This week I enjoyed a reunion of sorts. I had dinner with two former colleagues, two lawyers both named Bill. Over many years we spoke often and had developed a level of both trust and admiration for the quality of representation we offered to our clients, but I had not previously known of their close friendship outside of the professional context. It warmed my heart to listen to their banter.
Living alone now after a near lifetime of intimacy with a partner, friendships are my mainstay, and my gratitude for close connections with others soars. Missing Len brings to mind his good fortune to have had male friends, although there were times I secretly denigrated his friendships with men as somehow less significant than mine with women.
My close friends have always been confidantes. His were companions with whom he joyously went fishing or flying or explored the wilderness. Upon his return, if I quizzed him about conversations they’d had or intimacies shared, his answers were brief, relating stories told of other adventures, but little I deemed of substance. They’d said nothing of their marriages, troubled relationships with grown children, or problems at work— the very essence of my exchanges with women friends, offering support, and seeking insights.
Men just talk less to each other. Everyone accepts this reality. Most don’t share feelings with other men, beyond elation or frustration at a good or bad catch. Women smile knowingly, sometimes smugly, and express regret about valued experiences men are missing.
Reasons abound, genetic, hormonal, cultural— likely all three. People near my age, or even most of those much younger, were raised and nurtured by women, so derive comfort from the feminine model for intimacy. Men are more competitive, and from boyhood they are encouraged to be tough and strong. If a man has something to gain in a competitive environment, power or money, he will not reveal weaknesses. He will have no basis for trust unless others show him theirs.
I know I overgeneralize, and some older and many younger men, or perhaps gay partners, may not fit this paradigm today. At least I hope they do not (and I plan to query my sons about this when they visit). I can’t help but wonder if most men are still missing out on the richness that self-disclosure affords, instead of relying on their attachments to women for this reward? It would seem so.
Then why, despite male emotional reserve, was Len so fortunate? For four years, he refused to allow his Parkinson’s to impact his life significantly, but in his final year he had to succumb to the use of a walker and eventually a wheel chair. This meant he had to give up his treasured pilot’s license. Vulnerability that was previously hidden could no longer be denied. His passion for flying and fishing was defeated, beyond reach.
But two of his friends did not let this happen. Alan Wolfson, the man who bought his small plane, called often and suggested Len meet him at the airport and come along on a flight. It was no mean task to hoist his nonresponsive legs into the passenger seat, where dual controls allowed him to actually copilot on their journey.
And Len’s longtime devoted fishing friend, Jim Hoffmeister, remained a constant presence in his life, coming often to pick him up, wheel him to his van, and drive off for an adventure. Usually they returned by nightfall, but just months before Len died, Jim became his caretaker as well as his companion on a trip north to a frozen lake where they fished through the ice for days on end.
Using female standards to appraise male friendships may miss the mark. Do they become known to each other by their shared experiences and so build trust and caring? Len’s friends may have known little of sharing intimacies with words, but of love they knew everything.