As men, we talk a lot about dating and finding the right girl but we rarely discuss how important it is to form and cultivate a strong group of male friends – a group of other men who are important to us, who we can share things with, and with whom we have a safe place to discuss challenges, women, business, and life.
As a young man, high school and college make it (slightly) easier to slowly work your way through the people around you to discover the best matches until you find a solid group of companions that help support you simply because it forces you to interact with a set group of people. Life outside of these institutions, on the other hand, gets a little trickier.
Personally, I love to travel, and so I’ve taken jobs around the world in order to expand my horizons and explore. Since college, I’ve been lucky enough to live and work on almost every continent for a year or more.
As a man, I feel the need to be independent and strong, so when my parents expressed concerns about getting lonely and having a hard time adjusting to new cultures or adulthood in general because of it, I balked at the notion. I saw myself as some modern Henry David Thoreau who would face the world on his own. “I’m not a little boy anymore” I told them on the phone, “I’m a man. I can handle it on my own.”
After each of these moves, I had to accept that in some ways my parents were right – being alone all the time, or just dating and looking for the right girl, can start getting rough.
Yes, we’re men, we can handle it on our own, but we don’t need to. Part of being a man, and not a petulant little boy as I claimed no longer to be, is to recognize when you need help. We’re not just men, we’re human beings and owning up to our feelings and working through them to become a better person is an integral part of growing up that we cannot do alone.
After a year or two of a very rigid routine – wake up, go to work, go out and try to get a girl, come home, do it again in the morning – I realized that this group of friends I needed wasn’t just going to magically teleport into my life. I needed to date some strangers and work to build male friendships.
The reason I call it “friend dating” is that to really build a supportive community for yourself is sometimes just as awkward and difficult as looking for the right girl. Every friend starts as a stranger, you have to build your confidence, approach them with an intent, break through any social barriers, be yourself while learning about them and showing interest, and then escalate to seeing each other again.
You’re not looking for a sexual connection, but the process to having a close circle of male friendships can still take a lot of work. After 6 moves in 10 years, I’ve kept in close contact with all the people I’ve bonded with over the years, but I’ve needed to go out and friend date every time in order to have personal connections with people in the place I lived in and over time I discovered a few things.
These are 10 things I’ve learned from failing and succeeding at locking down some good platonic relationships that will enrich your life and help you grow.
1. Be Yourself
It’s almost comical that all of us have to keep on learning this lesson. You would think and hope that it came naturally. Yet, the reality of life is that most of us, no matter what we say, don’t want to be judged and rejected for who we really are. Not by the hot girls we’d love to partner with and definitely not by some stranger who doesn’t even know us.
So we usually pretend to be someone else, someone who, in our heads, is a little ‘better’ and is interested in a whole bunch of things we really could care less about.
Some people call it peacocking, some people call it wearing a mask, whatever – the truth is girls need to get to know the real you and so do the people you want to be your friends.
Talking to strangers is usually one of the first steps to building your confidence in dating, so why not make a few friends in the process? Being a man, being confident, all of that takes work and the first step is getting confortable with people rejecting you for who you really are because the reverse is that when someone you really connect with comes along – they bond with who you actually are.
2. Don’t Settle
You’ve often heard that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so don’t just gravitate to the easiest friends you can make.
Don’t just go down to the local dive bar and meet the first 5 regulars who are eager to meet someone to come hang out with them there every night and pound back a few cold ones.
They may make some fun acquaintances for your Wednesdays after work, but look for people you admire something in, that demonstrate some aspect of who you want to be or what you want to be better at and aim for them. Just like you shouldn’t be afraid to go for a few 10’s in dating, don’t settle for a group of guys who don’t challenge you and push you to be better in some way.
3. Innocent Until Proven Guilty
That being said, don’t make the above judgment at face value. Give everyone a chance. Experts say that in business you should be good to everyone because you never know who is going to give you your next job, or be your star employee, or be your future business partner, etc.
With girls, rejection often freaks us out so we start finding flaws in them early on to justify our backing out. Same with people in general – give everyone a chance.
Sure they may have one thing that comes off as strange or different at first meet, so do you. Let them back away, screw something up, say the wrong thing, or give up. Unless it’s something really serious, people will weed themselves out.
4. Get Out There
Unlike high school and college, life doesn’t provide you with a starter kit. Sure, you’ll meet a few people at work, but depending on your job that may only be a small bunch and they may not end up working out. So don’t expect life to just put awesome people in your path, get out there and put yourself in theirs.
Do stuff you like to do, surround yourself with like-minded people, and talk to everyone.
5. Don’t Give Up
Especially when you’re somewhere new and you’re used to a certain culture, a lot of people won’t work out. You’ll start to get lonely, you’ll start to think you’re taking too much time away from work or dating, you’ll settle back into an isolated routine because it might not be worth it.
That’s your decision to make, but I can tell you from experiencing both sides of the coin, being on your own and toughing it out isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It is worth it.
6. Take the Initiative
Just like a new friend is a stranger to you, you’re a stranger to them. You might say to yourself, we had a great time, it’s up to them to reach out and it’s up to them to do all the work.
That’s lazy, self-entitled, and doesn’t work. If you find someone you think is really cool and you want to connect with and build a friendship with, then you have to put in the work.
Sooner or later they will too, but all relationships take effort and reaching out to let them know you’re interested in spending time together is the basic amount.
7. They Want it Too
All single straight men are looking for the right girl. They may say their not and their playing the field, but in the end there comes a time after all the fun when you want to find a partner in life. Women also want to find the right guy both romantically and sexually. Often, we get scared because there’s this notion that they aren’t looking for the same things. In a similar way, we’re all looking for platonic companionship.
We’re all looking to connect with other people and form a tight group of friends. That’s why sitcoms about tight groups of friends are just as, if not more, popular than shows about couples and dating. So don’t get nervous when putting yourself out there, everyone wants to make a friend.
8. Try New Things
There are a ton of awesome things to do when you move somewhere new. Even if you’re in the same place though, there’s usually a ton of things that we often never bother to do in the city or town we live in because it’s right there and we’ll get around to it someday.
Take advantage of consciously trying to make some friends to explore where you live, do things you might enjoy or that speak to things you love, go on adventures where you might meet new people.
Those experiences will not only put you in the path of people with similar interests, but they’ll enrich your personal experience as well.
9. Do Not Let the Past Dictate Your Future
Sometimes, some girl messed you up. She cheated on you, she dumped you, she rejected you in a terrible way, or a slew of other things. We carry that around and project it on other women, as if they’re all the same.
The same goes for people in general and other guys. Some of us had a bad time in high school or college with certain types of guys; some of us had some bad experiences. People grow up, people change, and you grow up, you change. Don’t let one person or one group of people dictate how you look at everyone else.
10. Make Time
When you’re trying to push yourself to be more confident with women, to be riskier at work, or to find a new group of friends – comfort and routine can be the killer.
You get into a pattern that lulls you into a sense of security and suddenly days, months, years go by and you still haven’t gone out and talked to girls, you still haven’t gotten that promotion, and you still don’t have anyone to talk to or push you to be better.
Improving your life takes conscious effort. You need to decide you’re going to take action, define steps, and then do them. So don’t just get up, go to work, come home, go drink a cold one, look at some online dating profiles, and go to bed. Smack yourself out of the comfort zone and make time for yourself.
As I said before, all of the above are applicable to your dating life and finding the right woman, which is funny because most of us don’t think about the process of building friendships almost at all despite it often being just as difficult at times.
Finding that group of men will enrich every other goal you have – your dating life, your financial success, your happiness – it all improves because you have a group of friends that understands what you’re going through, that has been or is going through similar experiences.
You can share tips, tricks, and lessons that have worked for you and they can give you the gift of things that have worked for them and slowly you can all build on your experiences to become better men and better people.
Everyone starts as a stranger, so go make some friends.