Most men I know have at least one group of friends that comprises only males. If, like me, you had an all-boys schooling you have multiple such circles. The ones you play football or cricket with are separate from the ones you raise and fold hands at poker with.
But there are friends, and then there are your ‘boys’. This is your main crew. The friendship herein usually runs deep. It has aged and evolved with you. Where once you roamed around your school and got in fights together, today you are all part of a WhatsApp group that allows for no new entrants. Just as your hairlines have collectively receded, so too have your habits collectively worsened.
For you it is always an effort to call these boys by their first names in the company of parents. This is because having spent a significant period of time being friends, you know these men by rather disreputable, often graphic nicknames.
This is the group that others know you by, lending veracity to the age-old adage ‘you are known by the company you keep.’ If someone wants to invite you to their party or dinner, they may well have to extend that invitation to the entire group. (Maybe this barrier to entry can explain my rather quiet weekends). Even if you discover that life has morphed your interests such that they have diverged from your friends, it’s too late. There is no escaping the label. For better or worse you are stuck with these friends.
You will find in the company of these friends’ laughter, and loyalty. You will recount old stories, and pen new ones. But beyond the banter and the carefree company there is certain wastefulness in these friendships. There is something they lack, something they are blind to.
Despite having relationships whose roots run decades deep, if not generations, I find that I know surprisingly little about them. I know not which of my friends is going through financial straits. I don’t know whose parents bicker or fight. Heck, even those going through heartbreak will tell me about their woes only after they have gulped down the worst of it on their own. Silently, and in isolation, without breaking a tear.
Instead what I know of them is what I get at the surface. I know which girl is interested in them, and who they wish to pursue. They will happily inform me of the cars that they have bought, or the crazy weekend spent in Karachi or Dubai. We will talk mindlessly for hours about football teams, and argue over politics and movies. And yes we will always have fun together but there isn’t an honest conversation, a truly honest conversation, to be had. Don’t get me wrong, I too am guilty of the same.
Amidst male bravado is there only room for gloating? Does it take so much space that men talk only of what is good in their lives, leaving no room for vulnerability? And I don’t mean an embarrassing story here and there, or being the butt of a joke from time to time, but true naked vulnerability.
The problem is worsened when men look for in a lover what they really just desire in a friend. Some men allow only to their girlfriends or significant others entry into their emotional state of being. Others don’t even afford as much. And when the inevitable happens and they return once more to their ‘boys’ that vault of emotions closes up once more. In the loss of a lover, unbeknownst to them they lose foremost a friend. They should have never conflated the two.
Over time the vault collects dust and is forgotten. After a fashion they too become blind to it, and once more carry on with life as it was before. Sharing old stories and penning new ones, picking sides between Ronaldo and Messi.
To the many men in my life, I have this to say: go find yourself a true friend. Someone you can share the chhoti khushi and the chhota ghum that is writ in the story of everyday. Someone with whom you can be unashamedly vulnerable. This will take time, but remember that these friendships that I spoke of are old and run deep. Let’s not let them go to waste.