I recently read Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made famous by the television miniseries many consider the greatest ever (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall). McMurtry’s story follows a group of men on a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana. In many ways, the book is about men, their internal drives or passions, and the friendships they share along the way. This motley group assembled over time, but the core of the group served as Texas Rangers during the days when they fought real battles throughout the region. Through many eventful, often difficult, years together, the men had become “compañeros.” These relationships weren’t perfect, but they were characterized by intense loyalty, sacrifice, honesty, and memories. Every guy needs relationships like these, but few have them.
As I’ve observed guys who become real compañeros, I’ve discovered four things that create movement toward meaningful relationships: props, plans, risks, and laughs.
GUYS NEED PROPS
Women seem to get together with other women and start talking deeply without effort, but guys aren’t like that. You put them together and all you get is something along the lines of “how’s work?” or “you playing fantasy football again this year?” Those two conversations can fill an entire evening.
In general, guys don’t talk openly and freely without an external prop. It may be a task, a mission, a hobby, a shared history or some other event that brings them together. Men become close on a three-thousand mile cattle drive. They open up during a long winter in the trenches of wartime. They are brought together by an adventurous road trip. It isn’t always something grand. It may be something as simple as a regular hunting trip, a golf foursome or mission trip. It may be group of friends from your college dorm or a church small group. There is not any “magic” prop, but there is almost always some kind of prop that brings the guys together initially.
My group of friends and I came together as friends during college, but those friendships expanded through a college road trip to bury a “time capsule” on the Texas-Mexico border (modeled loosely on the movie, “Fandango”). We each included something of great personal value and a list of spiritual commitments and life goals in the bottle. Ten years later, we returned to dig it up. That event become an annual long weekend together that has become a highlight in our lives.
If you want to find real friends, I suggest you grab a group of guys and initiate some unique activity. In male relationships, activity opens the door for conversation. Men start talking deeply after they’ve worn themselves out, made fun of one another or blown something up in a bonfire.
GUYS NEED PLANS
Past performance does not guarantee future success. Just because some prop brought you together for a unique time of relating as friends, you may not continue in that kind of friendship in the years ahead. Most guys who have not found life-long compañeros reflect on certain friendships with a nostalgic longing to go back, maybe even with a tinge of sadness. They are sweet memories, but they are just that: memories of something good that once was but is now gone. Friends rarely intend to lose touch with one another. If your experiences together are going to grow into deep, lasting relationships, you need to commit to a plan.
With my group, we decided to take an annual trip together. We pick a destination and a date, and we all fly in for a long weekend each year. My “Fandango” trip with this group of 6 men helps me hit my annual laugh quota in single weekend. This takes a real commitment, but it’s worth everything it takes to make it happen. Our wives sacrifice on the home front to allow us to go. We take time off work. We split the costs evenly to make it fair (sometimes, we pick up the tab for one another when finances are tight). This commitment propelled us from being college friends to becoming life-long friends.
The bottom line is that you won’t become compañeros without regular time to laugh, play, and goof off together. This usually takes one person in the group who initiates an ongoing plan for being together and gets a commitment from the group. A plan creates a path for deepening relationships as you journey through the ups and downs of life together.
Most of the time, a particular place or activity becomes a big part of the group’s identity. Guys seem to have a desire for a tradition that makes this time special. As men move from the free-wheeling college years to the responsibility of their 30s and 40s, they need time “away” from the normal routine of life. I’d encourage you to try something that allows for a break from your normal responsibilities and demands some real commitment from one another.
GUYS NEED RISKS
The third element I see is risk. If there is no risk, you will settle into a cycle of conversation that repeats itself over and over without taking you anywhere. Think about your relationships with your father or brother or co-workers for a minute. I bet you could write a script for most those conversations as they revolve around the same topics with each phone call. This is just what guys do. We are strange beings. We privately long for a deeper relationship but we almost never acknowledge it.
Friends must continually take risks by sharing life at a vulnerable level. It amazes me how risky it feels to share what is happening in my heart even with my most trusted friends. We’ve been sharing life together for twenty years, but it still feels threatening to let them see my hurts, my unhealthy desires, my anger, my dreams, and my joys. It also brings freedom. The more I share, the more I’m freed up to be myself around them.
Most groups need a guy with the guts to be honest in front of others. Sometimes, it means saying, “You know what guys? I struggle with ______.” Or, “You know what hacks me off about my life right now? It’s ______.” In our group, it seems to be a different guy who leads out each year with an honest and bold statement about his life. Each time someone opens the door to his heart, I think to myself, “OK, here we go.” It’s become my favorite part of our trip. I find out that I’m not that weird, or maybe that I’m just as weird as everyone else. Somehow, that’s one of the things guys need to know: we are all jacked up. That kind of vulnerable sharing is relational fuel for men. Like a car, you have to refill the vulnerability tank regularly or the friendship runs out of gas.
GUYS NEED LAUGHS
With men, laughter both precedes and follows relational risks. Guys need to laugh, and I’ve found that guys won’t share openly until they have laughed freely. If you want guys to open up, you’d better crack one another up first. Some men don’t know how to laugh. Because of this, people will rarely feel comfortable enough around them to be honest about what’s in their hearts. Be careful sharing too much of yourself with men that can’t laugh. The other side of this is that men who have shared openly laugh even harder. The trust and confidence gained in deep relationships lead to uncontrollable laughs that roll out until they bring tears.
For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.