Chapter 9 of Herb Goldberg's book The Hazards of Being Male, published 1976:


9. The Lost Art Of Buddyship


While preparing this chapter I kept thinking back to a recent ten day seminar on aggression in which I participated. An actress conducted an evening program on the subject of aggression and the theatre.

She arrived early on the afternoon of the day of the program with a woman friend approximately her age who was helping her prepare for the evening presentation. Both are attractive, normal, equally successful heterosexual women and their friendship and interaction was very special to watch. Her friend hovered around her constantly, as involved and concerned that everything should be set up artistically and correctly as if the program was hers. She soothed and comforted the actress whenever she expressed any doubts or anxiety, constantly gave her encouragement, and communicated enthusiasm and excitement in anticipation of the evening. Then she helped her dress in an elaborate outfit, checking carefully to see that the makeup and the overall look were just right. Forty five minutes before the program was to begin she urged her to rest up and volunteered to get everyone seated and to inform them that there would be no smoking. Once it began she was there to participate and to help keep the program moving, and after it was all over she embraced her friend, helped her gather all the materials together and put them into the van. Along with a few others they went out to celebrate. Even though the woman friend was married and had children, she never expressed a feeling of being imposed upon nor rushed to get back home.

As I observed this interaction go on for seven or eight hours I was deeply moved, jealous, and saddened at the same time. The jealousy and sadness I felt was for myself and for many other men who I believe rarely, if ever, are capable of or experience such a caring, sharing, and loving relationship with another man--one in which great pleasure is taken in facilitating the accomplishment of the other, just as if it were happening to oneself. The existence of a "buddyship," in which they each facilitate and derive deep satisfaction from the success and achievement of the other, is uncommon.

I personally have to go back to my high school days to recall relationships of that nature-relationships where we honestly rejoiced in each other's triumphs. By the time I was in college it seemed that all of us men had already been thoroughly contaminated by the competitive posture that was subtly yet constantly undermining the possibility of genuine intimacy and caring. Instead, we were always checking each other out, looking over each other's women to see who had the prettiest, and never being sure if we could trust even our closest friends around an attractive girl friend.

It seemed like we all were hustling, and although we didn't want to see our friends fail, we also weren't very eager to see them do better than we did, to have them accomplish something of which we weren't capable. Then there was always the threat of being called a "fag" if one expressed affection openly to another male. When we saw such affection displayed we smiled at each other knowingly.

As adult males in our culture the phenomenon of being without even a single buddy or good friend is a common one-so widespread in fact, that it is not seen as unusual nor is it even spoken about. Rather, it is taken for granted. Many men I interviewed admitted to not having one intimate male friend whom they totally trusted and confided in. However, most of them seemed to accept this as being a normal and acceptable condition.

One weekend, while I was vacationing at a resort, I was discussing this book with the wife of a successful California real estate man. I mentioned that I was including a chapter on male friendships. She commented to me, "I wish I could find my husband a good friend. He's got loads of business acquaintances but not one real friend. And I know he's lonely. There's nobody he calls up for no reason except to say 'hello' and to chat. It's always a business or family thing."

At the time, this woman happened to be sitting with two women friends with whom she had come to the resort. Their husbands had stayed at home because of work commitments. Throughout the lunch they happily and comfortably chatted with each other, exchanging family anecdotes, discussing intimate matters relating to their husbands, mutual friends, the children, or themselves. They were clearly enjoying each other, listening and responding easily.

At a nearby table there were several men sitting together. In contrast to the women, they looked uncomfortable and strained. They seemed to have little to say to each other as they looked at their food or around the dining room for no one in particular. Occasionally, one would tell a joke or try to say something witty. The interaction was clearly tense until a woman came by who knew one of the men and joined the table. Suddenly the men became more animated and relaxed. Up until then there had been no dynamism in their interaction, no spontaneity and no relaxed sharing.

From both ends of the continuum, men seem to be blocked when they try to relate to each other. That is, they are not comfortable sharing their downsides-their failures, anxieties, and disappointments. Perhaps they fear being seen as weak, complaining losers or crybabies, a perception that threatens their masculine images. Neither do they seem to feel comfortable sharing their ecstasies or successes for fear of inciting competitive jealousies or appearing boastful. Consequently, verbal social interactions between men focus on neutral, largely impersonal subject matters such as automobiles, sports, and politics.

In the course of interviewing adult males I became particularly aware of the isolation of the married ones. While most denied being lonely, they almost all indicated that their wives were their only close friends, the only person they really trusted. They blamed the lack of male friends on the fact that they were too busy, but the real reasons were significantly more complex than that.

Until two years before I met him, Ralph, a thirty three year old married glass salesman had one close male friend, an old, high school buddy. Then his friend began to make considerably more money than he did, remodeling his home and putting in a swimming pool and a billiard room. Shortly thereafter Ralph broke off the seventeen-year friendship explaining, "I didn't want him to think we were coming over just to use the swimming pool."

Where Ralph had been a vigorously independent and impulsive person before he married, he gradually became increasingly dependent on his wife, to the point that it scared and upset her. He told her that she was everything to him, and that he hoped he would die before her because he could never bear the loneliness of living without her.

Another example is Alan, aged fifty-four, the manager of a large travel agency. During our interview he expressed a sentiment that I had heard in various forms from many men. He said he didn't have any close male friends because the only guys he met were at work. "I avoid socializing with the guys who work for me. I think it's bad business. If you want to get the job done you've got to keep an impersonal kind of objectivity." He added that he really liked many of the men he worked with but he just couldn't take the risk of getting too friendly with them. Alan could only think of one close male friend that he had had as an adult, and that person had died three years before. But as close as they were they only got together in the company of their wives. Whenever he called his friend on the telephone and spoke for more than five or ten minutes his wife would chide him for gossiping like a "washerwoman." This embarrassed him until the calls stopped altogether.

He finds it hard to make friends. Even though many of the men he meets are younger than himself he invariably relates to them in very competitive and defensive ways. He rationalized his lack of friends by the fact that his wife frequently complained of illness. "I'd feel lousy about myself if I went out and had a good time while she was sitting at home." Therefore, he spends his free time working on the cars, in the yard, or improving his home.

Gregory is a twenty-eight-year-old bicycle importer. According to his wife, Cindy, "Until Gregory got involved in group therapy, he didn't think another man would be interested in his feelings. He thought it was inappropriate to express feelings to another man." Before group therapy their friends were mostly Cindy's old girl friends from college and their husbands. The husbands never got together on their own, only as part of a couple.

Through group therapy Gregory has got closer to men but even so he tends to play the role of analyst to them and to listen rather than reveal himself. He noted that even in group therapy there was a lot of competition among the men, particularly about pinpointing feelings. "God help you if you aren't in touch with your feelings first and best," he said.

Gregory still feels, however, that he doesn't have a "real friend," someone he can confide in and completely trust. His wife admitted that she puts a damper on some of his group relationships because some of them have become too intense and men would call Gregory for help during dinnertime or very late at night. Gregory would always run out to meet them if they wanted to talk and his wife began to resent this.

She also felt uncomfortable, however, about the fact that he turned exclusively to her for comforting. "He'll tell me he feels like a raw nerve and he wants me to comfort him, because nobody else can. I rub his back and do my best to listen to him. But he really gets furious when my mind wanders while he's talking and I have to ask him to repeat his feelings."

Men who were interviewed rationalized their alienation from other men in various ways. Other men were too "uptight," "fucked up," "defensive," "always competing," too withdrawn," and "boring." As one said, "They're no fun to be with. I'd rather be with a woman." The repression of closeness with one's own sex is not nearly as great in relationships between women and consequently they can comfortably be physical and playful with each other without anxiety.

In general, the extreme repression of male homosexual feelings in our culture and the intense anxiety about "being one" creates a major stumbling block in even normal male-male closeness. It results in the situation so commonly seen today where most adult men admit to being really comfortable only in close relationships with women. Getting close to another man, particularly if one does not have an equally close female in one's life, often mobilizes intense sexual anxieties, doubt, and suspiciousness. That horrible preoccupation of, "I wonder what he really wants from me" emerges as soon as an overture of warmth and friendliness is made by one man toward another.

A friend vividly recalled to me that in the middle of one of his European lecture tours his flight was delayed twelve hours due to engine problems. Each passenger was asked to share a room for the night with another passenger. My friend was booked into a room that had only one large bed. He remembered how careful he and his fellow male passenger were as they each slept on the very edges of their own side of the bed, in seeming terror of accidentally touching each other.

It is a tragic irony in our culture that men can only come comfortably close to each other when they are sharing a common target. As teenagers they come together in a gang or as members of a team out to "destroy" the other team. As adults, in wartime, they have a common enemy.

Many men recall their Army days as having been happy ones in the sense of their having felt real friendship or kinship with other men, an experience they have not had since. In the Army however, the common target was often the commanding officer, as well as the enemy. I am certain that POWs developed intense closeness as they joined together in the common pursuit of survival and hatred for their captors. The simple pleasure of being together with no other reason than to enjoy each other's company and support seems to be almost an unattainable experience for most men.

Married men often remarked that they didn't feel comfortable with divorced men because they claimed that it was too depressing. They'd label the divorced man as immature. These relationships, it often turned out, were also often discouraged by the wife of the married man who was threatened by the possibility that he would be influenced by his divorced friend.

Several divorced men commented that it wasn't until after the marriage broke up that they realized that they had never really enjoyed the company of many of the couples they socialized with during marriage. That is, many men who seemed to enjoy each other's company when they got together as part of a couple discovered that they had nothing in common when they got together on their own without their wives.

Some men expressed the notion that if they burdened another man with their problems that this would obligate them in the future. Friendships were seen, in a sense, as business trade-offs. If you asked for help you would be expected to give it at some future point.

In the area of friendship many men also related to their wives as disapproving mother figures. They found it almost impossible to indicate that they were going to spend an evening, day, or weekend with a male friend. Usually this was not the case at the beginning of the marriage when the wives encouraged their husbands to have autonomous friendships. However, gradually this would change and in subtle ways the men began to feel that it wasn't worth the hassle of "asking permission" and of feeling guilty about leaving their wives at home alone with the children. They disliked having to explain what they did or said and who they had been with when they returned.

A friend told me of an instance in which he spontaneously invited another man to a poker game. The invited man became flustered and uncomfortable as he searched for an appropriate excuse that wouldn't make him look too henpecked. "I'll take a rain check on that. I already told my wife I'd be home for dinner and she'd really be pissed off."

Because many married males work hard at maintaining the facade of a monogamous relationship, they are often fighting off the impulse to wander and to engage in casual sexual relationships. Because of these secret or repressed sexual desires they have chronically guilty consciences. Consequently, they expect that they won't be believed by their wives if they say they're going out with a male friend, particularly if they do so on a regular basis. They assume that they will be accused of having been with another woman or of having done something other than what they said they did.

Men married to women who play the traditional role of housewife and mother are particularly prone to feeling guilty if they enjoy themselves when their wives are at home. "It's not fair for me to be out having a good time, even if it's only with the boys, if she's at home with the kids." This same man might be very happy indeed if his wife went out alone with women friends. In a sense, by her doing so she could collect some trading stamps that would entitle him to a guilt-free time but alone at some later date.

Many men have come to view the need for a buddy as a remnant of immaturity, or an adolescent need. However, their latent hunger for one is seen in their ecstatic response when they accidentally run into an old buddy. Often, it almost brings them to tears.

When two single men become friendly with one another their friendship frequently revolves around the joint pursuit of women. A friendship with no other reason than to enjoy each other's company tends to generate too much anxiety, particularly anxiety surrounding homosexual feelings and impulses.

Because of the strong need to retain one's masculine image, men tend to be quite guarded around each other. Consequently, their talk rarely becomes personal. One man who was interviewed remarked at how amazed he had been when a male friend he thought he knew well separated from his wife. "I never even knew that they were having problems," he commented.

As an offshoot of women's consciousness-raising groups there have been efforts at creating male consciousness-raising groups. Reports describing the process of these groups suggest that there is a real struggle to keep them together. Group cohesion is tenuous and the interaction among the men tends to remain on an intellectualized, distant plane.

One man who had joined a male consciousness-raising group wrote about his experience. "In the world of men, I was alone, jealous, angry, untrusting, and uptight. Only with women could I let it hang out." While still part of his male consciousness-raising group, he contracted cancer. Before going in the hospital he received deep concern and warm support. Once in the hospital undergoing surgery however, there was not a word from any member of the group except one. "I knew the others all cared, but they didn't know how to handle it. This time I knew it was the group's problem, not mine. I was in bed but they were crippled. I felt disgust and sadness along with my anger."

I believe that these groups tend not to remain together for long periods of time because they lack a commonly shared target. In fact, attack or competition in these groups is tacitly and overtly considered taboo. Many men join them because they want to please their women or to learn how not to be male oppressors. Consequently there is a subtle group climate of self-hate and guilt induction. The target is oneself and each male is cautious about using words or relating in ways that are "typically male chauvinist." While there is mutual support to liberate oneself there is a dearth of joyful, playful, and unpremeditated ways of relating. Instead, a new subtle competition has arisen, competition to be the least competitive or chauvinistic.

The capacity for what I term "buddyship" is a genuine social skill, an area of competence that needs to be learned. I have chosen the word "buddyship" because of its connotations of youth and of spontaneity. This, combined with adult maturity contains the potential for the ultimate in masculine friendship. I have conceptualized four phases often present in the development of a buddyship. These four phases include the manipulative phase, the companionship phase, the friendship phase and finally, the buddyship phase.

The manipulative phase is where most relationships between men begin and remain. It is a phase of mutual using often to the benefit of both. It is also an interaction in which there is a mutually beneficial feed-off, such as occurs in the business world. The men come together because each has a skill, talent, or resource that the other can use. So long as the mutually shared goal exists and one man can help the other get ahead or expand his social or business territory, the relationship will remain viable. However, once there are no mutual benefits to pursue the relationship will tend to fade.

The manipulative phase may also assume other forms. A fairly common one is the relationship between the successful man and his "tag-along" or "kick me," the mentor and his student, the powerful man and his sycophant. The successful man is often a lonely, isolated person who can only relate comfortably with a person who respects, even adores him, and who is always available. The follower gets his payoff by basking in the aura of the other man, with the hopes that he will eventually make himself emotionally and actually indispensable (which often happens) and thereby reap some of the material and status rewards.

The manipulative phase can be destructive if one man is being used to his own detriment. In that case he is treated like an object and discarded when he no longer serves a purpose. The mutual caring disappears when the user has gotten what he wants and moves on to greener pastures.

The next step in the development of a relationship between men is the companionship phase. Companionship relationships are basically segmentalized ones which revolve around sharing a specific activity such as golfing, going to horse races, drinking together, pursuing women, playing cards, etc. if one of the men becomes ill, often he will not see his companion again until he has recuperated and is ready to play.

The mutually shared activity becomes the safe structure or excuse for getting together. It helps to define and limit the interaction in such a way as to make spontaneous intimacy unnecessary. Companionship is a form of mutual using but it is usually playful and benign. The relationship is limited again because there are no real roots of mutual caring. Consequently, when the commonly held interest no longer exists the relationship tends to wither and disappear.

Companionships, after a mutual testing period, may sometimes evolve into the friendship phase. One test of whether a companion can become a friend is the reaction to competition-winning and losing. If one man tends to incite the envy and jealousy of the other, then the friendship phase will not be reached. However, if the two men can find pleasure in teaching one another and in each other's individual success, a friendship can evolve.

In other words, a relationship can emerge from the companionship phase into the friendship phase, if each person feels included by the other, rather than extremely competitive. In this instance the alienating forms of competitiveness have been sublimated and the men do not feel beaten when they lose. The interaction does not generate a compulsive need to be better. There is pleasure in just being with the other and there is a capacity for a free flow of conversation, not necessarily confined to any one specific subject.

The friendship phase is one which involves mutual aid, compassion, and a willing readiness to be there in an emergency. A friend will lend money or other valued objects such as a car. He will inquire after his friend during illness and will provide a bed to sleep in when needed.

The friendship phase is relatively free of mutual manipulation, and more of the whole person is involved. It can, however, only become a buddyship once they have experienced a crisis that tests the friendship. If the crisis is transcended, vulnerabilities have been revealed and come to be respected, and deep trust has developed the buddyship phase can begin.

Buddyship is the deepest of male-male interactions. Buddyships, which already have endured crises, have rich dimensions that generally cannot exist even in the deepest male- female relationships. For example, it has facets of a good father-son and a loving brother-brother interaction. Each buddy, at alternate times, may assume the role of teacher or guide to the other and will revel in the other person's development and expanded skills. And there is also a sense of warmth and empathic understanding and comfort when one person is feeling weak, acting foolish, or being vulnerable. In these instances, one buddy gets stability and nourishment from the other. There is a happy, mutual sharing of resources, both material and emotional. The competitive element is inconsequential and a win for one becomes a win for both.

The brother-brother dimension of buddyship is one in which each looks out for the other, protecting him from exploitation. It is this phase of the male-male interaction that tends to be the most threatening to a wife or girl friend of one of the buddies. That is, a buddy will not hesitate to tell the other when he sees him allowing himself to be manipulated or self-destructively controlled by a woman.

Buddyship may also be threatening to an involved woman because many of its dimensions are not shared with her. Buddies will share deepest feelings about their relationships, personal fantasies, private or secret experiences. This may be very disturbing to an involved woman and her jealousy over the relationship may be deeper even than jealousy over a man's girl friend-partially because a relationship with another woman can be righteously attacked as being a betrayal of trust while a buddyship cannot.

Consequently, the woman may consciously or unconsciously attempt to undermine or destroy the buddyship. This may be attempted through derogatory comments, flattery, or suggestive innuendoes. "What do you need him for? He's a big baby," "He just uses you," "You're like two overgrown adolescents," "He's not good enough for you," "He's jealous of you," "He's a loser," "You're always kissing his ass," "Why don't you go to bed with him? You spend more time with him than you do with me." Suggestive remarks may be made implying latent homosexuality. Explosive arguments will occur particularly if a wife or girlfriend sees "her man" do something for a buddy that he might not do for her or lend money or material possessions that she feels will cause her to be deprived in some way.

Female jealousy and resentment over a buddyship may also reflect her awareness that its roots may be deeper, because the relationship has more room for freedom, is less possessive, and does not have the components of jealousy and role rigidity that often exist in male-female relationships.

Buddyships are relatively role free. Each male feels safe enough to be open to act silly, stupid, and in spontaneous, child-like and affectionate ways which he may not feel safe enough to show anyone else.

The art of buddyship in our culture is undeveloped because it requires time, a willingness to work through crises, to upset one's heterosexual partner, to endure hostile suggestions and innuendoes about latent homosexuality, and a social maturity and competence that is not culturally recognized or rewarded the way that, for example, marriage is. If anything, a buddyship, if it is particularly intense, is embarrassing to others. Buddies are accused of delayed emotional development and of neglecting more important activities and relationships. Buddyships are often viewed as a threat to the "mature" husband- wife relationship because they require time, cultivation, commitment, mutual nourishment, and love. Their rewards, however, if achieved, are great because of their mutually supportive, nourishing, no-strings-attached aspects. They can endure stresses that few male-female relationships can because they do not have legal, contractual binds that force them to remain together.

The lack of such a relationship makes a man particularly vulnerable. It overintensifies his dependency on his woman, placing an emotional burden on her that can suffocate and destroy their relationship. Once a primary relationship with a woman breaks down the man has no one to turn to. In addition, once the male has totally and solely become reliant on a woman for the satisfaction of his emotional needs, he cannot afford to risk losing her. Consequently, he win be more prone to cling to an unhappy, unfulfilling relationship out of desperation and the frightening fear of being cut off from all emotional nourishment.

I believe that the lack of buddyship is also an important factor in the significantly higher male suicide rate and the significantly higher rate of death of divorced males as opposed to divorced females. Instead of reaching out for help, comfort, and nourishment from a buddy he hides behind a facade of strength and independence. Or he desperately reaches out for another woman, often throwing himself prematurely into another relationship. When no woman is available to him he may become engulfed in his isolation and alienation and become suicide prone.

It is my belief that the male needs to realize the importance of a buddyship relationship and learn to develop one. The path toward a buddyship relationship is a difficult and hazardous one that requires an awareness of the great need and survival value of such a relationship. It is much more difficult to launch because while the male-female relationship tends to begin on the basis of a sexual attraction, the initial reaction between males tends to be one of cautiousness, anxiety about openness and getting close, and some distrust. Therefore, while a male-female relationship can arrive at a state of intimacy fairly rapidly, the male-male relationship must endure various phases of development and be tested before the intimacy of buddyship can be achieved.

The continuing impact of a buddyship is the development of a deep mutual respect, trust, and pleasure in each other's company. Envy and competitiveness will increasingly recede into the background while your buddy's growth and achievements will begin to make you feel as good as if it were happening to you. You will find growing interest in each other as total people and the specific things you do together will become significantly less important than the simple joy and comfort in being with each other. A real buddyship will last a lifetime, remaining in the face of even massive personal changes in every other aspect of life.


Guidelines Toward Achieving Buddyship


1. Begin by articulating those attributes which you respect in another man and those which you dislike.

The positive attributes should include personality characteristics that generate joy, the freedom to be yourself, a willingness to open up and reveal yourself as a person, a sense of trust and safety, a desire to be talkative, humorous, and silly, an eagerness to explore, expand, and risk, and a receptiveness to learning new things when you are around that person.

The negative attributes would include characteristics that tend to make you feel pessimistic, distrustful, guarded, inhibited, uncreative, bored, depressed, resentful, and scared about life when you are in that person's presence.

Draw a social nexus chart which pictures yourself in the center and the men that you consider potential buddies in circles around you. Place those you feel closest to nearest yourself and those you feel more distant from in circles which are progressively further away.

Now define in specific terms the characteristics you like and dislike about each. The following questions may be helpful to you in doing this:

a)  Is he guarded and secretive around me and do I feel guarded and secretive around him? In other words, do I feel like I'm prying whenever I ask him something personal? Do I feel anxious and regretful when I tell him something intimate about myself? Does he volunteer personal information about himself freely when he's around me and do I feel a strong desire to be open about myself when I'm around him?

b)  Do I feel comfortable calling him and would he call me up for no other reason than to say hello?

c)  Do I feel comfortable going over to see him on the spur of the moment, or do I feel I have to plan each meeting with him carefully and well in advance and only for a specific reason such as golfing?

d)  Do I feel respected and appreciated when I'm around him and do I respect and admire him?

e)  Do I have envious and competitive feelings toward him and do I sense that he has similar feelings toward me?

f)  Does he say and do things that embarrass me and do I seem to make him uncomfortable?

g)  Would I feel comfortable asking him to drive me to the airport, lend me his car, or give me a place to sleep when I needed that? Would I feel comfortable doing these things for him?

h)  Would I feel safe and confident if he were alone with my girl friend or wife and would I feel comfortable knowing that I could resist the temptation to seduce his girl friend or wife without his knowledge when he wasn't around?

i)  Do I feel I can grow, learn, and become more through a relationship with him and do I feel that I can provide the same kind of atmosphere and opportunity for him?

j)  Am I eager to know him as a total person or am I just interested in him to share a specific activity and would otherwise prefer not to get closer to him?

4. Once you have determined who is a potential buddy, recognize that two of the areas of greatest difficulty are those of trust and of dominance.

To handle the area of trust ask your potential buddy to define vulnerable areas with you; the kinds of behaviors that would destroy confidence and good feeling in both of you. Begin with the milder ones such as, for example, a show of indifference in him when you are discussing something of great importance to you. (One man mentioned to me his anger and diminished trust at a friend whose one ear was glued to the radio listening to a football wrap-up show while he was trying to discuss serious problems.) Then go progressively to the more sensitive areas such as making derogatory comments about you in front of close friends, not backing you up in an argument with others, revealing something personal to others which you had told him in confidence, or being seductive with a woman you care about.

To handle the issue of dominance, work toward equalizing power and decision-making so that neither of you winds up in the shadow of the other. Arrange tag-along meetings where one afternoon or evening you share in an experience of interest to him and then have him tag-along doing something which involves an area of your strength and interest.

5. Share your respective experiences of past disappointments and hurts in other friendships. Discuss incidents that have previously impaired or destroyed friendships for both of you as a way of learning about each other's areas of vulnerability and sensitivity.

Get together on a regular basis, perhaps once a month, a time specifically set aside to keep your relationship up to date and to avoid hidden injustice collecting. At this time discuss any incident or remarks that were made by either of you which caused disappointment or discomfort. In other words, be open with each other regarding areas of abrasion before they create great rifts.  

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