30 Days to a Better Man Day 7: Reconnect with an Old Friend

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 6, 2009 · 16 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

I’ve recently been reading the book Team of Rivals about the men Abraham Lincoln picked for his cabinet. As I was reading it a few night ago, I was struck by this passage concerning the friendship between the future Secretary of State, William H. Seward, and his friend¬† David Berdan:

“Together, the young men attended the theater, read poetry, discussed books, and chased after women. Convinced that Berdan would become a celebrated writer, Seward stood in awe of his friend’s talent and dedication. All such grand expectations and prospects were crushed when Berdan, still in his twenties was “seized with a bleeding at the lungs” while sojourning in Europe. . . The illness took his life…Seward was devastated, later telling his wife that he had loved Berdan as “never again” could he “love in this world.”

Such intimate male attachments as Seward’s with Berdan, or, as we shall see, Lincoln’s with Joshua Speed and Chase’s with Edwin Stanton, were a “common feature of the social landscape” in the nineteenth century America, the historian E. Anthony Rotundo points out. The family-focused and community-centered life led by most men in colonial era was transformed at the dawn of the new century into an individual and career-oriented existence. As the young men of Seward and Lincoln’s generation left the familiarity of their small communities and traveled to seek employment in fast-growing, anonymous cities or in distant territories, they often felt unbearably lonely. In the absence of parents and siblings, they turned to one another for support, sharing thoughts and emotions so completely that their intimate friendships developed the qualities of passionate romances.”

We have previously discussed the ardent friendships of the 19th century, and the interesting history of male friendship in general. And while much has changed in our world since Lincoln’s day, are we not still a society where we head from our hometowns to far flung locations in pursuit of career or college, and are we not still at times, if we can admit it, “unbearably lonely?”

Yet unlike the men of the 19th century, the men of today do not seek even closer friendships to enrich their lives and lend them support. Instead, under the excuse of being too busy, and out of the fear of being called a homo, we often distance ourselves from other men, trying to be the lone wolf. Or, as Wayne has pointed out, we look to female relationships to cure all of our hunger for intimacy.

Our Crumbling Connections

We are isolated more than ever before. According to a study conducted by the American Sociological Review in 2006, over the past two decades, the number of confidantes Americans feel comfortable discussing important matters with has shrunk by a third. 25% of the study’s respondents said they had no one with whom they felt comfortable discussing important matters, more than double the percentage who felt that way 20 years ago. And 20% said they had only one person with which to do so. The greatest drop in confidantes occurred in non-familial relations. Or in other words, our friends. ((http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:qeOLS1-ZbW0J:www.asanet.org/galleries/default-file/June06ASRFeature.pdf+2006+american+sociological+review+study+social+isolation+in+america&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us))

What a lamentable state of things. Can we get by without any friends? Surely. But can friends enrich our lives and make us happier? Most definitely. There’s something invaluable about knowing that you are not alone in the world. That no matter what, there’s a guy out there who you absolutely know has your back. A friend that would come to your side if you were beset with a crisis.

So what was the difference between the men of the 19th Century and our day? Did they need friendships more some how? That’s debatable. Were they less busy? Men of today would probably like to think so. Busyness is our favorite excuse for why we can’t make time for the good things in life. But given that the men of the 19th century had no electricity, no modern appliances, no internet, no cars, no packaged meals, no cell phones, and no fast food, unless they were a slave owner, which the men above were not, then they weren’t sitting around all day twiddling their thumbs.

So what was the difference between them and us? They weren’t as distracted from what’s important in life as we are. They didn’t labor under the belief that watching Lost was an adequate substitution for friendship. And they didn’t think that checking a buddy’s Facebook update was equivalent to catching up with him.

It’s amazing that with the proliferation of time-saving devices these days, we feel busier then ever. Yet, it’s all relative. We’re not busier than ever. And if we feel that way, it’s because we aren’t prioritizing the right kinds of things in our lives. And that’s going to change this month, starting with today’s task.

Day 7 Task: Reconnect With an Old Friend

It’s not as if men like Speed and Lincoln had an edge on this friendship business because they stayed in one place their whole lives. Men back then were just like you; they made close friendships and then often went their separate ways. The difference is that they made the effort to stay in touch. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were apart from each other for 14 years, yet they kept their friendship alive by writing 158 letters to each other.

So your task today is to make like men of old and reconnect with a friend, either by letter, phone, or email. Wild dogs shall be released upon any man who attempts to complete this task via Twitter.

I highly recommend the letter option myself. I personally don’t like talking on the phone. Letter writing is an excellent tradition to begin with your buddy, and unlike an email, it begs an answer and will almost certainly not be ignored.

This is not a task to arrange a hang out with your friend (that will come up later, rest assured); you need only to shoot the shiz and catch up on old times.

Let us know who you reconnected with and how you did it on the Community page.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Barrett June 6, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I’ve always wished for a lifelong friend but I’ve never chosen wisely. I think I must either have poor luck or must be a poor friend. I think that you’re right that this is a very important thing that you should do if you can. With families breaking apart at a faster rate in recent history it’s even more important to keep in touch with good friends.

2 Ced June 6, 2009 at 9:09 pm

just joined facebook, and have found many old friends from grade school and high school

3 Daniel Richard June 6, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I’ve started to send out a mass sms to everyone in my contact list, and built a website for them to connect with me again. This is a pretty passive way to reconnect with others but the good news is that there’s some replies going on with friends from more than a decade ago. Hence, I’d say that I’ve managed to reconnect with some old friends this month already. :)

4 Fraz June 7, 2009 at 12:25 am

@daniel richard: I would argue that you haven’t reconnected with old friends but that you have identified those who are sufficiently interested for you to reconnect with (and I note the smiley, so perhaps your comment was entirely tongue-in-cheek).

Which got me to thinking, aren’t Facebook et al the modern day equivalent of the calling card? A “hey, you should know I’m interested in or care about you” from which one might develop deeper friendships through other means.

5 Tim June 7, 2009 at 5:06 am

Lost is a great show.

6 Brett June 7, 2009 at 6:38 am

@Fraz-

I think the comparison between Facebook and the old calling card is pretty right on, and a great observation. Because you used to leave your calling card and then it was up to the person as to whether they wanted to make contact with you and have you visit. Although these days, sometimes people “friend” you on Facebook with no intention of initiating a deeper relationship, which with the calling card, would have been a real breach of etiquette.

7 David June 7, 2009 at 2:50 pm

About Adams and Jefferson: they wrote those 158 letters (a remarkable achievement in and of itself) in the last 14 years of their lives, after they had conciliated following their political fall out with each other. In doing so they each exhibited a great humbleness and forgiveness. Really an inspiring friendship among men and an example that we should attempt to follow.

8 Trent June 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Jefferson betrayed Adams; many years later, Adams was cajoled into reaching out to his friend-turned-enemy. Adams was a self-important man, yet was able to show enough graciousness and forgiveness to extend his hand to someone who had bitten it.

Of the two, Adams was the better man–and woefully underappreciated and unknown in our modern day. A good start is the HBO miniseries about him (available through Netflix).

9 elclinto September 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm

I just started going through the challenge, September 1st and it has rocked my world for the better. I’ve been posting my thoughts daily here: http://facebook.com/elclinto.

Per today’s topic, my family and I just moved cross country to reconnect with old friends.

Thanks to everyone who contributes here.

10 Christopher Hamilton September 21, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Interesting article, sorry I’m joining this late, but I’m just discovering this site.

One thing I’m noticing on the site is this automatic linkage of “manliness” with strict heterosexuality, which I just cannot accept. As a gay man myself, I understand this linkage, but in the modern era it just seems to be artificial and limiting. Indeed, this article refers to “the fear of being called a homo” as a major factor in heterosexual men not connecting with other men in honest friendship. Such a sad state of affairs, but hopefully one that is starting to change. I have several very strong, personally important friendships with heterosexual men (in fact, one straight friend made me godfather to his two sons!) and these friendships are based on shared experience, trust, good humor, and simply being there when a friend needed a helping hand or good right arm. Trust, loyalty, honesty, judgment, discretion…these are not exclusively heterosexual traits. I’d argue they’re traits found in all the best of HUMAN friendships. Rather than focusing on what a person does in bed, maybe the better course is to judge a man by his actions, temperament, and individual qualities. Seems to me that any man can find the friends he needs if he just looks around with honesty and openness.

11 Jon Hachey October 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I just mailed a letter to my best friend in high school (haven’t done that in years!). Hopefully I found the right address.

12 Maxwell Jump October 11, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Unfortunately, letter writing is a two-way street. I’ve found that most people don’t respond to letters/emails very often, and if they do, it’s a short note in response. So, I’ve pretty much given up. ‘Cept for mom! lol

13 A reader December 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I would suggest to read the Classics. Fundamental are the works of Aristotle and Cicero. The latter in particular wrote an essay On Friendship.

I also would suggest not to be to eager to cutting clear bounderies between hetero or homo. There is a component of homoeroticism in most friendships among young person (admiration for the strongest, the cleverest, the winner etc). This does not entail being homosexual or adopting a “gay” life-style ( a construction of middle class white anglos: In many cultures male friends walk hand in hand, without being necessarily homosexuals.)

On the other hand, there is a lot of homoerotic complicity in two friends that chase women together, and even more when they share the same woman in bed. In the country I come from, sharing a woman is meant to reinforce the male to male friendship…

Probably in the USA in general people should train themselves in seeking more the spirtual component of life, and therefore see friendship not as a way “to do things together”, but a way “to feel together”. After all, the world sympathy is from ancient Greek “to feel together” (sin + pathos)…This is a more general discourse that involves family relation as well. But the wise man is the rested man. And most Americans work too much, or in too stressful conditions, to have the possibility to really enjoy the leisure of friendship, that requires time, dedication and sense of duty (sense of duty means in this case: to do things that one does not always like, and doing them for the sake of keeping a good friend). A friend is not a toy. He is someone we can confront too, We can even quarrell with a friend, but if there is a core of affection, common values, and patience, the friendship remain.
The subject is huge, but huge is also the bibliography…Enjoy nice readings…and forgive my typos, I am not a native speaker

14 Robert Christiansne April 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm

This task was a pretty good reminder of how somtimes I take my eye off the ball and not pay attention to those who have helped my kids or me or my wife in a possitive way. I wrote a letter to a wresting coach that I had work with my 3 kids during the off season over a 2 year period, over this time we became very close. He is a tremendous wrestler and we did not realize it at the time what a great influence on my kids he was . He is 23 and in the hall of fame at our local college with a degree in fire science , so his chosen career path was to be a firefighter but in California that is a really tuff to do. So he joined the Army and has since gone to Ranger school and in training to be a green beret. We have not been in touch but a couple of times since he left . This was the perfect thing to do for me so I wrote him a letter to see how things are going and to apologize for not keeping up with him .

15 Edward November 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I’m really glad this was on the list. I had a hard time of thinking of someone I’ve lost a connection with (without a good reason) and could only decide on one. And when I opened that door up again I was able to see how welcome it was from that individual as well. Very cool.

16 Michael January 13, 2014 at 7:50 pm

This is a great post. I mailed a letter to my old friend Doug who was my best friend in elementary school and it felt so good just to tell him that I remember all the fun we had together.

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