Male Friendship and Emotional Intimacy

Note: The following is an adaptation of a post I originally wrote for my other blog that deals with my response and perspective on the issue of homosexuality.

Why do men generally act as if they don’t need one another?

Why do they continue to live isolated and defeated spiritual lives?

Because men are macho. Men are self-reliant. Men don’t touch. Men don’t feel. Men love things and believe it is acceptable to use people. Men are competitive and athletic; not vulnerable. Men don’t cry. We are not weak or submissive.

Common barriers to relational and emotional intimacy between guys include the demands of traditional male roles in our culture and the lack of suitable role models. I believe the motivation or unmet needs behind the following incident (in my opinion) is relatable to most men.

Suffering In Silence

Even though I was involved in “normal” college life at my Christian university, isolation and detachment characterized my true existence. Over time, however, I opened myself up enough to four people (two men, two women, two Christians, two non-Christians) who eventually became close friends and my family away from home. Early on in the relationships, I developed the habit of connecting with each of them at least once a day for a relational and encouragement boost. The Christian guy was the opposite of me in almost every way: extroverted, had a girlfriend, involved in lots of extracurricular activities, had several of friends, etc.

About a year into our friendship, there was an episode where he was pretty much bedridden for a week due to an illness. I was more than willing to do what a friend should such as running a few errands and visiting him everyday to make sure he was comfortable. But one day I was so busy with classes and work, I only had the chance to speak with him for a couple of minutes via telephone early in the morning (this was in the 1990s before cell phones and mobile Internet access was widely available). At about 9:30 that night, I was at the college library working away on a research paper when my Christian brother (congested and very disheveled) showed up at my table out of nowhere. As I discovered later, he had tried to track me down throughout the day.

Thankfully, he wasn’t in the midst of an emergency. But as his eyes filled with tears, his very first words were, “Darrell, I am so alone.” At once I knew he urgently needed my presence and understanding. Knowing that he was still weak physically and sensing his emotions was about to overcome him, I instantly took him into my arms where he was able to heave out a burst of deep sobs and wept.

After holding onto me for a few more moments and feeling his body become more relaxed, I realized that our friendship had reached a turning point. Several of his other buddies and his girlfriend were on campus that day. But I was the one he sought out. I was the one male friend he trusted enough to share his honest vulnerabilities. It was one of the most humbling moments of my young life. I practically had to carry him back to the dorm. Yet as we walked along in silence, I prayed to God for my friend and thanked Him for deepening our (and renewed) relationship in Christ.

For the next couple of hours, he was able to share with me the stress, frustrations and troubles he had hidden from others for a very long time. Although I had out-of-town weekend plans, I immediately cancelled them to stay with him on campus as he reconnected and recovered, both physically and spiritually. It was an intense weekend of mutual catharsis and affirmation for both of us.

——————–

Reflect on a time when you have felt like my friend. When was (is) isolation most clearly seen and felt? Do you have male friends in your life now who know about the true condition of your life? The extent of your loneliness and disconnection? The times you fall down or sin? In 1 Peter 5:8, the devil is compared to a hungry and roaring lion that is sneaking around; ready to rip us apart and gorge on our carcasses. Is the lion overpowering you now? Are you vulnerable to attack?

The Need We Share

The issue that consistently nags at me is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy with other people in general, but with other men to be precise. Not surprisingly, most men in Western culture avoid serious discussion of this God-given need. The only time one may hear about is in spiritual life groups like Promise Keepers or bromantic comedy films such as I Love You, Man (2009).

Over the course of my life, I have been fortunate to have two guys with whom I have achieved deep and emotionally intimate friendships. I love and cherish them both. Like all meaningful relationships, they haven’t been easy. Honest intimacy with other men (genuine, brotherly love) is a true want and need. But it is also something that we are very afraid of.

Observations For Christian Men

  1. Connecting with other men is not optional. Men become men in the company of other men. (2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 3:12 – 14; Hebrews 10:23 – 25)
  1. We are obligated to be a source of affirmation and spiritual encouragement for each other. As you may have noticed, this is one of my favorite subjects to write about. (1 Samuel 20:42; I Samuel 23:13 – 18; Romans 1:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 16:13 – 18; I Thessalonians 3:5 – 13; Colossians 4:12, 13)
  1. Relational and emotional isolation from other men stunts our spiritual growth, weakens our defenses, opens us up to spiritual attack and will ultimately lead to spiritual death. (Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 12; 1 Peter 5:8)
  1. We need openness, honesty and confession with other men. The longer a man remains unsupported and alone in his struggles, the worse they become. Living a secret life of sin has consequences. (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 28:13; 2 Timothy 1:15 – 18; 2 Timothy 4:9 – 13; Hebrews 10:23 – 25; James 5:16; Ephesians 5:11 – 14)
  1. We need each other to affirm our faith, stretch our faith, use our gifts and push one another to greater service in advancing God’s kingdom. (Proverbs 16:24; Proverbs 25:11; 2 Timothy 1:1 – 8)
  1. Choosing male friends with character and integrity is important. Our associates are either lifting us up or pulling us down. (Psalm 101; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 27:17; Titus 2:6 – 8)
  1. God encourages loving accountability, confrontation and correction among spiritual brothers. We need relationships with men who will tell us what we need to hear, and not only what we want to hear. (Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 27:5, 6; 2 Samuel 12:1 – 14; Galatians 2:11 – 21)
  1. Christian (brotherly & familial) love must be observable (John 13:34). It is consistent (John 15:9 – 13), sincere and committed (Romans 12:9, 10), includes others (Romans 15:7), includes mutual affection (2 Corinthians 6:11 – 13), is not exclusive (2 Corinthians 7:2 – 6) and considers how to love even more (Hebrews 10:24, 25).

Self-protection, self-centeredness and self-pity are all sinful ways of relating to the world. All three isolate us even more from other people. If you are a guy and have the type of relationship with a couple or group of men (as I described above), tell them again how much you appreciate them. Pray for them and thank God for them. There are many of us who don’t know and will never experience what you have.

Questions:

If you are a guy, what is the primary way you cope during times of isolation and loneliness?

What specific struggles or frustrations have you experienced when you’ve tried to connect with other men on a deeper level?

Your comments on both questions are welcomed below.

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