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How to Make Guy Friends in Your 40s (Without It Getting All Weird)

Men don’t bond like women — here’s how to make it less awkward

Group of men playing basketball with sunset
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Nearly a year ago, after two decades in the same Brooklyn apartment, my wife and I joined millions of other pandemic-driven parents and moved our family to a house in the New Jersey suburbs. Amid all the upheaval and novelty — Driving! Yard work! Strangers saying hi! — I suddenly realized I didn’t know a soul in my new locale.

The prospect of rebuilding my social network at midlife was daunting. Three decades ago, according to the Survey Center on American Life, men had an average of six close friends. Post-pandemic, it’s down to three. Nearly 1 in 7 report having none at all. 

“The patriarchy has put so many roadblocks up for men,” says Robert Garfield, a psychologist and author of Breaking the Male Code. We’re too busy. We don’t want to let down our guard. We fetishize rugged independence. 

Against this stacked deck, I faced the challenge of being in an entirely new place, during a pandemic in which hardly anyone was leaving their house. 

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I turned to my wheels. 

I’d been riding for the past decade with a semi-stable group of cyclists. And it turned out that one of them had a friend in my new town. I got in touch and was invited on a weekend group ride.

It was a bit of a fiasco. I showed up at the wrong Starbucks for the meetup, then flatted three times during the ride. But all the “noob” jokes weren’t hostile. The seeds of social connection were being sown. By needing help from the group, I was forced to become vulnerable—one of the hallmarks of forging friendships.

“We find all these indirect ways to say we care about each other,” says Billy Baker, author of We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends

But were these just activity pals, friends of convenience? Baker suggests that that notion is self-defeating. “Where men fail is to think that these are soft relationships that don’t really go anywhere,” he says. 

Moving to a deeper level will, admittedly, take some work. “It takes a bit of saying, ‘Hey, I like you, you seem to like me, let’s hang out,” Baker says. ”It’s awkward, like asking them on a date.”

It’s also going to take time. A study in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that, on average, “it takes somewhere between 40 and 60 hours to form a casual friendship in the first six weeks after meeting.” 

I’ve seen this in action because, in addition to cycling, I’ve also been playing in a weekly soccer game. I like both groups, but I’ve found myself becoming closer more quickly to the bike riders. Not only is cycling more conducive to conversation, but I also do more of it. And that’s more time to get to know others, more time to open yourself up, more time to need a hand and to lend a hand.

All those MAMIL (Middle Age Men in Lycra) you see on the road aren’t just getting exercise, in the same way that those groups of ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) at the diner aren’t just eating. They’re working other muscles, satisfying other urges. It’s less about the activity itself and more about the sharing of that activity. 

“Most of the time me and my friends get together,” Baker says, “I don’t even know what we do.”