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The Man Among Men: He's Not Among Friends

April 01, 1988|DENNIS McLELLAN | Times Staff Writer

Psychologist Herb Goldberg maintains that the phenomenon of adult American males being without even a single buddy or good friend--somebody they can totally trust and confide in--is a common one.

"I think there's a lot of denial," said Goldberg, a professor of psychology at Cal State Los Angeles, who discusses "the lost art of buddyship" in his books, "The Hazards of Being Male" and "The New Male."

"A lot of men will tell you, 'I've got a lot of friends,' but they don't have a lot of friends," said Goldberg, who also is in private practice in Los Angeles. "They may have somebody they play some sport with or some people they're friendly with, but my definition of a friend is somebody you're in regular contact with for intrinsic reasons. In other words, the motivation is simply the relationship and not something else: It doesn't have a purpose to it outside the fact that you like each other--not because he's an extension of your tennis racket, but because he cares about you."

Goldberg, however, says most men rarely are capable of experiencing a caring, sharing and loving relationship with another man. Men, according to Goldberg, are not comfortable sharing their failures, anxieties and disappointments with another man for a variety of reasons, including fear of appearing vulnerable and cultural conditioning to relate to one another in various forms of aggressive behavior.

"I'd say the majority of men are incapable of personal relating with other men," Goldberg said. "They're what I call externalized. Conversations run dry very quickly. It's, 'How are you doing?' 'How's business?' 'How are the kids?' 'How's the golf game going?' That's about it. They can't really tell you what goes on inside of them, and so it's not even so much a question of men going out and trying to make friends, there's an atrophied capacity there in most men. You can't be friends with somebody else unless you can open up or share feelings. You have just a lot of macho posturing."

Goldberg believes married men, who often view their wives as their "best friend," are particularly isolated.

"I think, more than anything else, men are vulnerable to becoming intensely dependent on their wives, or the woman in their lives, which is often denied until the relationship falls apart," he said. "Just generally, on an unconscious level, women get their power in a relationship by controlling the dependency needs of the male."

Goldberg adds that "married men particularly are isolated because they have the double component of being afraid of their wives."

Wives, he says, often express disapproval if their husbands spend personal time with another man, particularly if they do not have much time together themselves. And a husband frequently finds himself having to explain what he did and where he went to a wife who may think he's out chasing women instead of just being "out with the boys."

A close friendship between married men, Goldberg said, "is often impugned and has to be explained. They feel they have to get permission for it, which is kind of pathetic. They turn their wives into permission givers."

Goldberg defines a buddyship as "a support system: somebody you trust--someone you feel cares about you and who will be there in times of distress--not out of an act of benevolence but out of an act of love."

Men who form buddyships such as the Lucky Seven Friendship Club have much to gain, Goldberg believes.

"I think what they're going to get is life insurance," Goldberg said. "The state of most men's lives without friends is pathetic. They're just work machines, and they're kidding themselves if they think their marriage is enough and that their wife is their best friend because in most cases she's not. When you hit a bad spot in the marriage and it starts to fall into crisis he finds out he can't even talk to her or he finds out he's being blamed for things. I've seen men in my office who had no idea their marriage was in trouble. Their wife's gone, and they didn't even see it coming."

Since he first discussed buddyships in "The Hazards of Being Male" a decade ago, Goldberg says, his book has inspired a lot of men to form men's groups and clubs.

"I think they're sort of like training wheels. As far as I'm concerned, they're a start, a taste, a beginning. And I guess you go on from there in developing more natural friendships that don't require a structure."

The following are Goldberg's guidelines toward achieving buddyship:

Start by articulating those attributes which you respect in another man and those you dislike. Among the positive attributes include personality characteristics that generate joy, a willingness to open up and reveal yourself as a person, an eagerness to explore, and a desire to be talkative, humorous and silly. Negative attributes include characteristics that tend to make you feel inhibited, depressed, bored or resentful.

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