Why Can’t American Men Be Friends?

Why Is It So Hard for Men to Make Close Friends?

American men are stuck in a “friendship recession.” Here’s how to climb out.

By Catherine Pearson
Nov. 28, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET

The Tuesday before every Thanksgiving, Aaron Karo and Matt Ritter, both 43, go out to dinner with a group of seven men whom they befriended as second graders in Plainview, N.Y.

At the dinner, one of the friends wins the Man of the Year prize — a silly accolade the group concocted as an excuse to reconnect. They eat and they laugh, and the winner leaves with his name engraved on a cartoonishly large silver cup.

“It’s not really about the trophy,” said Mr. Karo, who co-hosts a podcast with Mr. Ritter called “Man of the Year,” which explores adult friendship. “It’s about the traditions that keep us together.” The friends jockey for the prize in a running group text, where they share memes and talk a bit of trash but also keep up with one another.

“I think men have been convinced that success in life does not necessarily include friendship — that if they’re successful at work or they’ve started a family, they’ve won,” Mr. Ritter said. “Our definition has always included having these thriving friendships.”

Mr. Ritter’s close crew notwithstanding, American men appear to be stuck in a “friendship recession” — a trend that predates the Covid-19 pandemic but that seems to have accelerated over the past several years as loneliness levels have crept up worldwide. In a 2021 survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States, less than half of the men said they were truly satisfied with how many friends they had, while 15 percent said they had no close friends at all — a fivefold increase since 1990. That same survey found that men were less likely than women to rely on their friends for emotional support or to share their personal feelings with them.

“I think men have a deep craving for intimacy with their friends,” said Nick Fager, a licensed mental health counselor and the co-founder of Expansive Therapy, an L.G.B.T.Q.-focused psychotherapy group. “And yet getting there can feel so incredibly challenging.”

The four strategies below won’t eliminate all of the obstacles that can stand in the way of deep male friendship, but they are a start.

Practice vulnerability, even if it makes you uncomfortable

Don’t assume friendship happens organically

Use activities to your advantage

Harness the power of casual check-ins

According to a study published in July 2022, casually reaching out to friends and acquaintances — through, say, a quick text or email — means more to those people than we tend to realize, and is particularly powerful when the contact is unexpected.

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