The lonely bloke’s guide to friendship – FFA

Why do males battle with friendship? After he bought engaged, comic Max Dickins realised he had no person to be his finest man. As a recovering billy no mates, he explores the ‘male friendship recession’, and the individuals and tasks doing one thing about it

“Can I curiosity you in a sack of dolls in numerous states of undress?” 

That is Dan Flanagan, founding father of Dad La Soul, a social enterprise that gives playdates for lonely dads. It’s an autumnal Saturday morning within the quietly hip coastal city of Worthing, West Sussex. I’m watching Flanagan arrange a load of soppy play in a venue that, on weekdays, is a centre for older adults with studying diffculties. “It’s the calm earlier than the storm,” he warns. He’s not flawed: ten minutes later, 25 or so dads – chaperoned by no less than as many younger youngsters – pour in.

For many years, research have persistently proven that males have fewer associates – and particularly fewer shut associates – than ladies. “As males become older, we regularly develop into trapped in tiny social circles,” says Flanagan. Sadly, it’s a state of affairs I do know properly. A few years in the past, I deliberate on proposing to my girlfriend solely to grasp I had nobody to name on as my finest man. Ever since, I’ve tried to unravel males’s friendship drawback. And discover options, like this one.

Stewart is right here along with his five-year-old son. He manages a craft brewery in Brighton, and along with his handlebar moustache and ironic Hawaiian shirt, appears precisely just like the kind of bloke who may. We lean towards a wall, overlooking the carnage. On the opposite facet of the room, three children wrap their daddies in bathroom roll till they develop into mummies.

“What I get right here is openness and honesty,” he tells me. “We discuss stuff that isn’t solely work or soccer. I’ve had higher conversations with guys I’ve simply met right here than associates I’ve identified for years.”

Psychologists usually argue that males’s friendship struggles are, at their core, vulnerability struggles. “I don’t suppose society has bred us to have these types of deeper conversations,” agrees Flanagan. “Our function fashions didn’t try this. It’s very, very alien. It’s about altering that narrative.”

Dads have a chinwag on the Worthing Dad La Soul. Picture: Peter Flude

But, it’s arduous to argue that males are extra uptight than they had been within the 70s or 80s. However since then, males’s friendship drawback has, if something, bought worse. In 2021, the Survey Center on American Life identified a male ‘friendship recession’: since 1990, the variety of males reporting that they don’t have any shut associates jumped from 3 to fifteen per cent. In the identical analysis, the variety of males saying they’d no less than six shut associates halved from 55 to 27 per cent. Does this counsel one thing else is happening?

Dr Robin Dunbar thinks there may be. He’s emeritus professor of evolutionary psychology on the College of Oxford and thought to be the godfather of friendship analysis. He argues that males’s social fashion is essentially completely different to ladies’s, and that the explanations for this are innate. 

“Girls have very personalised friendships: who you might be is extra essential than what you might be. Whereas for males, it’s the reverse,” he tells me after we chat on Zoom. The male social world is far more superficial, informal and club-like. “So, what qualifies you to be a good friend is that you simply belong to the membership, nevertheless that’s outlined,” he says. “It could possibly be the fellows who play five-a-side, the fellows who go for a beer collectively each Friday night time, the fellows who go canoeing. It’s nearly at all times activity- based mostly in some type.”

After attending Dad La Soul, some males went on to hitch male choirs. Picture: Peter Flude

Lose the membership – lose the shared exercise – and also you usually lose the friendships. And as males enter parenthood and center age and time grows scarcer, they’re extra more likely to withdraw from these items.

However the query is: do males actually want to hang around on this club-like approach? Or does our socialising seem like this as a result of it’s usually the one factor on supply? Dunbar argues it’s the previous, not least as a result of this ‘male fashion’ will be seen cross-culturally, appears to emerge very early, and can be seen in our nearest primate cousins.

One type of friendship doesn’t essentially rule out the opposite, nevertheless, and it seems that’s Flanagan’s technique, each at these playdates and his fortnightly mid-week dad-only gatherings “We don’t all sit round in a circle, as a result of this isn’t remedy. There’s stuff you are able to do, that you’re considering,” he explains. “There’s a pool desk. We put some tunes on…” (Dad La Soul is a play on De La Soul, the 90s hip hop trio – there are decks at each assembly.)


Analysis means that males are higher suited to ‘membership like’ socialising. Picture: Peter Flude

“We’re a Trojan Horse. Come and have a beer, have a recreation, inform some horrible jokes, and then you definately quietly realise that speaking goes on too.”

“Dan’s made it look cool. You suppose: ‘That’s one thing I need to go to,”’ says Neil, a neuro-disability nurse right here along with his two youngsters. “It’s additionally beneath the radar, you recognize? ‘I’m not lonely, I’m taking my children out…”’

Feminine minds may boggle at these types of sleights of hand however discuss to these on the entrance line of the battle towards male loneliness they usually’ll let you know that males gained’t simply ‘get collectively’: they want a pretence. In addition they want a leg-up. “Two thirds of the boys who step by means of the door are referred by their wives and companions,” Flanagan tells me. “They suppose, ‘I can see he’s bought no associates, however he’s not going to say something.”’

And neither is he more likely to do something. Males’s social laziness is by now properly established within the social scientific literature: as males become older, they delegate the upkeep and making of friendships to their higher half till all their associates are, properly, her associates.


Kids use rest room roll to show daddies into mummies. Picture: Peter Flude

This mid-life bonfire of the bros can’t be laid solely on the door of ineffective blokes, although. Wider structural elements are additionally doubtless at play. For instance, we’re far more cell than we was. Each Stewart (Brighton) and Neil (London) moved from prosperous cities seeking extra reasonably priced housing, leaving their social circle behind. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg tells me we now have additionally witnessed a collapse within the ‘social infrastructure’ that used to help our friendships.

Girls are additionally on the mercy of those modifications, in fact. However they might have an effect on males extra, as a result of they compound our comparative lack of social initiative and ability – to not point out males’s penchant for club-like socialising.

“Neighborhood centre-type environments – the church, the working males’s membership, the Freemasons – they’ve at all times been right here in some type or one other, in all cultures, for time immemorial,” as Dunbar places it. “These sorts of communal actions have been quietly dying. We’re slicing away the very environments that we want.”


Dickins has spent the final 12 months taking to consultants concerning the quirks of male friendship. Picture: Peter Flude

This was my greatest studying as a recovering ‘billy no mates’: in a world more and more unfriendly to friendship, it’s all on us now. Friendship within the twenty first century? Nicely, it takes work.

Dad La Soul is coming to an finish for one more month. Flanagan comes over to verify if I’m alright. “Loud, isn’t it?” he says. A small lady dressed as a ballerina marches previous blowing right into a recorder as if she’s attempting to summon a demon. Close by, a boy of comparable age shuffles as much as one other and enquires as as to if he may like to hitch him on the Lego pit. He thinks about it, for round half a second, they usually peel off. These children appear to have this good friend factor fairly sussed.

Flanagan surveys his kingdom. “That is simply the beginning,” he says. “We’ve had guys who’ve met right here who’ve joined a gospel choir collectively, who go sea swimming. A gang went off to look at Terminator the opposite day…”

And perhaps that’s all any of us need? Somebody to play with.

Actual discuss: the way to have higher conversations

1. Go there

With out vulnerability, we put a ceiling on {our relationships}. Be the one which goes first: don’t simply discuss ‘stuff’, inform them what’s happening inside.

2. Beware bantz

“Males be taught that vulnerability usually equals rejection or punishment,” friendship knowledgeable Dr Marisa Franco informed me. “If you need vulnerability, then security has to return first.” Beware your banter doesn’t get in the way in which.

3. Sit with it

If a good friend shares a private drawback with you, don’t bounce to offer options. As a substitute, show empathy by listening patiently, asking questions, and sharing your individual experiences of the problem.

4. Lively affection

Males hardly ever talk to their associates that they a lot as like them! Don’t wait until you’re seven beers in: inform them now. It usually pulls down partitions.

5. Be direct

Typically we all know one thing’s up with our mates, however we brush previous it – or allow them to do the identical.

6. Ask direct questions

Name out what you discover. In case your good friend appears unhappy, be form – however inform them.

Billy No Mates: How I Realised Men Have a Friendship Problem by Max Dickins is out now, revealed by Canongate

Major picture: Peter Flude

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