I knew his lady had left him. Of course it wasn’t him who told me. Our mutual friend did. They were closer. I didn’t know her well. Met her a few times. That was about it. I didn’t know much about her or them. Just that they were together for a few years and she’d recently moved out. And I heard that he wasn’t taking it too well. He’s going through it right now. Going through it. That’s the catch-all phrase men resort to when we don’t want to use the words we have to describe anything that’s painful or confusing. Often both.
He was sitting on the couch when he told me. I don’t know if you heard. Yeah, I heard. I was sitting at the table. There was about 10 feet between us. I don’t remember much else he said. But I do remember him crying. And me not being able to look at him. I just listened to him cry. A broken heart. Shattered pride. I hope I said something meaningful, at least something helpful. Something that said I cared, that his feelings mattered, that I too know what it’s like. Because I did. But I probably just said sorry. As if it was my fault. I was 10 feet away but I was much further away.
I don’t know why I couldn’t at least sit next to him. It’s not as if I’d never put my arm around my teammates when they dropped the pass, threw an interception, struck out, hit the ball out, missed the shot. But that was sports, one of the rare spaces where men allow each other to express their whole range of emotions. Because in sports there are winners and losers. The gray area is where we struggle. The crying made me uncomfortable. Which then made me annoyed. Damn, why’s he gotta cry right now? Right here? But I was really annoyed at myself. At my inability to console a male friend.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my male friendships. Not my male friends. But my friendships with men. I used to think that a good male friendship meant just showing up when asked with no questions asked. Like when you helped each other move. In my 20s, for a week I played video games until 2AM with a friend whose girlfriend had moved out. I just showed up. I did my part. I spent time. I gave. Wasn’t that enough? Today I hear songs about friendships by men and they sound so bitter, disappointed, and jaded. I’m amazing and you suck. Seems to be the theme. And everyone claims to be able to relate to them. Are so many of us disappointed in our friendships? Damn this song captures everything I want to say but don’t have the courage to say! Fellas, when’s the last time you’ve thought about the quality or the health of your friendships with other men? I only have about three male friends I talk about everything with. That’s probably a good number. I imagine most guys only have one. If so lucky.
Sports. Women. Music. Maybe movies. Definitely TV. That’s what most guys talk about to each other. I don’t drink so I’ve never gotten together with a bunch of the fellas for happy hour to shoot the shit. My idea of what kind of conversations take place there is formed by my consumption of media. That’s where you bitch about your woman and then confess to having an affair? I hear about my male friends going through it second-handedly but I rarely reach out. He probably needs to figure some shit out on his own. Makes me feel better to think like that. Then they tell you that they’ve felt really alone lately. Rarely do we confess that we felt lonely. I don’t even want to mention the times that we laughed behind our male friends back for going through it. I want to think it was because we couldn’t talk about it.
But it’s the other way too. Whenever I’ve gone through it, I’ve rarely reached out to my male friends. Even when they’ve asked how I’ve been, I probably lied. Why burden them with my issues? Everyone’s got their own. So we turn to our girlfriend fiancees wives lovers and they become the bearers of our deepest fears, frustrations, disappointments, depressions, and resentments. And we pray that they never share the real us with anyone. They have to extend and carry out our pretending that everything is cool, bro. You know me. Always. Don’t tell anyone the other stuff tho.
I’m trying to get better. If a male friend seems a little distressed, I try to send a text. Checking in on ya. Keep it simple. Try not to get preachy. I don’t have the answers. They may not even have the questions. But I know you’ve been going through something and I just want to acknowledge that I noticed. At the least.
And hey, if you’re reading this, if I could go back, I would have sat next to you on the couch and told you that you’re going to be alright. That everything’s gonna be alright. And that hopefully one day we can look back on this with a bunch of our guy friends and laugh about how you cried on the couch.
We won’t be laughing at you tho.
Instead, we’ll be laughing at ourselves, thinking about all the times we cried on the couch.
And privately hoping that we won’t have to anymore.