027. bonding


From A Treatise on the Mustache by Brett & Kate McKay on 8 September 2009:

Unlike women, who bond primarily through face to face discussions, males bond best through shared activities, namely through those performed side by side. Two men embarking on the road to friendship do so with a mutual appreciation of one another’s machismo. Such activities include logging, hunting, war, etc. At a more primordial stage however, the process begins with the most fundamental element of human bonding: similarity.

I’ve read similar things before, such as C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, but the above excerpt is fairly concise. It describes differences between male and female friendships of the same gender. Even from my own observations, I’ve noted that female relationships tend to be based on shared emotional connection, whereas male relationships tend to be forged through shared activity. It’s not that either is superior to the other (though feminists and contemporary psychology would stress that men need to express more of their “feminine,” emotional side). In a vacuum, where each is left to their own nature, men and women will bond with the members of the same sex in fairly consistent ways—women through talking, men through doing.

But with men, the guard is eventually lowered through similarity. A powerful bond can be forged between two men who share a passion for LINUX programming, Batman comics, or, yes, facial hair. It is almost ineffable. As C.S. Lewis writes on Friendship in The Four Loves,

Long before history began we men have got together apart from the women and done things. We had to. And to like doing what must be done is a characteristic that has survival value. We not only had to do the things, we had to talk about them. We had to plan the hunt and the battle. And when they were over as had to hold a post mortem and draw conclusions for future use. We liked this even better. We ridiculed or punished the cowards and bunglers, we praised the star performers. We revelled in technicalities . . . In fact, we talked shop. We enjoyed one another’s society greatly.

This pleasure in co-operation, in talking shop, in the mutual respect and understanding of men who daily see one another tested, is biologically valuable. You may, if you like, regard it as a product of the “gregarious instinct” . . . something which is going on at this moment in dozens of ward-rooms, bar-rooms, common-rooms, messes and golf-clubs. I prefer to call it Companionship—or Clubableness.

This Companionship is, however, only the matrix of Friendship. It is often called Friendship, and many people when they speak of their “friends” mean only their companions. Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believes to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision—it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.

Lewis said it far better than I.

But he observes that there is now a distinct mistrust of male friendship—”that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual.” And as a homosexual, I find this to be flat out absurd, as does Lewis, as it stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of homosexuality (and even sexuality in general). If platonic friendship between the sexes can exist, why shouldn’t one between two men or two women?

That’s beside the point.

These days friendships between males seem so superficial, perhaps because the males themselves are so superficial and fearful of making really deep connections. They are even trivialised by giving them labels like Bromance, where homosocial intimacy is allowed, to an extent, but it is still something that men are expected to “grow out of,” like a phase or adolescence. But it speaks to something much deeper, it seems, that men are desiring to be more physically expressive with each other—something that up untill the early twentieth century was considered socially appropriate and in no way latently homosexual. “On a broad historical view it is,” Lewis writes, “not the demonstrative gestures of Friendship among our ancestors but the absence of such gestures in our own society that calls for some special explanation. We, not they, are out of step.”

“Hence,” he postulates later,

we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead . . . The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends . . . Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travellers.

This is fundamentally the problem that I see with men these days and their relationships—they substitute noise for substance and expect it to fill the void. They surround themselves with things or with people, but aren’t going anywhere. They have their male friends as companions at first, then trade that in for a girlfriend and/or wife (or succession of girlfriends) to satisfy their sexual desires; but they are merely in a state of existence or surviving. Companions abound, but Friends (kindred spirits, if you will) are few and far between.

Men need the friendship and company of other men; someone to share a common goal or journey with. Because men bond by doing together: fishing, shingling a house, playing football (and yes, I mean European football), poker tourneys, or hunting to name a few traditional male bonding activities. But it’s a twentieth century phenomenon where masculine spaces have been abolished and deemed chauvinistic. It was the feminists who demanded that the boy’s clubs be opened up to women. But the boys have always found ways to stake out territory, though now on the outskirts of a heterosexualised society and always within reach of women (e.g., bowling night, for which men often have to get “permission” from their wives or significant others).

So what am I saying? That men need to stop being afraid of commitment and find something that they are truly passionate about. And if they are, they will eventually come in contact with other like-minded men who have the same passions they can pursue together. That is how empires were built.

You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. What have all these “unconcerning things, matters or fact” to do with the real question, Do you see the same truth? In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for an anecdote; never for their own sake. That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts . . . At home, besides being Peter or Jane, we also beat a general character; husband or wife, brother or sister, chief, colleague or subordinate. Not among our Friends . . . Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.
— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

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