Several years ago, there was a tweet that went viral which said that of Jesus’ many miracles, perhaps his greatest, was having 12 close friends in his 30s.
As people say, it’s funny, because it’s true.
When my guest today came face-to-face with the anemic state of his own friendships, he set out to try to do the miraculous himself, and make friends in middle-age. His name is Billy Baker and he’s a journalist and the author of We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. Billy and I begin our conversation with the problem of male loneliness in the modern age, and how it befell him in his own life. We then discuss how men and women do friendships differently, the way men do theirs shoulder to shoulder, what this means for what male friendships need to be built around, and why they require what he calls “velvet hooks.” Billy shares how he started his project, which experimented with different ways to recover and create connections, by rekindling his old friendships, but why that ultimately didn’t scratch the friendship itch for him. Billy then describes what did: a kind of casual fraternity for middle-aged men he started, and how it was inspired by something called the “men’s shed” movement in Australia and its philosophy that men need “somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to talk to.” We end our conversation with Billy’s takeaways for making friends in adulthood, including the need for embracing intentionality and social risk.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- Why are men so susceptible to loneliness?
- What are the health consequences of loneliness?
- Face to face versus shoulder to shoulder
- What are “velvet hooks”?
- Why re-kindling past friendships didn’t fully scratch the friendship itch
- Why the Men’s Shed Movement inspired Billy to make some actual friends
- How COVID managed to strengthen friendships
- The pressure of trying to be friends with both halves of a couple
- What’s the actionable takeaway here for guys?
Resources/Articles/People Mentioned in Podcast
- The Hidden Tragedy of Male Loneliness
- Finding Connection in a Lonely World
- The Best Way to Make and Keep Friendships in Adulthood
- Understanding the Wonderful, Frustrating Dynamic of Friendship
- Understanding Male Friendships
- Making and Keeping Friendships
- The History and Nature of Male Friendships
- Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection
- Building Your Band of Brothers
- “The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Aged Men” — Billy’s original article that went viral
- The Joys and Difficulties of Making Friendships in Adulthood
- Men’s Shed Association
Connect With Billy
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Read the Transcript
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Several years ago, there was a Tweet that went viral, which said that of Jesus’s many miracles, perhaps his greatest was having 12 close friends in his 30s. As people say, it’s funny because it’s true. My guest today came face-to-face with the anemic state of his own friendships. He set out to try to do the miraculous himself and make friends in middle-age. His name is Billy Baker. He’s a journalist and the author of We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. Billy and I begin our conversation with the problem of male loneliness in the modern age and how it befell him in his own life. We then discuss how men and women do friendships differently.
The way men do theirs shoulders to shoulder, what this means for what male friendships need to be built around and why they require what Billy calls velvet hooks. Billy then shares how he started his project, which experimented with different ways of recovering great connections by rekindling his old friendships, why that ultimately didn’t scratch the friendship itch for him. Billy then describes what did, kind of casual fraternity for middle-aged men that he started and how it’s inspired by something called the Men’s Shed Movement in Australia. It’s a philosophy that men need somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to talk to. We begin our conversation with Billy’s takeaways for making friends in adulthood, including the need for embracing intentionality and social risk. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/makefriends. Alright,Billy Baker, welcome to the show.
Billy Baker: Hey, thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: So you got a book out, We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends. And this is all about you trying to make friends as a 40-year-old, middle-aged man. So what began your quest to make friends as a middle-aged man?
Billy Baker: Well, I got conned by an editor with one of the oldest lies in journalism, which is, We have a story we think you’d be perfect for. So this came from a guy at the Boston Globe Magazine, and I marched down to his office, sat down, told him to lay it on me, and he said, We want you to write about how middle-aged men have no friends. And I had that brief existential crisis sitting there, as he’s rattling off all these dire health consequences of having a poor social life, defining what we’ve come to understand is really a loneliness epidemic in America. And while all this is going on, all I’m doing in my head is trying to get out of the story, because this is not something I wanted to think about, or think I was a part of.
So the first thing I did was, on the walk back to my desk, just kind of go through the names in my head of those guys I think of as my best friends, my life-long friends, and it was a sad inventory. Immediately it was like, God, I haven’t seen that guy in a couple of months, and it’s been years since I’ve seen him. And by the time I made the short walk back to my desk, sat down and thought it through, I realized, You know what? I really was perfect for this story, not because I was unique in any way, but because I was painfully typical. And as I had come to learn from this pitch I just sat through, being a typical guy right now is someone who’s suffering from high loneliness and someone who’s susceptible to basically every health consequence you don’t want, all because of a lack of friends in your life.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about that. So do we have any statistics on the state of American male friendship in particular?
Billy Baker: Well, so the general thought is that men are suffering more than women, but it is not an exclusive. But the data is that the average American, man and woman, which… There’s this thing called the UCLA loneliness scale. You just answer a few questions and it gives you a rating. That rating, for the average American, is what they consider to be high loneliness. And when I took the UCLA loneliness scale, I scored dead average. So the stats are, they’re all over the place. Some of them are a bit apocryphal, but the data is there. The average person, particularly the average male, is suffering from loneliness. And loneliness is a perception. It’s this idea where the social connections you desire, don’t meet the ones you actually have. So you can be lonely in a crowd, you can have lots of friends and feel lonely, you can be completely isolated and feel perfectly content. But the average person is not feeling like their social needs are being met, and it’s only getting worse and worse as the years go by. Right now, each generation of Americans is measurably lonelier than the ones that have come before, and our loneliest generation in American history is our youngest.
Brett McKay: Okay, so people are lonelier than they were before. What are the… You mentioned there’s health consequence to this. What are some of the dire health consequences of loneliness?
Billy Baker: I mean, it’s everything. It’s truly everything. You don’t wanna get heart disease, cancer, dying. Everything is magnified by being measurably lonely or even living alone. You know, your chances of dying go up dramatically if you don’t have a strong social circle. Every time I say these things, they seem like I’m laying it on pretty thick, but the data is there. It’s healthier to eat Twinkies with your friends than to eat broccoli alone. It really… And if you had told me that it’s that simple, If you don’t wanna see the doctor, see your friends, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I’ve delved into the science and every… Obesity, diabetes, all these things that it seems impossible that your friendship circle could affect these things, but the data’s there. It really does.
Brett McKay: And a lot of those things you mentioned, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etcetera, that hits men a lot more than women.
Billy Baker: It does, and also what hits men a lot more are these things that are referred to as deaths of despair: Alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, deep depression. The suicide rate for men is appalling, and a lot of it is attributed to this fact that men don’t have the social circles that they need. Every time some idiot shoots up a school or whatever it is, they dig into this person’s life and guess what? They’re a loner.
Brett McKay: So let’s talk about you. So when your editor asked you to do this article, you were like, initially, That’s not me, I’m not lonely. But then you did that walk back and went through, like, I haven’t really… I don’t even have any friends. I haven’t seen my friends in a couple months or years. How did you end up… I wouldn’t say you’re… You don’t wanna call yourself friendless, but you’re not hanging out with your friends as often as you’d like at age 40. How’d that happen?
Billy Baker: Yeah, I think it happened without even noticing. I was checking off a lot of boxes. I was doing the things that it seemed like I was supposed to be doing. I had a good job, I had a wife and kids, and I was taking care of getting the groceries at the end of the day. But I think what I was guilty of was I just wasn’t budgeting any time in the daily calendar for friendship, and I think I had moved friendship into this category of things I do when the important stuff was over, and it’s never really over. And I think I was also guilty of putting a lot of pressure on my wife to be the keeper of the social calendar. Like, When are we getting together with so-and-so? Why aren’t we doing this? When can we hammer that into the calendar?
And another thing I think I was counting on was that I would make a lot of good connections through my children. When I look back at my childhood and picture my parents hanging out with their friends, they were the parents of the kids I hung out with, and they’d meet each other on the sidelines or wherever it might happen, and that wasn’t happening for me as well, so I think I was… The saddest part of my whole story was that I was treating it as normal, like, This is just what happens in middle-age. Your friendships disappear and then we’ll all reconnect on the golf course.
Brett McKay: No, yeah, I think that happens just for a lot of guys. I think, particularly men, you get sort of lazy with relationships. We’ve had another guy, a psychologist on the podcast talking about this, said the problem with men is… And this happens with boys and girls in the beginning. Early on in your life, you have these systems set in place for yourself where you can make friends. There’s school, there’s sports, there’s activities, and then you get into adulthood and you really don’t have that anymore. It’s like it’s finally up to you. Women tend to take on that mantle and start being proactive about making friendships. Guys tend to still rely on structures outside of themselves to make friends, so they rely on work for friends, they rely on sports, their kid’s sports to make friends with the sports dads, or they rely on their wife to manage the social calendar, and that doesn’t get you very far.
Billy Baker: Yeah, and so there’s a fundamental difference in the way that men and women interact, and so women talk face-to-face and men talk shoulder to shoulder. We know this from studies where sociologists creep around and take photos of people interacting, and then they analyze them for patterns. And with men, it’s just a very clear picture, and it is two men standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side. And so knowing that, you also can understand why your strongest connections are from things like activities. We know that men measurably make their strongest friendships through school, through sports, through military service, through things like that, and then when you get in the middle years of life, those things are largely gone, and with it, you’re losing these chances to sit shoulder to shoulder.
And when I first learned this, it made me understand why I would never get super psyched when someone would say, Oh, we should get together for coffee, or something like that. Or when my wife would get off the phone from having a long chat with a friend and say, Oh, why don’t you call so-and-so? And it’s like, That just doesn’t feel like how we connect. I don’t know about you, but every time I talk to one of my friends on the phone, feels like 90 seconds later, someone’s saying, Alright, good talk. I’ll catch up with you later. And it disappears. And there’s a study showing that men hate the phone and women can keep strong connections that way. But what goes missing in these vital years in the middle of life are these shoulder to shoulder opportunities.
And so when I set out on this journey to write this book, I wrote an article initially about this loneliness epidemic, and kinda raised my hand and admitted that I was a card-carrying member of it. That article went crazy viral. It became for a period the most popular article The Boston Globe had ever published, and the responses from men were not questioning me about the dire consequences. They weren’t asking for any more evidence of the cancer or that they had the cancer. The question was: What’s the cure? And so the book was me trying to figure that out. On the surface, the cure for loneliness is friendship, but actually making it work when you get to this point in life is wildly tricky.
And so what I had to do was ultimately figure out… I use the phrase velvet hooks. I had to find these velvet hooks that were these soft connectors, a way to be friends with my friends, something that we could do, some activity that was just gentle enough to not be another iron-clad commitment on the schedule, but just fun enough to actually make us follow through and put something on the calendar, make it happen. And we know what these things are. These are your whatever, fancy football leagues, weekly sports night, the poker night, the book clubs, whatever they might be. I’ve never been to a book club. They’re very popular with women, and every woman I talk to always say the same thing, which is, We almost never discuss the book. It’s this velvet hook just to get them together. So for guys, it was about for me, trying to find these velvet hooks that would get us into that shoulder to shoulder position, and that’s when often, the magic happens.
I think as I’ve been doing these rounds talking about the book, I think a lot of people think that I’m pushing for this idea that men need to get together and have real vulnerable conversations about their feelings. I think what men need to do is get together, and then if it gets a little deeper through these moments, then that’s great, that’s the magic. But for the most part, when I get together with my friends, we act like juveniles, we screw around, nothing serious comes up. I come home and my wife says, Oh, how’s so-and-so’s mother doing? And I’m like, I don’t know. He didn’t mention it. But there’s something about simply getting together that makes me better in all my other jobs as a dad, as a husband, as an employee.
Brett McKay: Well, yeah, and to this idea that when people talk about friendships, we often put the platonic ideal of a friendship or relationship as what a woman would want, right? So you have to like…
Billy Baker: Right.
Brett McKay: If you’re gonna have a friendship, you have to bear your souls to each other, you gotta talk, have these deep conversations. And for guys, that’s typically not… Like you said, it’s shoulder to shoulder. Usually guys are just doing stuff together, and for some reason we say, Well, that’s not good, and so guys are like, Well, if I can’t have these deep heart-to-heart conversations ’cause that’s the ideal and I can’t make that happen for me, I might as well not even try to have friends. There’s no point if I can’t… But I think that’s wrongheaded. I think you should be like, Okay, generally men and women are different. They have different ways of how they have relationships, and it’s okay for guys just to get it together, like you said, just to hang out, just do stuff together. It could just be completely… Women would look at it and be like, Well, nothing really happened there. There was no connection. But for guys, a lot of connection happened.
Billy Baker: I think guys connect a ton through ball-busting. I think that women have a real… My wife sometimes is appalled at the stuff my friends and I will say to each other, but it’s like, that’s how we share our love. I’m not gonna say, I love you. I’m gonna say, I hate you. I’m gonna pick you apart. I say this to my kids all the time. I know how I look good, because my friends will tell me how terrible I look. Right? I’ll walk in wearing a new shirt, everyone has a comment, and it’s like, Yeah, they like the shirt. That’s their way. But I think women don’t communicate in those ways.
Brett McKay: Right. I call that sort of like ball-busting, aggressive nurturing. It’s…
Billy Baker: Aggressive nurturing. I like that. Okay.
Brett McKay: Aggressive nurturing. Yeah. Alright, so you wrote this article, people are like, What do I do about it? So you started figuring out things to do, and the first thing you did, you tried to reactivate friendships you had when you were in high school, a young man, college age, and you begin by going and reaching out to an old friend of yours you had since you were a kid named Rory. Let’s talk about Rory. When did you realize that you had completely drifted apart from this guy that had been a big part of your life?
Billy Baker: Yeah, it was the moment I published this article. I mentioned Rory and another buddy named Mark in the article, and when it came out, I emailed them the link, and Rory said, “Ugh, that’s gonna make what I’m about to tell you even worse, which is that I moved to Vienna, and I forgot to tell you.” And I mean, this was the guy I would have considered my best friend in the world, and it happens so quickly, without either of us noticing. And so I hopped on a plane, flew over to Vienna, and it was like, “We gotta save this thing.” And we did, and Rory and I are close again. And the beginning of this journey, in general, was just me trying to get the bands back together, to kinda repair or strengthen friendships from the past. And that was great, but it kind of hit a wall in a strange way where I still didn’t have…
So I took a leave from The Globe to write this book. I’m sitting in a room, I’m feeling I’m doing the loneliest thing I know of, which is writing, staring at a screen, and I still didn’t have an answer to the question of, “Do I have anyone to hang out with on a Wednesday night?” It was great to reconnect with Rory, it was great to fly to Vienna and profess our best friendship forever, but I was still lacking friendship in my daily life. And by lacking that, I was lacking all the health benefits that come with it, and so I set out to do something that is just remarkably uncool, which is I set out to make new friends. It’s awkward, it’s needy. Like you can smell it on someone when they’re coming on a little strong, right? And I was inspired, in a way, by this thing I heard Mindy Kaling say on her TV show, which was that a best friend is not a person, it’s a tier. And so I started thinking about it where… If you ask men to name their best friends, we know from surveys that they’ll say someone from childhood or high school, or maybe college, but there’s a cut off after a certain point.
And I think the idea for men is that you have to go way back with somebody for them to really be a meaningful connection. But the truth was, I needed meaningful connection in my day-to-day, so what I did was set out to try and make new best friends. Didn’t feel like… Now that I’m absorbing this throwaway line Mindy Kaling had said on a sitcom, now that I’m operating on this idea that adding new best friends is not betraying my best friends of the past, but instead, putting more people on this pedestal, I set out to connect with guys that I had, for lack of a better word, felt a spark with. And these were guys I’d met ’em however, but you know sometimes you meet someone, you’re like, You know what? I feel like I connected with that person. I could be friends with them. And spark is usually reserved for romantic relationships, but I think it happens in friendship in general, so what I ultimately did was try and start a… A middle-aged dad fraternity that hung out on Wednesday nights, and it had some ups and downs, but I will say it’s all chronicled in the book. Much of it’s dumpster fire, but now, years later, I can say I added four new best friends to my life, and those are the best friends that are part of my daily life, and that’s where I’m getting the benefits from all of this.
Brett McKay: Alright, so let’s talk about that middle-aged men’s fraternity you started, because you reach this point where you realize that friendship in adulthood is gonna take intentional effort. Like a natural spark could happen, but then you’d have to be proactive to fan that flame of friendship. And something else you realized along the way is that friendships aren’t that dissimilar from romantic relationships, so you try different things to make connections with friends, and the thing that really worked out, this men’s fraternity, was the big idea that got you to the point where you were hanging out with friends on a regular basis. So what you did, you invited a bunch of guys you felt the spark with… And these were acquaintances from different parts of your life, work, a CrossFit gym, and you wanted to get to know them better. And the inspiration for this idea was this thing that happened in Australia called Men’s Shed. For those who aren’t familiar with that, what is the Men’s Shed movement?
Billy Baker: A men’s shed is exactly what it sounds like. So it started in Australia when a guy named Dick McGowan was at a seniors center, and he threw a fit. And his fit was basically that all the activities at the senior center were geared towards women, the knitting and the bingo and all these things, and it was like, “This isn’t what guys want.” So he says, “You know the shed out back that nobody uses? I’m cleaning out that shed and that’s for the guys. That’s gonna be the men’s shed. That’s where the guys are gonna go hang out.” And so these old retired guys in Australia start hanging out in this shed. They love it. They get a little bit of media attention in a newsletter for a bank. Somehow or another, this thing goes viral in the pre-viral days, and it leads to, in the blink of an eye, a thousand of these men’s sheds opening up in Australia. They’re everywhere, and what they are is there’s no central theme or thesis behind them, it’s just a place for men to get together, and Dick McGowan had a saying that “Men need somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to talk to,” and that’s what the men’s sheds are.
Some of them take on a… They might become like a woodworking shed or we fix motorcycles at this one, but in general, they’re open to anyone… They’re also open to women, but they’re largely used by men… And the health data on the men who go to these things is that they seem to live longer, healthier, happier lives, simply from hanging out with some other guys, and that’s… As opposed to right now, my dad is recently retired and I’m worried about him sitting at home and watching too much Law and Order every day. And I wonder if having a place like that could change his life, but… So the men’s shed was an inspiration. Also an inspiration for me was this thing I heard an older guy in my town say one day, which was… He was talking about something, and he said, “I can’t go to that. I have Wednesday night.” And I was like, “What’s Wednesday night? Don’t we all have Wednesday night?” And he said, “No, no, it’s just like basically, this idea, this promise I made with a bunch of buddies years ago that on Wednesday night, so if we’re all around, we’ll get together and do something, anything. We just need to be together.”
And when I had heard that, it was before I wrote this article and took on this book, I filed it away, like, “Oh, maybe some day I might need something like that.” Getting this assignment made me realize I needed it immediately. So I basically combined the men’s shed idea with the Wednesday night idea and opened a Wednesday night men’s shed in a barn in my community. And it’s been a blast. It had some ups and downs in that like we got together the first night, I told the spiel of what I was hoping to do, everyone had a laugh at my expense, we had a couple of beers, it was great. Second night, everyone comes back and it’s like, “Alright, wait, what are we gonna do? We’re just gonna sit around here and talk about our feelings? This isn’t us.” And quickly, we needed to find these activities, these things to do, and those activities that are soft, they’re simple. We light a big bonfire, or we help the guy build a BMX track in his backyard, or lately we’ve been playing pickleball, which is like if ping pong and tennis had a baby. And it’s things like this that go back to this Dick McGowan guy, this Australian guy that threw a fit and said, “Men need somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to talk.” By accomplishing those three things, I think I’ve changed my life and I’ve changed the lives of the men that are coming to this little Wednesday night men’s shed.
Brett McKay: Yeah, so I’ve got similar things going on in my life with my… There’s two groups of friends I’ve got. So I’ve got, I belong a book club, where we’ve been going through the great books of the Western canon. So we started at The Iliad, and we were finally up to Cervantes’ Don Quixote right now. But it’s like a regular thing. I’s like the third Wednesday of every month, we get together at some guy’s place to discuss… The thing is you end up sort of discussing the book, but then you start bull-crapping about other stuff, just shooting the breeze about whatever. And then the other one is, I’ve had a group of friends where every other Thursday or Friday… The thing has been kinda screwed with Covid… But it’s like the sauna session. Just get in the sauna, and we just talk, about nothing really, or just sit there and just be miserable in the heat and then jump in the pool and cool off and get back in. And it’s great, we love it.
Billy Baker: It’s that simple, isn’t it? A lot of times I’ll come home from one of these Wednesday night things and it’s like on paper, I have nothing to show for it, but it’s like I wake up the next day in a better mood. Something’s been scratched that wasn’t getting scratched before, and… It really is that simple, and I’m appalled that the answer turned out to be something that simple.
Brett McKay: In the book, there were some ups and downs with this Wednesday night thing. At first it started off strong, everyone was onboard, but then you said it kinda fizzled out for a while. And we’ve had those moments, too, with various friends groups I belonged to. Things are going great and then kind of fizzle out. What happened with you? What caused it to fizzle out?
Billy Baker: So I think, initially, my biggest concern was that it would seem like it was my thing, I wanted it to be our thing. But I didn’t wanna have to be the person that sent the text every Wednesday saying, We’re doing this. I didn’t wanna have to be the cheerleader every time, but I realized it was, if I didn’t do that, it wasn’t gonna happen, no one else wanted to take the reins. And then I think the biggest thing we suffered from was a lack of purpose, in a way. We were back to that almost like face-to-face conversation, which is not what men are cut out for, not what any of us were looking for. So it was a matter of finding activities, finding these velvet hooks, these simple things that we could do to connect, and then it picked up. And then COVID arrived. And that was interesting ’cause I think that was a moment for me… I don’t know if you felt like this happened to you as well, but all of a sudden it felt like every tribe I’d ever been a part of, every squad kind of circled, the wagons.
It was the Zoom chats with the college buddies you haven’t talked to in forever, or the group texts or whatever it might be. And there was something about COVID arriving that really restrengthened the Wednesday night crew where we realized, Okay, we do need something here. And there’s this grand evolutionary question of, Why do we need friends? And the best guess is that we have friends around for when it hits the fan. We feel like we need someone that will have our back when it gets real. And COVID was the first time in my life that it got real for everyone. And I think the Wednesday night group really found its footing, finally, by that feeling like we all needed a squad to have our back, someone close by that could come in to assist us.
Brett McKay: How did you guys do that? Did you guys do Zoom or did you just do outdoor stuff? What…
Billy Baker: We did outdoor stuff. It turned out… And again, this is so painfully simple, I hate it took a while to get here. But a fire was the one thing we could do. We could light a fire on these cold nights, get together safely outside, and there’s something about sitting around a fire with guys that feels very primitive and nurturing. Something simple is being triggered in your soul, and that for a while… I’m in New England. The winters here are miserable, and this past winter, this COVID winter, we lit some fires that were obnoxiously large. It really became a juvenile attempt to get the cops called on us for a backyard fire. But you know what I mean? It was, I don’t know, these things, these simple moments of magic are what has really changed my life for the better. Having to take on this assignment and then taking on this book was like the best gift I’ve ever given myself. And it was a gift of regular friendship, and it’s the simplest things and the simplest ways. It’s gathering around a fire. It’s having a beer with a friend, it’s farting around, it’s ball-busting. And at the end of the day, I feel better. I can’t look inside of my body and measure the effect it’s having, but I have to believe in the health data that says I’m a happier, healthier person, and I’m going to reap the benefits of this for years to come, if I simply keep these friendships up.
Brett McKay: You didn’t talk about this in your book, and I don’t think it came up. But one issue I’ve seen with guys who’s like, I wanna make friends, but my wife gives me a hard time any time I try to go out and hang out with my dude friends. Did you encounter that at all with guys you’re trying to get to hang out with you?
Billy Baker: Well, here’s the way I think that happens. I think that when you’re pairing up, you’re getting to that point where you’re getting serious with someone, every guy gets that talk where it’s like, Alright, you need to stop spending so much time with the boys and start spending more time with me. But then I think a reverse happens, after you’ve been together for a while, where the woman’s like, You need to get out of the house, you need to call so and so. So I do think there’s this sort of pageant performance of like, Oh, if I’m out with the guys, then, Oh, I’m on the list. I better show up with flowers and chocolates or something, ’cause I stayed out late with the fellows. But for me, at least in my relationship, that’s not the case. My wife is very supportive of this, and if anything, this trip I’ve been on, has influenced her in a very positive way. She’s much more deliberate in her friendships, much more protective of her time to do those things. But I do know, every relationship is different, and I do hear from some of the guys that they’re in the doghouse for hanging out too much with the boys, and they’re gonna have to skip this one.
Brett McKay: One of the other problems that you see married guys run into is, if they’re gonna make a friend, they think, Well, it’s gotta be a couple friend. Like the dude friend I make friends with, my wife’s gotta be friends with that guy’s wife. And often that doesn’t sink. Usually, you love the dude, the dude’s awesome, but your wives don’t get along with each other. And you’re like, Well, we can’t… Well, don’t do that. It’s okay if you have your own friends. They don’t have to be couple friends.
Billy Baker: I feel like that stuff it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. I don’t know if you saw John Mulaney when he hosted Saturday Night Live not too long ago. His whole opening monologue was about how men have no friends. He stole my bit basically. But he says… He has this great joke, he says that dads don’t have friends. Moms have friends and those friends have husbands.
And there’s some truth to that. Especially, I think when women are thinking of get-togethers, it’s in a couple sense, at least in my relationship. My wife’s like, “Oh, if we’re gonna go to dinner, let’s have it be with a couple that we both like, and not just one of your friends and his wife that I don’t know.” Or the reverse, one of her friends and the husband I’m not crazy about. Those couple… I don’t know if you have them in your life… When you do have those couples where you are great friends with both of them, that’s the best, especially…
Brett McKay: It’s awesome. Yeah, it’s great.
Billy Baker: If your kids are great friends, but I think my problem was, I was relying on that as basically my social life, like those few and far between dinners, get-togethers, weekends away with those other couples we had that sort of great connection with, but you need more. You need it on the day-to-day, you just need to hang out. Right now, my kids are just finishing up their final bits of Zoom School, and then they start full-time in person in a week, and they’re so looking forward to just having daily friendship, and not having it be something where they need to have a scheduled event, some play date organized by the parents, whatever it might be. They just need that day-to-day bro-ing out with their buddies to scratch something they’re clearly not getting.
Brett McKay: So what are the big action point take aways from your experiment with trying to make friends as a middle-aged dude? What works, what doesn’t work?
Billy Baker: You have to be intentional. You have to find activities. It needs to be activity-based. That’s the glue for guys. And I think that, as part of being intentional, you need to be a little bit vulnerable. It’s an awkward situation to put yourself in to try and make friends, or try and make a friendship work. And I think guys either naturally are raised to be uncomfortable being vulnerable, but I will say this. Any time I made myself vulnerable, it was rewarded. It’s what led to the special moments, the special connections. So it’s a matter of finding that activity. You may already have them. If you don’t have friends, which I’ve been hearing from a lot of people that just fundamentally like, “I don’t have friends. I’m a lonely person for that reason.”
I was lucky to be someone who had friends and just wasn’t being friends with them, but if you are lonely, you have to look first probably at the activity. There’s probably something you like, so go do that and connect with people who share that interest, but it’s just about making effort. If I could give anyone some homework at the end of this podcast, it’s Text your buddies. Close your eyes and think about that person you miss, that you haven’t connected with, that you would love to spend some time with, to reach out and say, “I just heard this idiot babbling on a podcast about friendship. Made me think of you. We need to hang out.” And go from there, but it takes more than just saying that. It takes… It’s saying, “We need to hang out on this day doing this thing. Can you be there?” And then sticking with it.
Brett McKay: Maybe instead of saying vulnerability, we can rebrand it as social risk. You’re taking a social risk.
Billy Baker: Yeah, I tried a lot of things that were… I tried to reunite my high school class. I had this thought experiment where I was like, “What was the best day I remember from high school?” And it was Senior Skip Day when everyone ditched school at the same time, and we all felt like we were these real rebels. And so I tried to bring it back. I was like, “Alright, on a Friday, let’s all gather in this field we used to go to when we’d skip out of school, and we’ll play kickball and drink some beers, but the point is, you gotta skip. We’re gonna do it on a week day.” And so many people came, but as I was sitting in that beach chair, when I got there early, sitting in a chair in this field, fingers crossed that anyone was going to show up, that was as vulnerable as I’ve been in years. I was scared. I was back in high school again, and you know what? That vulnerability was rewarding and so yeah. What was the phrase you just used?
Brett McKay: Social risk.
Billy Baker: Social risk. I took a social risk, and I was rewarded, so take some.
Brett McKay: Yeah, there’s no manliness without risk. Gotta have risk.
Billy Baker: I love it. Love it.
Brett McKay: Well, Bill, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Billy Baker: So I’m a reporter at the Boston Globe, constantly doing that, but the book is called We Need to Hang Out. It’s hopefully a fun adventure with some takeaways. The best thing I hear from people is that they find it relatable, that I’m in many ways just an everyman with everyman problems, and I found some everyman solutions.
Brett McKay: There you go. Billy Baker, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Billy Baker: Thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Billy Baker. He’s the author of the book, We Need to Hang Out. It’s available on amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere. Make sure to check out our show notes at aom.is/makefriends where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website at artofmanliness.com where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use the code MANLINESS at check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKayreminding you not only to listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.Tags: Friendship