Anyone who has even the slightest interest in media popular culture, particularly, as it relates to the 1960s, is likely to be aware of the TV program Mad Men that aired from 2007-2015. The main character of the critically acclaimed series was a conflicted, tormented, womanizing, chain smoking, alcoholic, upper-middle-class, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant advertising executive named Don Draper. He was phenomenally successful working at Sterling Cooper, the conservative-leaning company. Draper was brash, bold, intense, secure, insecure, arrogant, ambitious, insightful, ruthless, aloof, temperamental, romantic, savvy and unpredictable. It goes without saying, he was a dynamic, complex human being.
Many individuals, both friends and foes, were often in awe when in his presence. He was a formidable force to be reckoned with. Tall, dark and indisputably handsome, Draper was the type of man who other men simultaneously admired and feared. He was the man who many women wanted to go to bed with and frequently did. He was the embodiment of the Alpha male that made other men want to be like him, be his buddy and often provoked jealousy and resentment among those guys who were unable to measure up to his larger-than-life presence. Yes, Draper seemed to have it all ― money, looks, significant power, a bewitchingly beautiful wife, three children, a beautiful home in suburban Ossining, New York, and all the outward trappings of success. He was a living embodiment of the American dream. He had arrived.
Despite his material and enviable career success, Don, like many of his mid-20th-century contemporaries and many men today, more than a half a century later, was hampered by a common theme that is prevalent in the lives of many men — a lack of genuine friendships. The old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” rings true in regards to this particular issue.
[M]en have chosen to become totally consumed with one’s career to the detriment of having any healthy relationships.
There have been a number of theories and reasons from experts as to why so many men have difficulty establishing and maintaining valuable, close relationships with other men. The social awkwardness and a rejection of intimacy with other men are present in fear of being viewed or labeled as gay. Societal mores have historically frowned upon it. Instead, men have chosen to become totally consumed with one’s career to the detriment of having any healthy relationships. Reasons aside, many individuals with the X/Y chromosome have a real deficit in their level of camaraderie with other men. The undeniable conclusion from many psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health experts as well as testimony from a number of men themselves is that too many men have too few, if any, real male friends.
There has been a plethora of studies providing evidence that men who are largely friendless are living in an unhealthy situation, often resort to alcohol, engage in drug use, suffer from depression, and should reexamine their current predicament. Some things to consider:
* Reaching out to other men may provide you with useful advice — There are times that we as men (as well as some women) can act on impulse and engage in unwise and foolish behavior. Men who have close friendships are more likely to approach their buddies with their concerns and get some reasonable perspectives before deciding on the problem(s) at hand. This could potentially spare the man in question some unnecessary pitfalls.
* Learn to get out of your comfort zone — We are all creatures of habit. This is likely to be particularly true of men. Due to this fact, other men who are real friends likely will be more candid in telling you (in a polite way) about your shortcomings or assisting you in refraining from engaging in negative habits challenging you to be the best man that you can possibly be.
* Male friends can serve as valuable confidants — If we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we as men can be more vulnerable with other men than with the women in our lives. For married men, this often means your spouse. Over time, being willing to let go of social inhibitions that have largely been imposed by a sexist, patriarchal society, many men find that establishing solid friendships with other men can be exceedingly rewarding.
* Other men can serve as effective mentors — By no means am I saying that women cannot serve as mentors for men as people of both genders can do so. That being said, a female mentor once mentioned to me, there are times when people of the same gender can provide advice in ways that others cannot always do so. I agree with this sentiment.
* There are times when men need to be ourselves — There are times when all of us (or most of us) as human beings want to be around people with similar interests. Gender is no different. The fact is that for good or for ill, we are more inclined to be more retrospective with like-minded individuals. I have been in all-male settings, bars, men’s groups etc., where the men in question were refreshingly candid and forthright with one another in a manner that mostly would not have occurred had the setting been a mixed-gender crowd. The fact is that “no man is an island.”
Unfortunately, Don Draper and many men of his day (and of the present day) had/have few, if any real male friends. As a result, the emotional and psychological impact of such a reality can influence a potentially tragic outcome. Such an intense level of constant loneliness is unhealthy for anyone.
For Black men and other men of color, as well as lower-income White men, additional factors such as economic deprivation, physical and psychological violence from the larger society, violence, and lack of access to quality health care and education can further compound the aforementioned problems. Some guys, however, are totally comfortable with such a situation. Other men readily acknowledge the potential danger of such isolation and would desperately like to change their situations. Regardless of which category you fall in, making a valiant effort to quickly rectify the problem is likely to be the most effective solution to your problem.
Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University.