Most guys think they don't need one, but they're missing out.
If I had seen this headline just a few years ago, I would have skipped right over the article. Me, in need of a small group? No way. I’m too shy, too busy, and just don’t “click” with other guys that way very often.
But as a man who keenly felt the dwindling of my social circles—especially close friends—after I graduated from college, embarked on my career, and got married, I recently found myself committing to a close circle of male friends, and I can already see the benefits of it in my life.
Having a group of men with whom you can grab a drink and engage in open, vulnerable communication not only improves your general life, but also your other relationships — with your spouse, children, family, colleagues, and God. Through regular conversation, laughter, and honesty, you grow in brotherly trust, identify and heal wounds you may never knew you had, and improve your mental health. The synergistic practices of both having a friend and being a friend helps you become more of the person you want to be.
But where to start?
Here are 5 tips for finding this kind of male fellowship and keeping it going.
1Try before you buy
So where are you going to find these potential best friends? I freely admit that this is the hardest part and very dependent on your current life circumstances.
First, look around your current social circles—coworkers, casual acquaintances, parishioners at your church—and see if there is anyone who seems to have a little in common with you. Maybe it’s someone with qualities you admire or would like to get to know better. Much like dating, there’s no harm in asking someone out for a beer or a cup of coffee to see if you get along well. Considering the loneliness epidemic so prevalent today, the other person may be just as in need of friendship as you are. If it works out, perhaps one of you knows other men to invite along. There doesn’t need to be an upfront commitment — but the test drive might lead to the beginning of a good friendship.
Once you’ve found a group of men in whom you trust, there’s often another challenge: confiding in them. The point of this kind of small group is not simply to talk sports or weather but to have meaningful conversations that go beyond water cooler chats and to help each other grow in holiness. This means admitting your faults and sharing the things that you’re struggling with or trying to improve about your life.
This didn’t happen overnight for me, but I have been astounded at the wisdom and advice that the men in my group have shared with each other simply by their willingness to be vulnerable. It’s not the default setting for many men of course, so it’s something you have to proactively commit to and constantly strive for. Don’t worry, you can talk about sports, too.
3Set the next date before you leave
One way to ensure that you carve out time in your busy schedule for this important venture is to pull out your phones before you part ways and pick the next time and place. If you don’t set something up as the current meeting is ending, it’s likely that things will languish and suddenly it will be months since you’ve met in person. Establishing a routine is important, even if that routine starts out as just once a month.
4Do different things together
It’s nice to go out for a beer and enjoy casual conversation, but as the fellowship grows, you’ll want to mix it up. We’ve tackled spiritual and self-help books that relate to issues we’re dealing with. We’ve chosen a book of the Bible to read and study. Last Lent, we all committed to (mostly) doing Exodus 90 together. Our wives and kids even gave us a weekend in the spring so we could do a mini-retreat together at a lake house complete with bonfire, swimming, and a private Mass. (It helps that one of our members is a priest.) The point is that relationships grow through shared experiences and that means you have to move beyond the pub at some point.
Regardless of how often you’re meeting in person, it’s important to have other ways of staying connected in the interim. Our group has a perpetual text chain that we use for trading jokes, photos and GIFs, as well as important life updates and prayer requests. We genuinely care about one another, find value in our friendships, and like to be informed about each other’s lives. Technology has been a great ally in keeping our group together.
I’m blessed by a group of good men who choose to our friendships an important part of their busy lives. So look around and see who God might be sending your way. The reward of sharing your load with another person, and helping them with theirs, is worth any potential risks. Take it from me, a reluctant small group joiner who’s now a big believer in being part of one.