FriendsDecember 9, 2022
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Audio Recording by George Hahn
A good friend is sick, and I’ve been thinking about him and friendship more broadly. Friendship is prevalent across hundreds of species — from chimps to elephants to flamingos. In other words, we are not an evolutionary anomaly. The cynical theory of friendship is that it’s a matter of reciprocity: Friendship is a transaction. Vampire bats regurgitate food and share it with unrelated bats — but only according to a carefully calibrated algorithm based on the other bat’s history of sharing its own food. Friends are more than this. Loneliness registers an impact on your well-being similar to that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and rivals alcohol and smoking as a cause of early death.
In the United States friendship is on the decline. Since 1990, the percentage of Americans who report having less than three close friends has doubled, from 16% to 32%. The share who report having no close friends at all has gone from 3% to 12%. Put another way, 20 million Americans have begun smoking a pack a day. A number of factors inspired this perfect storm of loneliness: Covid; political polarization; fewer random encounters, as we no longer go to the mall/theater/office; social media raising a generation of disconnected people who feel worse about themselves; and a lack of so-called “third places” (public space neither work nor home) .
Men and women approach friendship differently. Men have it drilled into us from an early age that vulnerability and emotional connections are signs of weakness. They aren’t, and men with influence have an obligation to cleanse this bullshit version of masculinity from the zeitgeist. But to be clear: Declining friendships is an everyone problem.
The decline in friendship is insidious, as it feeds on itself. Friendship is a muscle that strengthens with use but atrophies with age. We have so many more opportunities and so much more fuel for our friendships when we are children and even as young adults.
They say you are the sum of your friends. Here is, roughly, the sum of me during my formative years:
In the fourth grade I was new to Fairburn Elementary. On my first day a kid named Adam threw a Frisbee he wasn’t supposed to have, it flew away from him, and he climbed a fence he wasn’t supposed to climb. On the trip back with the Wham-O disc of joy, he fell off the fence and lay writhing on the ground until the field monitor came over and tried to help. Adam bit him. Our teacher, observing that I was shy and well-behaved, strategically sat me next to Adam, thinking I’d be a balm. Osmosis occurred, but in the wrong direction. In no time, we were breaking into the school on weekends, throwing water balloons at cars from his roof, and leaving brown bags of dog shit on doorsteps after setting them ablaze. Good times.
Despite the biting, there was an innate kindness to Adam. He was cooler and more popular than me but always included me, despite the hit to his brand. Our freshman year in college, he at Berkeley, me at UCLA, I went north for a visit. I called him from LAX to let him know when I was landing. Before hanging up he said, “I can’t wait to see you.” This may seem trivial, but 18-year-old boys in 1982 didn’t speak to each other that way. Forty years later, Adam is still that peanut-butter-and-chocolate of cool and kind. I see it most hearing him talk about his mother, who’s suffering from late-stage dementia. Unlike Adam, I am not an innately kind person. But it would be impossible to be around such an impressive person and not want to model and adopt this feature. I’m a better man because of a boy who used to bite field monitors.
Emerson, where I met Adam, was an L.A. public school that bused kids in from the inner city. Adam was there about two months before his parents (like most white parents who had money) moved him to Windward, a bougie private school that went scuba-diving off Catalina for marine biology class. Emerson did not offer marine biology, though we did do a field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits.
As Adam had abandoned me, I became friends with a Mormon kid named Brett. I love Mormons and find their depiction in the media to be a cartoon of everything that is bad about the Latter-day Saints (there is a lot). I played on the church’s softball and basketball teams and had dinner with Brett’s family on Monday nights, the evening reserved for family. Every day — I mean every day — the family would include me, as I was Brett’s friend and they couldn’t help but notice I was being raised by my working mother who wasn’t around a lot.
Brett was a good athlete and a great student. He decided in his junior year he wanted to go to Stanford. He was smarter and more disciplined than me, but not that much smarter or more disciplined. Brett gave me aspiration — specifically, he helped me envision a path to UCLA. Fun fact: When I applied, the acceptance rate was 76% (it’s now 11%). I was rejected the first time I applied.
Brett also showed me the strength one gets from faith and family and ambition. Not a bad thing for me, given that I had a working mother and there was no adult male in our household, to be sequestered from drugs and alcohol. There were downsides. I didn’t lose my virginity until 19 … but that’s another post.
In high school, I became good friends with Richard, a popular Black kid who was middle linebacker for our football team. We hung out a lot. He liked me, as I could make him laugh (hysterically). I was fascinated by Richard. He had such an ease to him. He also was that rare combo of cool and kind. He was having sex with what seemed like a dozen girls, and he would tell me about it. It just blew my mind that guys my age were actually getting to do that (with other people, no less). He injured his neck in the first quarter of the big game, and had to sit out the rest of the game. I offered him a ride home. As we were walking to my Renault Le Car (i.e., lawnmower with doors) he began making choking noises. But he wasn’t choking, he was crying. “This was gonna be my night, the scouts were here, and … there’s no way I’m going to college now.” I had never seen someone so big, so strong, sob like that. I wish I’d had the presence to comfort him. Instead I just stood there watching a 6-foot-3, 210-pound 17-year-old bent over with his hands on his knees, hiding behind my car so others wouldn’t see him. Despite his fears, Richard earned a scholarship to a good school.
My other good friend was David. He was so handsome, when girls walked by him they’d whisper to each other. But he was painfully shy and had a difficult time maintaining eye contact. One day out of the blue, he asked me if I wanted to play tennis. Twice a week our senior year we went to Westwood Park and played on the public courts. We’d flip a quarter, and whoever lost had to pay the 25 cents for the lights. David was uncomfortable in his own skin, but he was the first person I ever became comfortable being silent around. When we did talk, we’d talk about girls, nonstop, and who we’d want to date. That is, if the natural order of the universe was turned upside-down and we got a date.
We had a real connection, as our home lives were nearly identical — our fathers out of the picture, both being raised by our mothers, who were both secretaries. Even the condos we lived in were similar. The story doesn’t end well. David went to the University of Oregon and, from what I know, got his heart broken his freshman year. He went to a very public area of the campus at night with a shotgun, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. I always thought/knew I should reach out to his mom to tell her how much I liked him. I never did. I told my mom what had happened, and every day for the next two months, on her way to work, she stopped by my fraternity at UCLA and woke me up at 7:30 to ask how I was doing. It was incredibly embarrassing, humiliating even. (I begged her to stop.) It’s impossible to understand how much your parents love you until you have kids.
I’m on a plane to Dubai, where I will meet seven friends (some mentioned above) to drink, laugh, and engage in arrested adolescence. We’ll then head to Doha for the semi-finals. I’m rooting for Morocco and England. But I digress. While I’m gone, Brett’s daughter will take a break from her freshman year at Boston College and stay at my place in Soho. Where does the time go?
As I’ve aged, I’ve become more settled … yet more anxious. I see threats to the people I love, to me, and to the world, everywhere. I am more economically secure than I ever imagined I would be, yet I worry about money all the time. I am more fit than I’ve ever been but feel the gravity of biology and the darkness of the end getting heavier and closer every day. I feel fortunate to have people who love me, but truly blessed to have people who let me love them … immensely. But that love is also an enormous source of stress. Is he adjusting to school? He seemed off today — did he seem off to you? Etc.
This week I am in a safe place. A place where I can say stupid things without fear of shaming. Show affection to other men without feeling awkward and boast about my blessings without feeling self-conscious. All of this is possible, when you’re among friends.
Life is so rich,
One of my favs, because it’s a topic I think about a lot. Thanks for sharing.
Scott, such a great read. I immediately signed up for email alerts hoping this isn’t a statistical outlier. Lots of truth in what you have written.
Great post Scott. Thanks for sharing. Laughed aloud at “That is, if the natural order of the universe was turned upside-down and we got a date.” Reaching out to some friends now…
Great post. Having just retired and moved to a rural area, states away from my work buddies, I’m feeling what you describe. Thanks for motivating me to get busy.
You and Kara Swisher are very enjoyable to read and to listen to my goddamn if there are two more name dropping, humble bragging people in the world. Its off- putting.
This post was so beautiful, I have reread several times. Thank you for articulating that feeling of appreciation and gratitude that comes from what we value after a number of trips around the sun.
These are my favorite pieces you write: synthesis of a demographic/economic/other data trend that relates to your own personal experience and is capped with a dose of vulnerability and honesty. I’m using these ‘tactics’ in my own life and I’m grateful to you for the example.
I had a ‘quarrel’ with a friend recently, and noticed we were both jockeying for a position of strength on an issue, and in front of others. I took a second after to consider what was at stake and decided the best path forward was being completely honest and vulnerable about my feelings – I was afraid of being overshadowed.
Anyway, that moment of pause and reflection in my life is a function of your examples doing so in a very broad and public way. Wanted to say – Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this. Years ago I worked down the hall from a guy who was in a men’s support group. He said they were in all different places in their lives, but all seemed to value the group immensely. So nice of you to share how much these friends mean to you
Thank you! And you said something similar to what my Mom says: “when you have children, only then you’ll understand.” That put a smile on my face.
Thanks for sharing this post. I truly appreciate your candor. It is interesting that all the friends you noted have been in your life since your formative years. It is much harder as an adult (I’ll be 60 tomorrow) to make similar bonds. I wish it weren’t but I suspect developing friendships requires a lot of idle time which is in short supply. Sorry about England but the matches were insanely great.
Its nice to read your experiences, did “have” some good friends along the way..lost them (1 friend simulair way unfortunally)
Personal opinion…friendship is overrated, and comes most of the times with a pricetag.
And the early friendships that I enjoyed are not so simple to replace, together er with a complete different time frame we live in these days..
I think we learn about friendships in our formative years from our parents. I know the parents of school bullies egged their children on. And timid parents told their children to be strong. Or my parents said gave all sorts of advice, and I tried them to see what stuck.
Thank you for sharing, Prof.. When tears and smiles combine. Your story, and the comments from others, speak volumes. At many levels. We all relate, and we all share.
There you go making me cry again. So blessed for friendships across generations and decades. Thanks for this beautiful reminder. Simply, love is all there is.
I too, with a group of 5th grade girlfriends, put dog shit in a bag and tried to light it. The bag wouldn’t catch fire so our fearless friend Janet picked up the bag and smeared the crap on a neighbor’s door. We were caught, and our punishment was that we could no longer play together. That didn’t last long. Good times indeed. Thanks for sharing your nostalgic trip. I find myself going down that road often.
Thanks for a WONDERFUL piece that reminded me of My friends and partners in multiple crimes of drinking and laughing and pouting punctuated by long periods of comfortable silence with no fear of rejection.
Thank you, these insights into older life and masculinity are so rare publicly – it’s honest and unique work.
What a wonderful story. I always admire people like you Scott that maintain friendships over time. I really appreciate the willingness and the way you share special memories to remind us all to embrace our own. Thanks
Really appreciate you writing this. It was heartwarming to say the least and reminded me of the good friends I’ve been blessed with. Sorry about England in the World Cup. At least you still have Morocco to root for.
Thanks Prof…Happy Holidays
Thank you! Life is so rich💙
Such a moving essay. It’s amazing , Scott, how you remember these unique facts and stories about your youth. Thank you for sharing and causing me to think about my friendships and love and family. Have an amazing trip to Doha!!! This World Cup is a gift – a treasure of the best sporting event in the world.
Well said. You made this lonely old guy tear up. You’re a very wealthy man indeed!
You made me cry with this one! Thank yu for such a glimpse of your friends and a reminder of my blessedness!
Scott, you provide the “real politik of life.” We live in a world of fantasy not reality so it seems. Wouldn’t mind being your friend. I live in NJ how about coffee after you get back from the World Cup? gr
Your ability to disclose your shortcomings in such a natural and even funny way is what we all need to learn the most about you. Long live Scott.
Great story to read and a reminder of the importance of friendship. For me personal and for us as human beings. Thanks.
Thank you, Scott. I needed this message today.
I’m on board for the “Prof G loses his virginity at 19” post.
If it makes you feel any better, Scott, I did all the drugs and booze, weed every day, tons of acid (thankfully still aced school and got my doctorate), and didn’t lose my virginity until the night I graduated with my bachelors at age 21. Sex and drugs don’t necessarily go together. I had fun anyway.
Great post BTW. I really feel this as someone who immigrated to US in my late 30s and have never really established friendships here anything like the ones I left behind. It’s hard and they’re precious.
Your outlook on friends and the state of relationships since Covid have touched me. As someone your age I made the leap across the Country at age 50 and great friends live fat away and have very few close friends in close proximity. We are bred to make new friends in our 50s. Dating is even tougher. I think podcasts have helped. Listening and looking forward to people we admire or respect seems to be adding to a sense of connection. I’m on POST because of you and Kara. Thank you for sharing your feelings. It’s great to know emotional men exist
Thank you for sharing 🙂 I feel that this is a very timely article to share as I’m at a place where I’m rediscovering my relationships. I hope you’ll be encouraged and inspired in continuing to share your thoughts after seeing these comments. Hope your friend is recovering! Take care.
Thank you for such a thoughtful piece, Prof G. You hit on so many levels – across the emotional spectrum. Appreciate you sharing so openly. After reading this and a few of your other writings, I’m inspired to rekindle some lost connections.
Made me reminisce about times with my own wonderful, close friends. Thank you.
What a beautiful, genuine post. Thank you
Beautiful post. Really appreciate you sharing with us… friends you’ve never met. Happy Holidays.
Brilliant, Scott, and good, too. Many thanks.
Thank you for this.
You, my friend, have an uncommon and atypically high EQ. You are willing to show vulnerability and, as appropriate sadness and hurt. You are also funny as hell…Keep all that coming in 2023, Scott…
Exquisite! Thank you for sharing.
Absolutely beautiful. You’re doing so much good Scott, with this post and others you make across your podcasts and writing, quite apart from business or politics.
What about a separate podcast, could even be a limited one (reference Anderson Cooper’s brilliant one on loss) or documentary? On friendship, on the state of human connection. Could be for young men, yes, but could be for everyone really, especially as we’ve lost so much these last few years. IF you’re inclined, it would be a great service and very popular. You have the resources, but if you care to explore, I’m also in the field and it would be an honor to assist in any way.
One of the best parts of friendship is being able to share secrets and unload useless emotional baggage. Friendships earn as much value-equity as your investment portfolio.
This is a fascinating and relevant article. Could it also be attributed to the fact that women are working more and can no longer spend the same amount of time investing in being the social planner as they once did? I think about my mother raising me in the 90s, working part-time, and having the ability and time to make friends through other parents. While I on the other hand have a very demanding job and have delayed having children, therefore making it harder to make new friends.
I love every week’s. I love this one so much. Thanks Scott.
Needed this message today, thank you Scott. Safe travels.
One of the best of the year Professor.
If you have nothing in life but a good friend, you’re rich.
Very True and Powerful write-up.
I just plain loved this and am so grateful to know these stories and your thoughts about friends and what is important in all of our lives.
The blessings of good friends can never be understated. Thank you for sharing how vulnerability among them, especially for men, needs to be celebrated and broadcasted as the norm rather than the exception.
Sorry to hear about your friend. Thanks for sharing the LA stories. I’m a year ahead of you and grew up in OC, so it looks and feels familiar and authentic.
Meaningful post, Prof. I’m having dinner with my best friend tomorrow night. We’ve been friends since grade school. We are both, as everyone is, extremely busy and stretched thin. But we make time to do this frequently. And when I see him, I hug him and tell him I love him. It’s a great feeling to have someone like that in your life. Have a great weekend!
You seem to be a wonderful human being Scott, if you only knew how to rely more on God and less in you, you would see life from a much more relaxed and greater perspective.
A practically perfect blog post. Thoughtful, honest, reflective, sad and uplifting all at once. I’m gonna be thinking about this one for a while.
Well damn good post Prof Galloway. I could kind of feel you. Enjoy the games and your friends.
Actually made me cry (weakened from a week of post viral infection) ….as I’ve been working on getting a new group of friends after so many moves
Vital lessons in what you wrote, and beautifully written. Thanks.
Brilliant post – very powerful and true
Maybe a sign of a society/culture getting unhinged or in need of change
You took me to places and people long forgotten… coming from the Fiji Islands and schooling in Australia, Canada, US and New Zealand, I am privileged to have crossed paths with so many amazing people … today, you brought a lot of this back to life and for that I shall remain eternally grateful … thank you, nga mihi nui, vinaka vaka levu, namaste … Jai Ho 🙏🏾🕉🙏🏾
Can’t love this enough, Scott, I appreciate your raw openness and candor.
I am 57, am have been so blessed to count many people around the world as true, great friends.
I hope younger generations understand the true importance of human connection and do take the time and put in the work to developing and solidifying strong friendships throughout their lives.
This was a great article about a very real issue. I read the book We need to hang out by Billy Baker earlier this year and it did a very good job highlighting this issue through the authors own experience and his effort to improve his friendships. I have given a couple copies of the book to friends and if you want to be a real buzz kill at parties, be the guy that gives and/or recommends books about men becoming depressed through lack of friendship 😉
Ok, this is the first time you brought a tear to my eye. I’ve been in particular need of my girlfriends lately and I value these friendships so much more as we are. I also have a troubled son who I check on regularly…We all have our challenges. Thanks for sharing.
Scott, Thanks for this great article. I was a shy kid, but had a number of close male friends, from 4th grade until high school. After that most of my interest (and those of most of my guy friends) went to girls. I got married in college, had kids, and got on with my career. It wasn’t until my divorce when I began to see the importance of male friends. I joined a men’s group and we’ve been together now for 43 years. I’ve helped many other guys find or form men’s groups where friendships can develop in deeper ways than are common with men in our culture. Thank you for sharing your own friendship journey.
Friendships, like life, have their ups and downs and require joint effort and humility. If we can’t get out of our own way, put the ego aside, and our need to be right, then friendships fall apart – and therein lies the dilemma – would you rather be right or keep the friendship?
Scott this one is a keeper. Appreciate your authenticity and I felt your words next to me. Muchas gracias for the reminder of our human experience and connections.
I’m a regular Pivot Podcast listener and find your comments here and on podcast about young men and male friendships incredibly moving and inspiring. I wish more men in positions of power shared this level of honesty and vulnerability. The world, especially the business world which is dominated by men, would be a better place.
I love this, I really look forward to your columns. Thank you.
Of all the posts in 2022; this has been my favorite. A lot to digest & ponder after reading. Thank you for sharing.