Hey Bro
March 21, 2013 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Do most middle aged adult males who have families have a best friend?

I would be hard put to say I have a best friend. I have friends, but none of them is what I would consider to be a best buddy. If I could combine several friends together into one (just for example, the one who lives closest to me combined with the one who works in a similar field combined with the one with whom I went to school combined with the one who is from my home town), then I think it would more likely have a best friend.

Am I typical, or do most married men with families have a best buddy?

Note that I'm fairly outgoing and enjoy people and conversation but I'm not into watching sports, playing golf or cards, drinking, or any other stereotypical male bonding activities, and I don't live anywhere near where I grew up or went to school.
posted by Dansaman to Human Relations (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think that what you do is what dictates the feeling of whether or not you have a "best friend".

I actually suspect it's more about how, as we age and we get a more nuanced view of our own selves, we actually get a bit more diffuse in our ideas of who our "best friend" is - it's not like it was when we were in grade school and there was this one person who we were joined at the hip with and they were our OMIGOD BFF thing. I currently name three people as my "best friend", and all three are very different - but all three have a very high esteem with me because they each satisfy a very unique need in me. And yet, none of them have the kind of OMIGOD BFF status that my "best friend" in junior high had. But that's more a function of my not being in grade school myself, and my knowing more about my own self; no one person could be my be-all and end-all like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am almost a middle-aged adult male, and my best buddy is a friend of mine from when we ere 15 years old. We had that bond to help us stick. There were a few years in there when we didn't even have time for each other, but we are back as best buds again. My best bud and I hate (with a passion) pretty much all stereotypical male bonding activities.

This is exactly the same way with my dad and his best bud: Friends from when they were teenagers, the friendship came and went when they were younger, but for the past 30 years or so, they have been best buds without a break.

Same with my retired father-in-law: Friends with his best bud since high school. Their lives separated when they went to college and married young, but for the past 20 years or so, they have been best buds without a break again.

Of course it's different with everyone, but these three instances stick out to me and are all very similar. Others: co-workers. I have co-workers who have become best buds with each other, inside and outside of work.

But since you aren't going to have friends from your past, as you aren't anywhere near those areas, there is also nothing wrong with not one "best friend," but rather "best parts of several friends." As I get older, I kind of like thinking of this arrangement, but that seems to be opposite of how men see friendships as they age.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:16 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just know in my family. - 6 aunts and uncles and my parents - none have friends outside of work.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2013

Yeah, my dad doesn't, and I don't think my uncles do, have particular best buddies. Work friends, neighbors, and social friends, sure. They all live away from where they grew up, for what it's worth.
posted by ghharr at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2013

I'm middle aged male, and I don't have a best friend. From what I observe, this is normal. Once you have a family you just don't have room for intense friendships any more. It's a good trade, IMO.
posted by mattu at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't live anywhere near where I grew up or went to school.

That might be the key factor. Making friends as an adult new to an area is a whole 'nother ball of wax from keeping friends you've had for ages.

I notice you didn't say anything about how you feel about not having a best friend.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's really difficult for everyone to form and maintain close friendships as adults, and that this is particularly true for men.

It's harder to find time, for one thing. But as our lives become more complex (and often harder!) it's difficult to really build that emotional intimacy, even recognizing that one person's emotional intimacy may be via long conversations and another's through, grunting and pointing or whatever we're saying that "real men" do.

I've observed (as someone who was socialized, in many respects, as very "male") that just breaking through the conditioning - the "go it alone" conditioning, the "no one wants to hear about that" conditioning, the "talking or even thinking much about your feelings is weak and trivial" conditioning - is something that takes some learning. I would say that only in the last couple of years have I begun to learn how to have somewhat close adult friendships, and I've had to fight my upbringing every step of the way. In this, I think my upbringing was not atypical.

Do you need an individual "best friend"? Probably not, but I've found it very worth while to think about emotional intimacy and try to build/sustain some of it outside of romantic partnership.
posted by Frowner at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

My middle aged fiance with a family (me and 6 year old son) is having trouble choosing a best man because he has quite a good male friends but not "Best" friend.

I think you're normal.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:58 AM on March 21, 2013

Anecdata: I'm 55, married with a family (though in their 20's now) and I've had a best friend for close to 30 years. I have a lot of acquaintances, a few friends but only one best friend. I can't imagine not having one, to be honest. But I know plenty of guys who don't, so I wouldn't worry about it. Just enjoy your friends for who and what they are.
posted by tommasz at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2013

I notice you didn't say anything about how you feel about not having a best friend.

The motivation for my question was more curiosity than anything else. I'm kind of neutral about it. I don't feel a big need for a best friend, but on the other hand once in a while I feel it would be nice to have a friend who provides more of the attributes in one friend that I enjoy partially among several friends. Why? Not sure, maybe just for efficiency, since as others have noted, when you have a family you tend to be busy.
posted by Dansaman at 12:31 PM on March 21, 2013

My husband has two best friends. One is a woman he went to middle school with, who was his best person at our wedding; one is a man who was a former housemate shortly after college. Friend A lives in another part of the Boston metro area; he and she get together once a month or so (sometimes with me, sometimes not) and, for instance, the three of us had Chinese food together on Christmas. They talk on the phone about once a week.

Friend B lives in New York and so we see him three or four times a year, but B and my husband talk on the phone each Sunday evening almost without fail for a half-hour or more.

Now, I talk on the phone with one or the other or both of my two best friends every day, pretty much, but one of the things that really drew me to my husband was the level of energy he put into his friendships. He's going to be 51 next week, and his friends are similar in age.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:34 PM on March 21, 2013

Lots of people don't. It's just a matter of circumstance. I agree with the comments that it's difficult to build that level of intimacy as an adult. My best friend is someone I've known since college that has seen me through the biggest highs and lows of my life. That builds a certain level of trust and intimacy.
posted by bfranklin at 12:38 PM on March 21, 2013

Yeah I do, she's called 'my wife'.

I have lots of guy buddies still, but there is only one person I can talk to about everything.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Anecdotally, I am a man with a wife and kids and I don't have any "best friends" that I'm still close to. My wife does have a close best friend.

Is There Anything Good About Men? by Roy F. Baumeister mentions some psychology research that might be relevant:
The gist of our view was that there are two different ways of being social. In social psychology we tend to emphasize close, intimate relationships, and yes, perhaps women specialize in those and are better at them than men. But one can also look at being social in terms of having larger networks of shallower relationships, and on these, perhaps, men are more social than women.

It’s like the common question, what’s more important to you, having a few close friendships or having lots of people who know you? Most people say the former is more important. But the large network of shallow relationships might be important too. We shouldn’t automatically see men as second-class human beings simply because they specialize in the less important, less satisfying kind of relationship. Men are social too — just in a different way. [...]

The same two-spheres conclusion is supported in plenty of other places. Playground observation studies find that girls pair off and play one-on-one with the same playmate for the full hour. Boys will either play one-on-one with a series of different playmates or with a larger group. Girls want the one-to-one relationship, whereas boys are drawn to bigger groups or networks.

When two girls are playing together and the researchers bring in a third one, the two girls resist letting her join. But two boys will let a third boy join their game. My point is that girls want the one-on-one connection, so adding a third person spoils the time for them, but it doesn’t spoil it for the boys.
Of course that is a very simplified and also controversial presentation of some very complex phenomena, and doesn't really delve into the evidence for this difference or why it might exist. It might not be true across different cultures or demographics. But I thought the fact that these studies exist might help answer your question.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:57 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

It depends a bit on your definition of a BF, doesn't it. If the definition incorporates frequent contact, well, that may cut down on the number of people who could claim that. Ultimately it's about how you feel about someone.

For example, I've had 3 very close friends for over 30 years now. With two of those, I've gradually lost contact due to moving across the ocean, and so forth -


I don't think of them as "ex-best friends". In fact, one of them came to Los Angeles on business and we met, after not having contact for fifteen years or so. He walked through the door, and it was as if no time had passed - except we both looked hella older.

A Chinese friend once told me that there's an ancient Chinese story about what real friendship means: you are real friends, when your friend whom you haven't seen in twenty years unexpectedly comes by and you serve him tea, and you drink tea together and he departs and not a word has been spoken, and the entire time both of you feel like close friends.

That story really struck me, because that's exactly how I think of friendship and how I experience it. I know what my friend feels and how he'll react and I know I can trust him and he can trust me, and we can rely on each other - even if we haven't had contact for years. I may not know what is going on in his life, but friendship is on a psychological plane, and as long as we know that plane, we know all. It's only natural - when you're young friends joined at the hip, you obviously know the smallest details about what's going on in your lives. But when you're older and busier and don't have as much contact, it's impossible to keep such close tabs. So why keep tabs on the external stuff at all? It's all about what's in your heart, after all.

And that's how I experience it. I learned from the friend who visited that he's married and has two kids - I had no idea, obviously - but it was mentioned in passing and not the focus of our meeting. We hung out, enjoying each other's company, like in the days of old, and we knew, without a doubt, that we were best friends, even if we knew little about our external lives at the moment. But that's how I experience "best friend" and others may not think that's a "best friend" at all, and you need to always catch up or be on top of the latest happenings with your best friend to call them a "best friend". So, again, definitions.

If I went by my definition, I'd have 3 best friends. If I had to include frequent contact, I'd have only one. And how people define that will affect the answer to your question.
posted by VikingSword at 1:01 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Time I would have spent with a best friend back in the day I now prefer to spend with my wife. She's like the uber best friend.
posted by BurntHombre at 1:02 PM on March 21, 2013

In my experience barely anyone has a "best friend" past college age. Of those that do, most of them are "legacy" best friends that they don't actually spent that much time with anymore.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2013

I married my best friend. I recommend it to anyone!
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:11 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if "mid-to-late-30s" counts as middle-aged, but many men I know in my bracket have very close friends. My partner talks to his best bud on IM every day and they play online chess together. (They are in the same industry but have never been co-workers and met because Best Friend married a female friend of ours.) I know other guys who have friends they play soccer, video games, or poker with regularly who they would consider at least very close friends: some from high school/college, but others from work or just the social scene we are all a part of (tech workers).

In my experience it is not true that people past college age do not have best or close friends.
posted by alicetiara at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2013

I fall on the "no real best friends but think it would be nice" divide. As does my husband, I think. I have a large number of women friends who I talk with pretty regularly and we go out and do stuff but none of it is really close. I was always moving around as a kid so even though I'm still in very infrequent touch with friends from my youth, none of the very close and considered "best" friends from high school or college have stuck with me. As an adult, who can spend the time to cultivate that kind of relationship? Who has the time, energy or inclination to stay out all night being crazy and getting in trouble? For one, our spouses would divorce us.

My husband is similar, though I think his circle is even smaller. He has a number of friends from various workplaces and sports he does but it's been hard to maintain that close friendship, that buddy who will always meet up for a beer.

And, we have a kid now and it's even hard for my husband and I to connect sometimes -- distracted, tired, occupied with other things. Our daughter sometimes shouts "no talking! talk to me!" at the dinner table when he and I are having a conversation (we're working on this, she's 2). He and I are trying to have more date nights and see if that helps the general feeling of social malaise.

So, I think your experience is not uncommon and it can be hard to overcome. I'm trying to organize a group of women to go backpacking this summer. I feel like we need some kind of shared experience and time to talk that might create stronger bonds. On the other hand, we may all come back and go back to our separate, little lives and that'll be that. Odds are on that.
posted by amanda at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2013

I'm 40 with a kid and I'd definitely say my wife is my best friend, the person to whom I talk about everything, share fears and hopes, etc. I have lots of people that I consider good friends, but they're all categorized as couple/family friends, shoot-the-shit-over-beer friends, work friends, hobby/exercise/outdoorsy friends, etc. Like you, I'm not into what some may consider typical man stuff -- televised or team sports, cards, shooting.

When I was in high school and college I had "best friends" and I still keep in touch with most of them, but even if they lived near me I doubt we'd have as much in common now as we did then. Frankly I would be annoyed if one of them, say, moved to where I lived now and wanted to hang out all the time -- what the hell would we talk about?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:25 PM on March 21, 2013

I think a lot of it depends on whether you live near where you grew/your best friend lives near where you grew up or went to college. My mother (mid-fifties) and I (mid-twenties) both stay in touch with and visit our childhood best friends, but neither of us live close enough to see them regularly. But there's still that bond of: You know so much about me, and I know so much about you, and I've known you for most of my life, etc. etc. that, even though my "Best Friend" (I'm cringing as I type that) and I may not have a ton in common anymore, we can always pick up where we left off.

But I do know people who live near and see a lot of their best friends, whether it's from early childhood, college, or later.

I also would like to think that being married doesn't necessarily preclude having close friends, but as I'm not married, I don't really know how that works. I do think it's harder for men to maintain close friendships after they get married for a broad range of reasons.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:46 PM on March 21, 2013

Yea my dad does!
posted by dinosaurprincess at 4:05 PM on March 21, 2013

I'm 36 and have a wife and many kids. I don't have a "best friend" or even any close male friends. There are a few who I will hang out with every once in a while, but that's it.

I also live far, far away from where I grew up, and I've always assumed that has a lot to do with it. I'm also pretty neutral about it, like you are. Whatever.
posted by tacodave at 4:40 PM on March 21, 2013

My husband has a best friend dating back from when he was a kid. The friend lives about 1000 miles away but they skype frequently and visit each other 3-4 times a year. It is a pretty non-stereotypical male friendship, though: pretty much all they do is sit around and talk, usually about their feelings.

By contrast, I (female) have several close friends, but no single "best" one. So YMMV on the gender roles.
posted by forza at 5:32 PM on March 21, 2013

I have lots of 'stand by me' best friends. Friends I grew up with, friends that I would drive 300 miles to help if they called me right now.

Once I had a family, the things we use to do together to nurture that friendship went away almost completely (we barely talk, or hangout)...but the friendship is still their, somehow living without water, earth, or sun. To be honest....when we do meet up, the spark is gone, but we would all go way out of our way to help each other if ever called upon. To sum up, the bond is from days past, and not from actions now.

I tend to think if one is dedicated to family and happy in that family, it would be really hard to nurture another relationship. Maybe its just me.
posted by couchdive at 6:46 PM on March 21, 2013

People who have friends since childhood that they've managed to keep seem to have them, but it's tricky once people get married and have kids. Or at least, it's harder to maintain, as far as I can tell.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:53 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My step-dad just passed, but he was in his 50s so solidly middle aged. He had a lot of good fishing buddies, and a couple who were pretty close to him, had known him for decades. I don't know that he would have used the words "best friend" to describe any of them, but that's a pretty good approximation for a handful of them. My step-dad was a really social guy, though. Knew tons of people, easily made friends, liked to talk and drink and take people out to fish at his favorite spots.

My dad, a bit older, has had 'best friends' of sorts (again, the terminology seems a little juvenile for my parents to actually use for their own friends), but he also has been single/divorced for 25 years.

My husband is not middle aged yet, but he does not have a best friend really (aside from me). He had one, but the guy moved and while there's still plenty of good feelings between them they don't see or talk to each other much anymore.
posted by asciident at 9:05 PM on March 21, 2013

This is so common that they made a movie about it: I Love You, Man.

There is a darker side though. Lack of close friends is considered a major factor behind the high rate of suicide in older men.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 2:46 AM on March 22, 2013

« Older What do I give my young son after a performance in...   |   Putting out the fires Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.