Chapter Nine


Beyond the Shed: friends, groups, communities

Learn to remember you got great friends, don’t forget that and they will always care for you no matter what.  Always remember to smile and look up at what you got in life

Marilyn Monroe

The midlife years are sometimes called a second adolescence, and this may clarify why friends and groups are so important for men beyond 50.  Remember your own teenage years, or look at the youth today: having a best friend, losing him, feeling part of a peer group, or falling out with one, are all hugely important.  Teenagers, like maturing men, are in a time of great change, feeling unsure who they are, needing people close to them for reassurance and even for their sense of identity.

It’s clear during adolescence that most boys lack the social skills they need, and this remains generally true as the decades roll by.  In the fifties and beyond, men’s connections with wives, kids, work colleagues are loosening: they need new friends, but often lack the skills to find them.  This Chapter builds on the previous two: your prospects of making good friends improve as you clear your shadow stuff, break out of destructive habits, and find a vision of who you want to be.  Shaping yourself from the views of your friends is unwise: better to find friends who support the choices you’ve made.

This Chapter offers guidance on the basic social skills of friendship: how to start them, sustain them, and handle conflicts.  Then we explore the many forms and functions of groups, the skills you need, and the mysteries of group dynamics.  Next we consider men’s groups: the what, why and how.  Then we explore intentional communities, which can vary hugely, but offer a lot of learning and richness.

Are you a giver, taker or receiver?  Many men are stuck in one of these roles, but you need to balance all three.  Givers (often martyrs) exhaust themselves looking out for others, secretly hoping they’ll receive in return.  Takers will grab, demand, fight for what they want : sometimes necessary, but often not.  Receiving can be hard for men: letting in the things you need, trusting without control.

Give yourself a helicopter view of your patterns and habits with friends.  Which of these three roles do you play?  Can you see other habits: do you make new connections easily, or stick with a few long-term ones?  Do you fall out with friends and groups, or lose interest quickly?  Do you feel unheard, left on the margins?  If you don’t like what you see, set your intention to change it.  Look back at Chapter 2: maybe you’re repeating a negative story like rejection in your friendships and group roles.  Perhaps you resist going deeper because you lack the social skills, or you fear you’ll be rejected when you show the real you.  Friendship and groups can be as challenging as your main relationship, and they actually need some of the same skills.  So it’s worth revisiting Communication Skills in Chapter 3.