‘Just talk, just say one thing’: how the coronavirus forced men to seek deeper friendships


It took Manny Argueta a global pandemic and a very bad moment to realize how far he had come from his boyfriends.

In the spring, after leaving home, the 35-year-old shared with his ex-girlfriend and moved alone to a studio in Washington, where he would spend an entire week without saying a word. There were no days of play with the children, no Friday nights in the bars downtown, and Argueta was deprived of social interaction. He returned to the PlayStation 4, jumping on the mic with a stranger as he played. Supervision Just to hear someone’s voice The messaging app discovered Discord and the old gamer started chatting with his friends and watching their games. Mortal Kombat 11 – even if he doesn’t build the game himself.

He began to understand how dependent his friends were on Sunday football games and nights, against the Republicans, or why the Caps did not make the playoffs. They didn’t talk about relationships or family, or what they were like. He had never met many of his relatives.

On a rare night when he ran into an old friend in October, a mixture of weakness and drunkenness forced him to shake off his frustrations. “I guess you still have no idea why I broke up with him,” she said. Bet you have no idea. The friend stopped, apologized and allowed him to speak for a while.

For more than a decade, psychologists have written about the “friendship crisis” faced by many men. An analysis published in 2006 American sociological journal found that while young men generally had fewer friends outside of the family than before, young, educated, white men lost more friends than other groups.

Male friendships are often based on “shoulder-to-shoulder” interactions, such as watching a soccer game or playing a video game, while female-to-female interactions are more face-to-face, such as having coffee or meeting for a glass of wine. Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, said he had written a book on male friendships. When Greif asked hundreds of men how they interacted with most of their friends, 80 percent of the men said “sports,” whether they watch together or participate together.

For this reason, many men have had a harder time figuring out how to adjust their friendships in a pandemic that rips them apart.

“The rules are not clear for children seeking friendship,” says Greif. “Children don’t want to seem too needy.”

A pandemic could force this dynamic to change.

Dozens of men in emails and interviews, Zoom poker games, patio cigar nights, WhatsApp chains in the neighborhood, Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy football groups and leagues where casual conversations about sports and politics suddenly lead to deep conversations: about virtual education, family illnesses, breakups, births, wedding postponements, and job losses.

Male friendships are often based on ‘shoulder to shoulder’ interactions, such as playing video games


The moment feels heavier, as do the conversations. Some men said that their friendships began to look more like wives and girlfriends. For the first time in their lives, they go for a walk with male friends just for a walk. They put old college friends face-to-face and monitor the neighbors, not just to talk about NBA qualifiers or their kids’ soccer schedules, but to ask how they’re doing.

Argueta, who works as a loan servicer, was used to avoiding revealing personal information in conversations with male friends. But this year, after battling her mental health and undergoing therapy, she says she wants to start finding ways to tell her friends what really happened.

“We are used to finding a distraction to help us when we have to deal with what is in front of us,” he says. “The world needed to slow down… we have to slow down too.”

“The goal of adulthood is not to find a best friend, but to find a partner,” says Way. ‘There is nothing in our definition of success or maturity that includes friendships’

Men were not always like this.

Niobe Way, a developmental psychology professor who interviewed hundreds of boys for her 2013 book, says that male friends, like boys, tend to share their deepest secrets and closest feelings with each other. Deep Secrets: Friendship and Children’s Communication Crisis.

But when kids start entering their teens at the age of 15 or 16, “you start listening to them closely and you don’t care anymore,” Way says. They begin to defend themselves by saying that they are not “gay” about their friendship and that they are no longer close. “You hear that these expectations of manhood are imposed on them.”

Way claims that the lack of sensitivity in male friendships is rooted in a misogynistic and homophobic culture that prevents emotional intimacy between men. However, this is part of a culture that generally does not value adult friendships.

“The goal of adulthood is not to find a best friend, but to find a partner,” says Way. “There is nothing in our definition of success or maturity that includes friends.”

But research shows that close friendships and social media are important to staying on track. A Brigham Young University study found that social interactions – with friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues – improved a person’s chances of survival by 50 percent.

Some men now sit in a bar and watch a game they can’t talk about

(Getty / iStock)

According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2018, the suicide rate among men was 3.7 times higher than among women. However, some surveys are less likely to admit that men feel less lonely than women, while other studies show that men receive more emotional intimacy than women in their lives. In one study, married men were more likely to list their spouses as best friends than married women.

Way says that in a time of unprecedented isolation, many men may be forced to change the way they think about friendships and connect in new and deeper ways. I think they have to survive.

John Bramlette, 42, a father of two in Chevy Chase, Maryland, saw the change in their relationship. Before the pandemic, his closest male companions were from the volleyball team where he played every Thursday night for 14 years. The group used to get together for a beer after a game or to watch baseball on TV after the kids went to sleep.

But in normal times, he didn’t ask one of his friends to go for a walk, just to talk, something his wife did with her friends throughout her adult life. In the last month she has gone on three walks with her boyfriends and plans to continue doing the usual at lunchtime.

‘The world had to slow down … we have to slow down’

(Getty / iStock)

“It makes a lot of sense,” says Bramlette, director of operations for Washington Nationals Philanthropies. “Why wouldn’t we do that?”

Dave Wakeman, 46, a marketing consultant in Washington, said many of the social interactions before the pandemic revolved around children’s sports or family gatherings with neighbors. Eight weeks before the pandemic, he ran through two doors to his neighbor and realized that he had lost contact with him and other parents in the neighborhood.

The group of six decided to spend happy social hours on the lawn chairs at the intersection they shared. Tucker Carlson created a WhatsApp group called Battalion, where they shared everything from political jokes and memes to frustrations about parenting and working at home.

“It’s easier for people to say, ‘Hey, I’m having a hard time,'” Wakeman said.

Argueta told them about past relationships, movements, pandemics, everything. Dozens were more individual than ever

A few years ago, Stephen Davis, a 33-year-old tax administrator from Virginia, joined a texting group with some of his best friends and some guys he knew vaguely from college. At first, the conversation was only about the world of professional wrestling. This was called “five MB” for a group of five people.

But recently, the group has become a place to do more. He got them from many job changes, from home to home, and the birth of four children, including two during the pandemic. As Davis struggled with ideas on how to keep his son busy when the playgrounds were closed, one of the other parents in the group offered to make a barrier cushion for his son to pass through. When Davis’s wife broke her waters, she texted a group of five before anyone else, including her parents.

During the pandemic, the group grew closer than ever. They now send about 100 SMS a day, a constant stream of awareness about what is happening in their lives. The conversations feel more sensitive and honest than what Davis has done with friends in the past. These are conversations you can never have while sitting at a bar and watching a game.

“There is always a lot of noise to go to the next level,” he says.

Jonathan Gordon sometimes wants his college colleagues to talk about more serious topics. The group of four, all of whom met on the first floor of the University of Virginia and are now 30 years old, were groomsmen at each other’s weddings. They went on international trips together. They all regard the other men in the group as their closest friends.

Going for a walk or a run with a boyfriend is unusual for most men, although women do it their entire lives.


But why don’t they talk about their feelings?

“I always thought it was fun to talk about things that were completely insignificant between the 80s and 90s,” said his friend, Alex Hyde, 32, in a joint Zoom call.

When friends gather for a beer or dinner in person, the deeper details are “accidentally hidden,” says Hyde. Now, since they cannot, the most serious issues do not come naturally to the text. It feels more raw, Hyde said. “Generally, along with the other boys, there is a certain persecution because of what you say… you have to be prepared for that.”

Gordon says it’s impossible not to make fun of each other again. “We can’t control ourselves… I can’t get it out. We said goodbye, “he said. “We wouldn’t do that in an ideal world.”

These are the conversations that Argueta of Falls Church expects from his friendship with other men.

On Saturday, when several friends came to help him set up his PC, Argueta waited to be fired because he looked like a “broken college student” in his new study, where he had barely put anything on the walls. cables everywhere on the table.

Instead, the two friends asked him to talk about what had caused him to leave and how he had managed over the past few months. Argueta told them about past relationships, movements, pandemics, everything. Dozens were more individual than ever.

One of his friends reminded him that he could always call the Discord group. “Just talk, just say something,” said the friend. “Someone will answer.”

Argueta planned to send them a group of text messages soon, thanking them for coming with their friends and “saving me in more ways than I thought.” I wanted to be honest about what they lived through.

He thought they would do the same.

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