“I don’t know how to make friends.”
“What do men do together? Don’t they just hang out, drink beer, and watch football?”
“Men just don’t get close like women do, it would just be weird.”
I spent most of the years of my marriage hiding – first because we were newlyweds. Then we started having children, and with both of us working, “we just couldn’t get out much”. All of the friends I had from high school, from before we were married, were 500 miles away. While I was friendly with men in my new neighborhood, there wasn’t anyone I really felt close to. No one I let into the dark parts of me.
At the time, I was living in the shame of an addiction. I was hiding my actions, and had been for many years. I was keeping myself from getting close to anyone – because who would want to be near me if they knew who I really was?
Three years ago, I decided to change. To heal. To start moving forward. I decided to be a different man.
But I hadn’t changed yet. I realized, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS!
I can be friendly, yeah, but how do I forge those deep bonds, that ability to talk about anything, and everything, I am going through. Where do I find the men who are willing to help me grow, instead of wallow in the mud with me?
Without knowing what I was doing, or how to do it, I made a choice – I want to make friends. I want to be a friend. I want a group of men that I can be myself around – a group of men who will help me learn how to be myself again.
At the time, I was in group counseling for addiction. I started taking snacks, and trying to engage the other men in conversation. It was awkward. It was forced, and we would both feel weird about it, and just stop. Then I reached out to men at church, and started talking to them. I learned quick how inept I was at actual conversation beyond “Hey, how are you. What do you do for work? Oh, cool. And family? You have one of those?” It was painful.
I remember feeling, “Why is this so hard!!”
My wife and I, our relationship was still really rocky. We had tried counseling – they didn’t know how to help us. We were working with church leaders, and that was moderately helpful.
She asked me one night to go to a Marriage Seminar, being put on by a couple we knew. I agreed, thinking it was worth a try. I was stuck, and desperate to find something that would help me actually move forward.
That night, I ended up on stage, in front of dozens of audience members. A man I barely knew was asking me questions about my beliefs, my past, and what was keeping me from moving forward. The questions led me to a moment when I had made a decision about myself, and that decision had been driving my actions and my belief systems for most of my life –
I am not important.
What?!? I was, like, four years old at the time! How could that belief be affecting how I make friends now, in my twenties?
The more I talked, the more I looked at the evidence of my life, the more I saw it. If I am not important, what I do isn’t important. No one cares about me, or who I am. Why would I ever share about myself, or put myself out there? If I am not important, why would anyone want to be friends with me? Why would I even try? Job loss, addiction, lack of friends. All results of a belief I made when I was four years old.
Then this man asked me a new question – What Belief would serve me better? What do I want to be true instead?
This blew my mind! You mean, I can choose something different? Yes, yes I can. So I did.
I chose to believe I am important. My thoughts, my actions, my feelings have an impact on my world. Even if I am the only one who sees it, I am important.
From that point on, and this is the important part, I started acting that belief. Whenever I doubted, I would pull up that moment and say “Wait. I AM important! My actions matter! I make a difference!”
In the past three years, I have had hundreds of these breakthroughs, all on different beliefs that were holding me back. Having shed those beliefs, I am able to talk, act, and share confidently my life story, be it on stage, in my living room, or in church. I share it with my children, and with multi-millionaire life coaches who come to me with questions.
More importantly, I share it with my friends.
I discovered, as I was learning to live and share my story, as I was more willing to put myself out there, I found men who were doing the same. It began with them thanking me, for being bold enough to share, and then they would share their story with me. We exchanged numbers, and texted each other when we needed someone to talk to who would understand. That turned into couples dates with our wives, and then just man-dates of hanging out in the garage, or playing sports together, or going to see the new Avengers movies together. This process, in the beginning, took months, a year to create that kind of friendship.
Now, I do it almost instantly. I have friends from two and a half years ago who know my whole story, and we are as tight as brothers. And, I have men I met two weeks ago, who know my whole story, and we are a just as tight and connected.
I do not become friends with every man I meet, but it is darn close. It is because I can see my own importance, my own influence, the light inside of myself that makes me unique. No matter what another person says to, or about me, I still feel the power of that belief.
And because I see it in myself, I can see it in every person I meet, even if they can’t see it yet.
That is the most powerful thing I have discovered in this process – when I clean myself out, when I get rid of those beliefs that keep me from seeing my own worth, my confidence in myself is unshakeable.
And when I am that confident in myself, I am free to see the greatness in everyone around me, and accept them exactly as they are, without feeling the need to change them, or myself.
That’s what friendship is – the good, the bad, and the ugly in me, loving and accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly in you, as we both work to move forward.