief cause? Loneliness.
How can you cultivate relationship?
Two things you can do to cultivate relationship and then model it for those young males around you. Both involve being willing to listen, to be vulnerable, and to share, all things that don’t necessarily come naturally to us in the presence of other men.
1) Seek out at least one male mentor who will speak into your life. Find an elder male whom you trust and with whom you can build a relationship. Invite him into your life (after you establish a friendship) and ask him for advice and counsel.
2) Don’t wait for another young man to reach out to you like above. Find a younger male, in your church, on a team that you coach or play on, and reach out to him. Share the potential you see in him and develop that relationship. As you do this, encourage him to do the same.
Man was not created to live alone, but so often we allow our competitiveness or lack of trust alienate us from true companionship with other men, men who can challenge and live alongside us in our journey. You can’t make it through the wild alone.
For further reading on this topic of relationship, see: