Many of the men I see have “mates” with whom they socialise and some also have involvement in a group or groups and have some sense of “belonging”. What seems challenging is being able to be vulnerable, which is associated with developing social supports and being able to ask members of that social network for help.
Certainly, we need to celebrate “socialising”. Being with others, sharing similar interests and activities, having fun together and talking about more superficial things is important. It is often the first level of connecting. These experiences help to start to build bonds and provide good fun. Research is clear that experiencing positive emotions is important in human wellbeing and that activities are more satisfying when shared or done with others. When we socialise, we experience and interact with people, we can also get a sense of those we might warm to, or connect with, more than others.
There are three different types of social support that have been identified as human needs. The first refers to getting practical support (e.g. help to pick up the kids, getting a ride to an event etc). The second is being able to ask for advice, information and/or guidance (sometimes referred to as information support). The third is emotional support – that is, asking for caring, nurturance, to be understood, and responded to with sympathy and empathy.
Although asking for any form of help requires a level of vulnerability, asking for information support (advice, information or guidance) and emotional support seem to be the two most challenging. These areas seem to provide the greatest risk with regard to our “fears”. These fears include fear of the unknown, fear of failure or rejection, fear of being seen as weak or not fully self-reliant.
We often talk about what stops men developing these more intimate types of support, but instead I want to talk about a simple strategy to develop and improve these specific supports in our networks.
To develop deeper connections takes time, shared experience and reciprocity. The idea of reciprocity is important. It refers to the “to and from” of a relationship. That is, two (or more) people give and take, in the context of a deepening friendship, it means that both or all people involved want to do this or, as my colleague says, “They all have skin in the game”.