Intimacy is a dirty word to most guys, unless it is codeword for sex. In fact, most guys would struggle to define intimacy with a woman apart from sex. Then we read in the Bible that we are to have intimacy with other dudes:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
“Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” (1 Peter 1:22)
But despite our trepidation, intimate relationships with men are vital for our flourishing as men. The Grant Study, one of the longest longitudinal studies of male development in history (75 years!) has shown that body type, birth order, political affiliation, and even social class are nowhere near as accurate in determining how men will fare in life.
New York Times columnist David Brooks summarizes the findings. “In case after case,” he writes, “the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives.”
To put it even more simply: the secret to true manhood is emotional health.
There are a number of different elements to emotional health, but with regards to relationships, it’s about the ability to know and be known.
Sadly, most guys have zero vision for how to be emotionally healthy. We have few models of affectionate men who are still strong. There aren’t many who feel things deeply without allowing their emotions to drive their lives. So we really don’t know what to do with our emotions or even how to talk about them. And frankly, most guys just don’t want to talk about their emotions. This kind of intimacy feels feminine and seems both time-consuming and inefficient.
But let’s think through the alternative: Men who can’t open up to other men about the inner world of their struggles, fears, hopes, and dreams are neither challenged or celebrated. They’re only condemned by their own voice (that is, if they haven’t become numb and apathetic entirely). Men who harbor this condemnation within are always trying to prove themselves on the outside. But there’s nothing to anchor their masculine identities. They spend countless hours trying to cover over their shame and weaknesses, constantly running around in predictable and destructive behaviors. Does this sound any less time-consuming or inefficient?
What if you pursued one guy who is a bit older than you, a guy who is around your age, and another guy who is younger than you?
Make sure that you respect all of these guys, or the whole thing will fall apart. From the older man, ask for mentoring and the “trade secrets” on becoming a good man. From the peer, ask for relationship by doing some hobbies together or by getting your families together. From the younger man, ask how you can be helpful to him.
In so doing, you are simultaneously putting yourself in the place of a son, a brother, and a dad. Intimacy will follow men who settle in to these three roles.